Juliette West, How I Became An Elephant


Juliette West, 15, is a student and an animal rights youth advocate focused on creating awareness around elephant abuse. She began advocating for animals at age 9. At age 13 she helped with the campaign to free Billy the elephant from the LA Zoo. She is an inspirational speaker (“You are more powerful than you think!”) for youth organizations, schools and animal rights groups (ElephantVoices, PETA2, IDA, etc.). Juliette starred in a documentary “How I Became an Elephant” in 2009 screening at the Artivist Film Festival and the 34th International Wildlife Film Festival. Juliette founded JulietteSpeaks as a non‐profit and has since touched over 15,000 with her words and deeds advocating for elephants. More on Juliette at www.JulietteSpeaks.com and www.howibecameanelephant.com.


Caryn Hartglass: Hello, I’m Caryn Hartglass and you’re listening to It’s All About Food. We talk about food on this show, and so many people never really make the connection between food and everything else that goes on in our daily lives. Food affects so many different things, not only our personal health – although it certainly has a great impact on our personal health, whether we’re filling our bodies with essential nutrients and foods that are going to boost our immune system versus foods that are going to make us weak and sick, etc. But also, food affects the environment we live in, the air, the water, the soil, and certainly the other other animal species we share this planet with. One of the things I discovered when I became so focused on food is that it made me more mindful about so many other things that go on in this world. It’s all about paying attention, because there’s so many things that we take for granted. We have two great guests on this show today about two very great topics, but I think it comes down to the same theme – about being mindful about everything around us. Juliette West – she’s fifteen; she’s a student and an animal rights youth advocate focused on creating awareness around elephant abuse. She began advocating for animals at the age of nine and at age thirteen she helped with the campaign to free Billy the elephant from the LA zoo. She’s an inspirational speaker for youth organizations, schools, and animal rights groups. Juliette starred in a documentary How I Became an Elephant at the 2009 screening at the Artivist Film Festival and the International Wildlife Film Festival. She founded Juliette Speaks, a nonprofit, and has since touched over 15,00 with her words and deeds advocating for elephants. And much more on Juliette at juliettespeaks.com and howibecameanelephant.com. Hello, Juliette.
Juliette West: Hi, thanks for having me!
Caryn Hartglass: Oh gosh, I’m sorry we had some technical difficulties there, but now it looks like everything is going good and we can have a nice conversation.
Juliette West: Good.
Caryn Hartglass: Alright, so you are just one remarkable person.
Juliette West: Thank you.
Caryn Hartglass: And very articulate; I’ve been listening to some of the interviews you’ve done and it’s just amazing. So I guess my first question is this – how did your involvement with elephants begin?
Juliette West: It began, like you said, with Billy the elephant at the LA zoo. From the age of nine, I had been raising money for a local pet adopt center from birthday parties and things like that, and then they told me about this elephant at the LA zoo who was in such bad condition and this whole case to try to get him out. I became involved and I was trying to write letters and talk to people, tell all my friends about it, have them write letters – and then I just got interested and started trying to learn as much as I could.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I’m just amazed because you sent me your resume. You’re fifteen and you have a four page resume, you’re featured in this documentary – and it’s going to be coming out later this year, into theaters around the country?
Juliette West: We’re hoping. We’re selling it at small film festivals here and there. We’re just finishing it and moving along.
Caryn Hartglass: Right, very exciting. I’m sure at some point we’ll be able to get it on DVD if it doesn’t come to a theater near us.
Juliette West: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: And you don’t have to give the whole story away, but what is How I Became An Elephant about?
Juliette West: How I Became An Elephant is just kind of the point of it – just to invoke discussion and show reasons for the problems with elephants, so it shows me as a young girl coming out from the United States to meet Lek Chailert who is this amazing woman who has devoted her whole life to making life better for elephants in her native country, Thailand. She has this huge sanctuary, and she takes in elephants from all over Thailand and from the trekking camps, the tourist industries, those places, and brings them to her sanctuary where she tries to revive them and give them the life they deserved all along. So it’s me coming out and learning from her. We end up buying an abused elephant from a trainer, bringing her back to the sanctuary, and just kind of opening people’s eyes to what’s going on at those trekking camps and the tourist industries, and then how those elephants are treated with love and care.
