Sunday, August 21, 2011

Connie Speight & The Elephants Umbrella Fund

There are some marvelous people involved in the world of animal rights and conservation. One of them is Connie Speight. I met her in Thailand earlier this year. Connie is not your stereo typical anything. She is now 86 years young, full of energy and has earned the right to be a bit opinionated. She was born and raised in Southern California and has been in her same home for 31 years. She is stable, knows what she likes and dislikes. This spunky lady has an undying passion for the Asian Elephant. When I contacted her about interviewing her when I was in the United States, she invited me to her home in Santa Barbara. I drove up from San Diego, we had a lovely visit; both of us agreed it was all too short.
Connie at her home in Santa Barbara
She suggested that we drive into Santa Barbara and have local Mexican food at the Mercado, celebrating the annual Santa Barbara Fiesta. She warned me that she is a frustrated race car driver. I found out that for her 85th birthday she took a race car driving lesson and was a bit disappointed because the track was designed in a way that she couldn’t hit a hundred miles an hour. She drove us into Santa Barbara and contrary to what a couple of her friends have said, her driving is just fine, thank you.

Connie and Wanna 
As I tried to get started with the “formal interview”, it became obvious that one thing Connie dislikes is useless redundancy. Many of my basic questions were answered with referrals to her website. Let’s mention that now: And, I’ll tell you that some of the information following came from my conversation with Connie on August 4th and some of it I just took right off of her website. Fair enough?

Jerry: How did you come to choose the Asian Elephant as the object of your passion?
Connie: Some years ago, I was in Bangkok and witnessed the heartbreaking scene of elephants begging on the streets. I came home knowing that I had to do something and started the long process of getting government 501c charity status. The Elephants Umbrella Foundation was born. I am convinced that one person can make a difference- one elephant at a time.

Jerry: In all you have rescued 12 elephants, is that right?

Connie: Yes.

Jerry: When we met in late January you mentioned that you were negotiating the rescue of an elephant in Laos. Is she #12?

Connie: Yes, her name is Mai Kham Onh. She is young, only 18 and was rescued from the logging industry in Laos. She will be living her life in the only elephant sanctuary in Laos and can hang out with our two previous rescues there. More about her is at:

Jerry: Tell me about the other 11.

Connie: Each rescued elephant has a heart breaking story they are all on my web site. Fortunately each one has a very happy ending.

Jerry: Fair enough.

Connie: I just became a grandmother. (She hands me a photograph of a baby elephant). He was born the 1st of August at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center in Thailand. His mother, Wanna, is one our rescues. I was not happy when I found out she was pregnant as I had asked that she not be bred until she was older. The elephants are chained in the forest for the night so they can feed. However, JoJo a young bull was not put on a strong enough chain. His hormones were racing and he broke his chain and had his way with her. Nothing we can do about that, so now we have a new baby elephant. He has been named Singha, which means August in Thai, since he was born August first. Fortunately both mother and calf are doing well.

Jerry: Tell me more about the Elephants Umbrella Fund organization.

Connie: Well our primary mission is to rescue elephants. However we have taken on a few projects to aid the sanctuaries that house the elephants. We support a mobile vet unit in Laos, have contributed to the purchase of land at BLES and funded a retaining wall at ENP. We have also purchased two high end microscopes for the vets at TECC and radio collars for the calves in Sri Lanka being returned to the wild. Details are available at

Jerry: So where are the 12 elephants?

Connie: 3 in Laos, 2 at the Thai Elephant Conservation Center (TECC), 3 at Boon Lotts Elephant Sanctuary (BLES) and 3 at the Elephant Nature Park (ENP) and one in Cambodia. Of course, I like to also think about baby Singha as being our 13th.

Jerry: Elephant poaching is a serious problem. Can I share your opinion about a solution?

Connie: Shoot the poachers! Strengthen the laws, most are just a slap on the wrist.

Jerry: People will want to know if the elephants you have rescued know you.

Connie: Two do because of the situation when they were rescued. The rest do not. Remember they are not pets.

Jerry: How do you decide which sanctuary will get a particular elephant?

Connie: Usually when we have the funds available we let the sanctuaries know. When they have an elephant in mind they contact us and we start the negotiations which can some times take months and be very frustrating.

Jerry: Other than donations what do you do to raise money for the elephants?

Connie: We have a booth on Earth Day mostly for education but we do get some donations. I have a Spring and Fall sale mostly of succulents and cactus I have raised. Also I sell items I bring back from Thailand: jade, silk scarfs, handbags, jewelry etc. This is my biggest money maker. We have two, clothing exchanges which are a load of fun and bring in about $1,200. Donations are our primary source of funding.

Jerry: What else would you like the readers to know?

Connie: The Asian elephant is in more dire circumstances than the African. Vietnam has only 80, China 200, Thailand has lost thousands. The general public seems to think only of Africa when elephants are mentioned. They have no idea how drastic the situation is and Asian elephants don’t get the world publicity Africans do. There are about only 40,000 animals in all of Asia. Most governments in Asia have so far shown little action in demanding stricter laws for crimes against these animals. They have allowed mines, dams, villages and high speed train tracks to abolish migration routes and forests. It is predicted than in less than two decades there will be no wild elephants in many countries. This is the fourth most intelligent animal on the planet. They are fantastic parents, have prodigious memories, live a humans life span, are playful caring creatures. WAKE UP--- AND DO SOMETHING!!!!

Author’s note: It’s always an honor and a privilege to spend time with Connie and people like her. In life there are two kinds of people Givers and Takers. Connie is a giver, big time.  You can learn more and hopefull support her great efforts at

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