Juliette West Speaks On Behalf Of Elephants!
18-year-old Juliette West is a long-time advocate for elephant rights, founder of JulietteSpeaks, and star of the 2012 documentary How I Became an Elephant.
Juliette recently spoke with us about this cause that is so close to her heart. In our interview, she discusses how she came to be a guardian to elephant kind, and the power of youth activism!
Juliette West had always felt a strong connection with animals, but she became especially interested in elephants after hearing the tragic story of an elephant named Billy at the L.A. Zoo.
"Billy is an Asian bull elephant who has been living in the L.A. Zoo alone for about 25 years," she explained. "He is still there, now with the company of a few female elephants, but he is still in worsening conditions."
During this time, Billy has lived in a half-acre enclosure. Juliette found that keeping the world's largest land mammal in such a small area was absurd.
"It is no surprise that Billy developed mental problems from lack of mental stimulation, and that his body is in an unhealthy condition from lack of exercise," she said. "This was an issue that I really took to heart because I was so shocked by how such a terrible injustice could be taking place in my city, without many people knowing about it."
From that moment, Juliette made it her mission to stand up for the rights of elephants. She knew that Billy belonged in a sanctuary, rather than a crowded zoo.
When elephants live in captivity, they're often deprived of their most basic needs of socialization, exercise, proper food, comfortable ground and more.
"When elephants don't have all of these things, they fall into an unhealthy mental state and can start displaying stereotypic behavior," she said. "They can also develop joint problems from standing on ground that is too hard for them, and from lack of exercise."
Juliette added that elephants in the wild need to walk at least 20 miles a day to keep healthy.
"They have no way of doing this in a small enclosure at the zoo," she said. "Many elephants in zoos lack motivation to exercise or socialize because they are so depressed."
She joined local organizations that were already fighting for Billy's freedom. She recruited friends to help her write letters to city council, and spoke at city council meetings about the issue.
"My age and my passion helped me to stand out, giving me a bigger voice for Billy than most of the other activists there," she said.
Since then, Juliette has been an advocate not only for elephants in captivity, but also those working for tourist industries or being killed for their tusks. She said that she was drawn to the magnificent creatures for a few reasons.
"I admire elephants' dedication to family," she said. "The more time I spend with them, the more I realize how truly similar they are to us."
During her time advocating for Billy, Juliette met many other like-minded activists in L.A. One of them told her about a filmmaker living in Thailand who was contemplating filming a documentary about the elephants that are forced to work there.
She managed to get in touch with this director, Tim Gorski, who she met in the summer of 2009 at an Animal Rights Conference in Los Angeles. The film he was working on would come to be titled How I Became An Elephant.
Gorski thought Juliette, a young American, would be the perfect star for his film.
"He wanted to reach a wide audience and he said my involvement in the film would make that happen," Juliette explained. "It was surreal, suddenly being asked to take on such a huge responsibility. I was nervous and I felt a lot of pressure to do this for the elephants and for myself. However, I believe that opportunities come to us for a reason, and this opportunity was one that I needed to take on with full force."
Juliette was just 14 when she starred in How I Became An Elephant. In the film, she leaves her suburban life in L.A. to join "Elephant Lady" Lek Chailert in Thailand on her quest to save the elephants!
Chailert founded the Elephant Nature Park, or ENP in Chiang Mai, Thailand, which takes in orphaned elephants from all over the country.
"They all have tragic stories and have been separated from their families," Juliette said. "At ENP they form new friendships and make their own families. Broken-hearted mothers take in babies that have been separated from their mothers, and they try to heal together."
As Juliette's story unfolds within the documentary, she exposes corruption and violence in a tourism industry that takes advantage of elephants and destroys forests. The documentary received numerous awards for Best Director, Best Documentary and more at various film festivals.
Her film has raised a lot of awareness about her cause and difficult situations elephants face every day, but there's much more work to be done.
Juliette said that the world's biggest threat to elephants is the ivory trade.
"Poachers are becoming better at their jobs and organized crime is making the production of ivory goods increase faster than authorities can work to stop it," she explained. "With the current rates of poaching, the wild African elephant population will be extinct by 2050."
She doesn't want her future grandchildren to live in a world where there are no African elephants in the wild.
"We cannot allow the ivory trade to continue the massacre of African elephants," she said. "Now that we are educated on what is happening, it is our job to stop it. I refuse to accept the fact that the wild African elephant population could become extinct from an issue that could have been solved through awareness, education, and global collaborative efforts."
Juliette has found that when she shares stories of the plight of elephants with others, her words have rarely gone unheard.
"All it takes is education and awareness, and so many of these problems can be solved," she said. "Refuse to be ignorant, and always choose to take action. Even the smallest effort can help this huge issue."
Today, Juliette runs a non-profit organization called JulietteSpeaks, which aims to provide a voice for elephants, since they cannot speak for themselves. Most recently, she is working on the Global Youth Against the Ivory Trade School Clubs program, which she launched last year.
"The purpose of this program is to educate youth across the globe about the ivory trade that is killing elephants today, and giving them the tools to become leaders and take action for the cause," she said.
Her first club is at the Sega Girls School in Tanzania.
"Right now I am working to support the girls in their efforts to educate surrounding communities about the poaching that is taking place in their own country, and brainstorming ways they can work to put a stop to it," she said. "I hope to expand the school clubs throughout the world and unite youth to put an end to the ivory trade."
Juliette started speaking out about the issues she cared about as soon as she could. She believes that other young people can do the same to really make an impact.
"I always say at the end of my presentations, 'You are more powerful than you think,'" she said. "I surprised myself with how powerful I could be when I first started helping the campaign to get Billy the elephant out of the L.A. Zoo. I realized that my young age intrigued the authorities, and I was able to make a big difference for the cause by showing my passion."
Many young people think that they're too young to make real change happen, she explained.
"I want youth to understand that they can use their young age to their advantage," she said. "The combination of hard work and passion will change our world, and there is no age limit to do something incredible."
To stay updated on all of the latest from Juliette West, check out her website, JulietteSpeaks, and social channels below. You can also join us at SweetyHigh.com to tell us about the causes that mean the most to you!