The people - Bertin Tchikangwa

In my heart, I wait to see them. They call me...

Bert Joseph. / ©: WWF / Jan Vertefeuille
Bert Joseph.
© WWF / Jan Vertefeuille
William and Bert Joseph
As elephant trackers in Malaysian Borneo, Brothers William and Engelbert Joseph are on the front lines of Asian elephant conservation for WWF. 

Both have worked for WWF nearly six years, since our Borneo elephant project began, making them among the first group of people to ever study Borneo’s pygmy elephants. Much of what we know today about the elephants and their habitat is thanks to the two brothers. And they know their subjects so well that some of the elephants have come to recognize them in the forest.

These two can look at grass bent over by elephants and know which way they went, or see a pile of elephant dung on the road and know how long since the pachyderms have passed by and how many there were.

And it’s clear that the pair love their jobs, even though it often requires them to spend weeks camping in the jungle studying the elephants.

William, 35, explains that he had “no choice” in the matter.

“As a child, I began to love the forest and that was it. This is my life,” he says. “Elephants to me, I just imagine they’re like my son, my family.”

Bert, 31, also feels a bond with the elephants.

“In my heart, I wait to see them. They call me,” he says.

It’s tough work, both admit, making your way through the dense jungle, where vines and thorns grab at your clothes and entangle you, where leeches seem to lurk on every leaf waiting for a warm body to walk by, and where following elephants’ tracks in the rain can mean hours of wading through knee-deep mud.

But both William and Bert were eager to take part in the collaring of the pygmy elephants this year.

“If you go inside the jungle, you can feel how big it is,” Bert says. “This project, if it extends for years, I think we have a chance at a future for the wildlife.”

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