Caryn Hartglass: I always like to talk about being mindful and paying attention to everything around us because so many things are not as they seem.
Juliette West: Right.
Caryn Hartglass: I know a number of people who have traveled to Thailand and some other countries where elephants are exploited; the treatment is just horrendous. And the tourists don’t even know what’s going on behind the scenes.
Juliette West: I think the way I see it is that we can’t just point fingers at the Thai people who are doing this and just say that what they’re doing is wrong because it’s their tradition. So, my angle is that I’m going to educate the Westerners coming out from the United States as tourists what these Thai people are making money off of, and educate them about what they’re really supporting, what’s really going on, because I think it’s everyone’s responsibility, if they’re going to support something like this, if they’re going to spend money on something like this, to know what they’re really supporting. And then once they know the truth, once they know about the abuse that goes on, to make their own decision.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I wanted to say a couple things. One, it’s just really phenomenal that you, at your age, have done so much and care so much and are just doing it. And so many people feel overwhelmed with all the things that aren’t right in this world and they don’t feel like they have the power or the tools to make a difference, and you’re showing us that everyone can make a difference. You just pick on thing – you don’t have to change the whole world, just pick a piece of it and start on your journey and everyone can make a difference. And that’s what’s so brilliant about you and what you’re doing. I ho[pe that as you get older, you don’t forget this empowerment that you have now. Because as we get older, we get a little jaded.
Juliette West: That’s what I’m always trying to get across when I give talks to schools. People tell you that you’re a kid and you can’t make a difference. I was thirteen when I first got started and every little bit counts, like not buying that ticket to the circus; or telling your friends or your parents, “When you go to Asia, don’t ride the elephants.” Telling them what’s really going on behind the scenes can really make a difference.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, where are your parents in all of this? Did you get some of your ideas from them; were they always supportive; did they have some issues with what you wanted to do with all this?
Juliette West: They have been so supportive throughout all of this. I was kind of the first one to educate them about this when I got involved. They were supportive when I wanted to raise money at my birthday parties, they were like “Okay, we’ll help you organize it,” but my parents, a couple years ago, they rode an elephant themselves, so when I started learning these things, I was like “Do you know what you guys did? Come on.” But they have been so supportive throughout all of this; my dad went to Thailand with me to do the documentary, and they have just been so supportive in everything that I do.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, elephants are certainly very beautiful beings, and we often see a lot of spirituality – I don’t know if it’s some sort of anthropomorphic thing where we’re reflecting back – but there’s something really majestic about them. It’s really hard to believe that there are some people who will do the horrible things that they do to elephants. I know when I was a child, I had a fascination with elephants and I used to collect a lot of elephant figurines, though I don’t do that anymore. But you know, it’s not just elephants, unfortunately. We, as a society, exploit all animal species – and not just other species, but we also exploit humans. So does this mission that you have extend beyond elephants?
Juliette West: Right now, it’s just elephants, but what I hope, I always say, from the documentary and from these talks that I give, I say I want people to not only understand what’s going on behind the scenes at these elephant trekking camps and these elephant shows, but also kind of change the way they see all animals that are domesticated, especially in the entertainment business. I always tell kids, if you see something involving an animal that you don’t think is right, like a tiger at the cage in the zoo that just seems too small, or just something that doesn’t seem right, I want you to question it – don’t just keep walking. If you think something isn’t wrong, then ask someone; and if you find out that something is wrong, then do something about it.
Caryn Hartglass: Now what about your friends and the kids you talk to? How do they react to what you’re telling them?
