Save the Elephant Day 2021

April 16th is “Save the Elephant Day”. It is a day to educate people about elephants and raise awareness that these magnificent animals can and need to be saved from extinction. Elephants are the world’s largest land mammal and roam throughout Asia and Africa. The elephant population has decreased in both the African and Asian continents by 62% over the past decade. If this trend continues elephants could become extinct by the end of the next decade (IUCN RedList of Endangered Species) (IUCN). 

Herd of elphants, Hwange, Zimbabwe
Magnificent herd of African elephants living life in their natural habitat, Hwange, Zimbabwe

It is estimated that around 100 African elephants (Loxodonta africana) are killed every day by poachers for their ivory tusks, meat, and body parts. The current number of African elephants remaining in the wild is estimated to be 415,000 (IUCN).  Approximately 90% of the African elephant population have been killed in the past century.

Magnificent African elephant
Magnificent African elephant

The Asian elephant (Elephas maximus)roams over 13 Asian countries and is considered to be an endangered species with less than 40,000 individuals left in the wild.

Both the Asian and African elephant populations have been steadily decreasing and are now both listed as ‘endangered’ (IUCN).

There are three species of elephants. Asian elephant, African forest elephant and the African bush elephant. Forest elephants are smaller than bush elephants and have straighter tusks which point downwards. Bush elephants have more curved tusks. 

Elephants heading to the waterhole at the end of the day, Somalisa Camp, Hwange, Zimbabwe
African elephants living happily in the wild heading to the waterhole at the end of the day, Somalisa Camp, Hwange, Zimbabwe

Elephant facts
  • They can be right or left tusked, the same as humans being right or left-handed
  • Highly intelligent, they have the largest brain of all animals 
  • Capable of showing many emotions such as joy, anger, playfulness, and grief when they lose a family member
  • Largest land mammal, they are herbivores and can eat up to 140 – 280 kg of food a day
  • They live in herds of up to 100 individuals, one female being the matriarch who will oversee them all
  • Elephants throw mud and dirt on their backs to prevent getting sun burnt
  • One African elephant is killed every 15 minutes by a poacher!
  • Walking speed is around 1.5 km/h, and they can run up to 38 km/h
  • An elephant skin is around 2.5cm thick
  • Trunks consist of 40,000 muscles, weigh over 90 kg and are around 3 metres long
  • Their upper incisor teeth develop into tusks and continue to grow throughout their lifetime
  • There are no responsible elephant entertainment centres in the world that do not subject elephants to very harsh and cruel treatment in order to force them into submission to perform
  • Captive reproduction does not increase the elephant population nor does it support elephant conservation. It only serves the tourism industry which is a major threat to elephants.  Reproduction rates are very slow in captivity and the numbers are not sufficient to meet the demands of the tourism industry, which leads to increased poaching to supply the needs of this cruel industry
  • Poaching wild elephants is especially cruel as mothers and aunts are usually killed during the capture of young elephants
  • Studies have revealed that around 75% of adult elephants that are used in elephant tourism were poached from the wild
  • It is estimated that one third of Asian elephants live in captivity
  • Most of illegal ivory is sourced from African elephants  
  • Around 35,00 African elephants are poached for their tusks annually, mainly for traditional Chinese medicine
  • Asian elephants are poached for their tusks for jewellery carving, and their skin. It is mostly males that are targeted as they have the biggest tusks 
Why are elephants at risk of extinction?
  • Ivory trade
  • Exploitation
  • Trophy hunting
  • Habitat loss

Ivory trade

Sadly, the number of elephants are significantly declining due to poaching for the international ivory trade.  Despite the sale of ivory being banned around the world, elephant ivory tusks return a huge price on the international black market ivory trade.

China is the main recipient of the African Ivory Trade
China is the main recipient of the African Ivory Trade (photo curtesy of WWF)
Zimbabwe stockpile of elephant ivory
A Zimbabwe National Parks official inspects the country’s ivory stockpile at the Zimbabwe National Parks Headquarters in Harare in June. A new survey shows a rapid decline in Africa’s savanna elephants, as international and domestic ivory trades continue to drive poaching across the continent (photo curtesy of News Public Radio NPR.org)
Elephant exploitation 

Elephants are beaten into submissions with bullhooks, bamboo sticks spiked with nails and or electric prodders. Young elephants are taken from their mother and are subjected to a horrific life.  They are confined to a small area, beaten, starved, and deprived of sleep, to crush their spirits so they become submissive to humans. 

