Entrepreneurs and animal advocates bring a cause closer to home
Maybe it was while getting her master’s degree at Middlebury Institute of International Studies at Monterey, which included joining the Peace Corps, or when she went to Botswana with local artist Mary Beth Harris and became both enchanted by elephants and devastated by their plight, that Carmel’s Susie Bauer (Central Africa Republic 1982-84) decided to establish a nonprofit organization.Tuesday, she and Harris opened “Mopane” at The Crossroads in Carmel, named after a tree in Southern Africa. Known as the “tree of life,” its foliage feeds elephants, and its grubs become tribal cuisine. This boutique will carry custom jewelry, fabrics, art, and vessels — primarily fair trade products from Africa. Half the proceeds will go to Elephant Havens Wildlife Foundation, a nonprofit rescue organization in Botswana, and the other half will benefit various local nonprofit organizations.It all started in 2019 when Bauer and Harris traveled to Botswana and visited Elephant Havens, where they fell in love with the orphaned elephants fostered there, as well as the people who rescue and care for them.
“I mentioned my love for elephants to Susie,” said Harris, “and she told me her friends Debra Stevens and husband Scott Jackson had opened Elephant Havens in 2017. I’d seen a PBS documentary about Naledi, a 6-week-old orphan removed from the herd and bottle-fed by humans until she was independent enough to be reintroduced to her family. I knew I needed to go there.”
Naledi was 6 months old when Stevens and Scott fell in love with her. The more time they spent with her, the more they understood the elephant’s need for love and community. In fact, writes Stevens, elephants can’t live without it.
“An orphaned elephant can die from grief without attachment to a family,” she wrote, “whether that’s other herd members or humans.”
Stevens, adopted herself, knew her birth mother had lived in the Congo as a child, and her birth grandparents, missionaries there in the 1930s, had rescued and tried to raise a baby elephant. She chose her birth family’s surname, “Havens,” as the inspired name of her nonprofit organization, Elephant Havens, which focuses on habitat protection, community outreach, and the rescue and raising of young elephant orphans.
“Elephants are so smart, so loyal, so family-oriented, so sensitive,” Harris said. “They have emotions. You can tell when they’re happy, sad, scared, and when they want to sleep, to dance, to trumpet their fear, joy, or affection. During our visit, I met MmaMotse, a baby elephant who came up to me and lifted her trunk. I was done in.”
Last March, the International Union for Conservation of Nature announced that both savanna and forest elephants face a serious risk of extinction. Savanna elephants, found in southern, eastern, and central Africa, have larger frames and ears, and curving ivory tusks. Forest elephants, commonly found in western and central Africa, have slightly smaller builds and ears, and thinner, straighter ivory tusks.
The IUCN reports that forest elephant populations have declined by more than 80% in the past 93 years, while savanna elephant populations have declined by more than 50% over the past 75 years. Both forest and savanna elephants are threatened by ivory poaching, trophy hunting, habitat loss, and encroachment.
Up close and productive
During their visit to Botswana, Bauer and Harris rolled up their sleeves. They fed elephants, helped dig fresh water wells, and bought a school bus plus books and other school supplies for local children. On behalf of the elephants, they said, “How can we help? How can we get people interested and involved so far and away from the plight of these orphan elephants?”
That’s when they decided to establish Mopane in Carmel and bring the local community into the cause.
While in Botswana, Bauer and Harris discovered an array of handmade baskets for sale and knew they could sell them in their Carmel store. They also found jewelry made from snares used for animal poaching, whose proceeds benefit anti-poaching organizations. It was the beginning of their investigation into handmade products to purvey through Mopane.
“Once we got home,” said Harris, “Barney Scollan, owner of Carmel Bay Company, told us about a woman who has a wholesale company of African products, having shopped in various countries to source quality, handmade items. It has become a wonderful source for us.”
Bringing the cause to Carmel
Bauer, who hails from Texas, moved with her husband, Richard Bauer, to her Carmel home near Stewart’s Beach 10 years ago. Harris who hails from Ann Arbor, Michigan, came to Carmel in 1974. An experienced buyer, merchandiser, and artist, she worked for Pacific Rim apparel boutique for eight years, and Carmel Bay Company for four, before shifting her career to senior caregiving.
In 2015, she wrote, “Me? A Caregiver?”—a satirical book on the challenges and rewards of providing care, which she developed into the one-woman show at the Carl Cherry Center.
Harris met Bauer when she came into Pacific Rim to buy the legendary “chicken ware,” glasses and pitchers Harris painstakingly hand-painted with small, colorful chickens. Some 20 years later, people are trying to get her to reboot the coveted product, this time, with elephant imagery. The artist, admittedly, has some ideas.
Bauer, who had been coming to Carmel since the mid-’80s, owned two award-winning restaurants in Dallas, one of which she sold to her chef, and the other, she closed.
“Susie is a doer; she makes things happen,” said Harris. “She’s opening her business, but she’s also been visiting local classrooms, where she Zooms to Botswana, so children can see the orphaned elephants.”
Mopane is not just a store. Along with selling African products to raise funds for Elephant Havens and other charitable organizations, says Harris, the boutique will present photos of each orphaned baby elephant, which people can foster for $100 a year.
This spring, Mopane will host a presentation by birding expert, conservation advocate, and television host James Alexander Currie, who wrote, “The Amazing Journey of an African Wildlife Adventurer.” Bauer and Harris expect he will be the first of many featured guests who come in support of the store, the community, and the cause.