Juliette West: Sometimes it’s kind of overwhelming, I think, to see that “oh my gosh, this girl went to Thailand, that’s crazy” – but I think a lot of times it helps, because kids love elephants. Like you said, when you were young, you loved elephants. It’s something about elephants that really hits kids at home. At my old school, when I gave a talk, there was this little environmentalist club for the second graders and the third graders, and by the end of the year they said, “We want to give all our profits from all our fundraisers to you and the elephants.”
Caryn Hartglass: Aw, very nice.
Juliette West: So I guess that was the first things that made me think,”Wow, it really hits them hard.”
Caryn Hartglass: And have the Ringling Brothers responded to any of the information that you’ve been putting out?
Juliette West: I haven’t really been in contact with Ringling Brother directly; I’m kind of intimidated because they’re such a big business. But I am going to a protest tonight in Los Angeles for the Ringling Brothers Circus and I don’t know, I hope that someday they’;ll hear about me and change their mind.
Caryn Hartglass: I haven’t protested in a long time, but I did about ten years ago, maybe in New York, and it is a frustrating situation because there are lots of parents and kids, and they’re going to have a good time, and they don’t want people to spoil their good time. It’s really hard, even in a protest, for them to connect the dots, for them to really know what’s going on behind the scenes. So I wish you well with that.
Juliette West: Well, this is my first time. My goal is to try to talk to the parents as they’re walking in and just try to say, “One day this is going to be outlawed.” And this is kind of my angle; it’s probably going to be outlawed, at least from the way things are going right now. One day when this is outlawed, do they want their kids to look back and say, “My mom was ignorant just like everybody else and we went to the circus,” or do they want them to say,”My mom walked away when no one else did.”
Caryn Hartglass: And there are so many other different circus opportunities that don’t exploits animals, and you can have a good time and be entertained.
Juliette West: Right. So true.
Caryn Hartglass: Cirque du Soleil is a great example; I mean, they’re just amazing.
Juliette West: Yeah, it is.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, now – we exploit animals all over the place, unfortunately, and certainly with factory farming – I’m assuming you’re aware of how we raise animals for food, especially in this country.
Juliette West: Right, right.
Caryn Hartglass: Has your work with elephants influenced your food choices?
Juliette West: A little bit. I am vegetarian; I don’t eat meat. It’s kind of hard because my mom wants me to eat meat; we kind of going back and forth –
Caryn Hartglass: Did that happen before or after you got involved with the elephants?
Juliette West: Right before I was doing the film, so I’d already been involved a little bit, so it was when the director of How I Became An Elephant asked me to do the film with him, he was sending me some of his previous work. One of them, I don’t remember which it was, was about the farm animals, and it really hit me hard. It really opened my eyes and made me so upset.
Caryn Hartglass: A lot of people aren’t aware. There’s just so much we aren’t aware of, so it’s so great that you’re doing what you’re doing. We all have to be really vigilant and be true because this world doesn’t have to be this way, and we’re depending upon people like you to make it better.
Juliette West: Aw. What you’re doing is amazing too – this whole idea about being REAL, about taking responsibility for what you’re doing and what you’re eating.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, I really want the message to get to a lot of young people. I think that if we give the message that young people can make a difference and empower them, then they will. And I know that the baby boomer generation is blamed for a lot of things – for destroying the environment, and economy issues – but you know, the older generation has also created a lot of technology, the technology we’re using right now, the internet; it’s definitely connected the global community. And that’s going to enable people like you to do the next great work.
Juliette West: The internet for example, I’ve done so much to educate people through my blog, Juliette Speaks, and through Facebook and things like that – I’ve reached so many people through the internet, and it’s kind of what made this all possible.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. So what are your plans next?
Juliette West: Well, the whole goal for me from the film was not only the great experience but was for me to get footage from the film so I can bring it as a presentation to schools so I can educate youth; that was my whole goal. So I’ve done about three school presentation so far, and that’s what I want to keep doing – educating the youth about this issue.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s really exciting. So now – do you know what you want to be when you grow up?
Juliette West: Well, I guess when I grow up, I kind of want to keep doing what I’m already doing. Advocating for animals and maybe one day start advocating more for the environment, just kind of getting people to be aware about their surroundings and how what they do affects our earth.
Caryn Hartglass: Well, that’s great; we definitely need that kind of help. Did you enjoy being in a film, do you think there might be a film career for you?
Juliette West: I don’t really know about that. It was a great experience being in the film and getting to go around Thailand; it was more like an adventure for me. And a lot of people have asked that, like “Do you want to be an actress now?” But I think it was a better experience for me just because of the cause that we were doing it for. I’m excited; I would do another documentary if it’s for a cause I care about, yeah.
Caryn Hartglass: Right. Now other than Thailand, where else are elephants really being taken advantage of?
Juliette West: Africa, India, all other parts of Asia – whenever people see these tourist industries where they’re riding elephants, they’re doing anything that involves domestication – and even in the Untied States with these zoos and circuses and elephant shows; anywhere. I just don’t want people to be confused when the trainer sand the people in charge of these places say, “We’re saving the elephants.” If the elephant is doing some unnatural trick, doing anything when they’re in close contact with humans, I just want them to understand that an elephant is meant to be in the wild; they’re not meant to be doing this. Abuse is what’s going on behind the scenes to make it possible for them to that.
Caryn Hartglass: Now, in addition to the touring, elephants have also been killed for their tusks. And is that still going on? I believe it’s illegal in some places.
Juliette West: I don’t study as much with that. That’s more African elephants; but I still know a little bit. Society is still trying to outlaw things like that, but it still comes back and I think it’s going to take a while for this to really get figured out, and it’s still kind of an issue.
Caryn Hartglass: I was looking at some of your websites, and I think it was you that was hugging and elephant?
Juliette West: I think so.
Caryn Hartglass: What was that like?
Juliette West: Hugging an elephant? It’s amazing; it’s kind of hard to explain. Even when an elephant comes near you, you kind of forget how large and majestic this animal really is. And then getting to touch an elephant, you kind of just feel their energy – it’s kind of hard to explain, and everyone just has to do it for themselves, have their own experience – but I just thought it was really amazing and empowering.
Caryn Hartglass: And this particular elephant was someone you trusted.
Juliette West: Yes! I mean, they are wild animals, so you never really know, but if there are people like Lek around you who have that connection with elephants, I feel like I am in a place of trust.
Caryn Hartglass: I know that because of the way we’ve treated them, you don’t know what’s going on in their minds at any time.
Juliette West: Right, exactly – like the elephants at the Elephant Nature Park Sanctuary, those are all elephants rescued from trekking camps around the country. A lot of them really aren’t in their right mind. The elephant that we saved, she was completely mentally unstable. Just because they are so intelligent and they have so many emotions just like humans, it really affects them when you take them away from their families at too young of an age and you abuse them their whole life.
Caryn Hartglass: That’s absolutely right. So I just hope that we all get an opportunity to see How I Became An Elephant; I hope it’s a huge succes; I hope that millions of people will watch it, and all of a sudden a light goes on for them about how to treat elephants and how to treat all life on earth.
Juliette West: I hope so too!
Caryn Hartglass: Okay, well, thank you so much, Juliette West, and I invite the listeners to go to your blog, juliettespeaks.com and howibecamenaelephant.com.
Juliette West: Yes.
Caryn Hartglass: Great. Well, thank you so much.
Juliette West: Thank you so much for having me.
Caryn Hartglass: Okay!
Juliette West: Alright, bye bye.
Caryn Hartglass: I’m Caryn Hartglass, and you’ve been listening to It’s All About Food. Thank you so much for joining me, and please go to my website for my new nonprofit responsibleeatingandliving.com. Thanks so much for joining us.


Transcribed by Sarah Brown, 3/21/2013

  2 comments for “Juliette West, How I Became An Elephant

  1. I have had the pleasure of knowing this young lady. Remember the name “Juliette West”, I predict she will be famous in some cause, possibly politics in another 10 or 16 years. She has a good heart and was obviously taught “to do the right thing”. Hopefully she will be an inspiration for other young people.

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