Bullhooks used to traumatise elephants into submission for the tourism industry
(photo curtesy of billhook.com)

Elephant spines cannot support the weight of the heavy badly designed seat carriers and the weight of humans on their backs for 8 or more hours, which leads to spinal injuries and severe pain. Heavy chairs chafe the skin causing blisters, infection, and severe discomfort.

Indian elephants subject to horrific treatment at Amber Fort, Jaipur, India
Indian elephants subject to horrific treatment at Amber Fort, Jaipur, India
Abused elephants at Amber Fort, Jaipur, India
Abused elephants at Amber Fort, Jaipur India

Long periods of walking and standing causes wear and tear on the elephants feet leading to foot injuries, infection, severe pain, and lameness.

Many elephants are drugged with amphetamines to keep their energy levels up so they can work for extended hours. 

Elephants are social animals and need their family connections. They feel pain, sadness, sorrow, and happiness which they are deprived of due to their long trekking and solitary confinement. 

Baby elephants are chained to their mothers during long treks which causes them severe harm as they cannot walk at that pace or for long periods at this young age, and are prevented from nursing from their mothers.

Young elephant calf chained to its mother in Thailand
Baby elephant chained to its mother (photo curtesy of World Animal Protection)

The guides prod the elephants with bullhooks or other painful devices to keep elephants moving which puts fear in the elephants. When not riding or trekking the elephants are kept chained up, deprived of food and water.

When not riding or trekking elephants are kept chained up, deprived of food and water
When not riding or trekking the elephants are kept chained up, deprived of food and water
(photo curtesy of news.com.au)

Elephants suffer severe psychological and physical pain and stress.

Elephant cruelty in India
A wildlife photographer has vowed never to return to India after witnessing the shocking abuse of elephants during a trip to a wildlife reserve. This photographer was horrified to see guides whipping the gentle giants with 5ft bamboo canes, leaving them ‘screaming in agony’. He also claims he spotted emaciated baby elephants chained to trees and in cages.
(photo curtesy of Norman Watson/Mercury Press)

Tour operators will often try and convince tourists that their elephants are treated humanely just to get tourist money.

The elephant entertainment industry is part of the multi-billion-dollar global wildlife trade. Prior to Covid-19 the captive elephant tourism industry generated between U$D581 – U$D770 million annually.

Map of commercial elephant venues in Southern Africas
(photo curtesy of World Animal Protection)

Trophy Hunting

Trophy hunters and other some other organisations claim that hunting and killing elephants is for ‘conservation’ ~ this is just an excuse to justify their actions. Hunting has nothing to do with saving or respecting wildlife and everything to do with brutal, perverted, barbaric, sadistic pleasure in needlessly taking the life of an innocent animal.

Elephant trophy hunters (photo curtesy of CBS News)

Elephant trophy hunters pay thousands of dollars to go on shooting safaris to hunt and kill innocent elephants. These animals have no chance to escape these brutal people who get immense pleasure in watching innocent animals die with their bullets and crossbows ~ the slower and more painful death gives these hunters more pleasure. Some hunters will chop off their heads and take these body parts home as trophies. Trophy hunting must be banned forever.

Habitat loss

African elephants’ habitat has declined more than 50% in the past 30 years. Asian elephants are now down to only 15% of their original range. 

Expanding human population encroaching on elephants habitats for new homes, roads and agriculture has significantly increased human-elephant conflict. With the elephant habitats declining there is less food available, hungry elephants are forced to raid farmers crops and wander into villages to eat from community gardens. This causes elephants to be shot by farmers and villagers as crop raiding severely impacts farmers livelihoods.  Roads, railways and pipelines for human settlements has caused many of the elephant habitats to become fragmented and much smaller, which separates herds from one another and no corridors for elephants to mix with other elephants or gain access to food and water. It is also affecting elephant breeding opportunities with restricted access to maintain genetic diversity.

In India between 2014 – 2019 there were 2361 human lives lost due to human/elephant conflict.  During the same period 510 elephant lives were lost as a result of vehicle accidents, electrocution, poaching, shooting and poisoning. Some farmers are filling their fruit with poison and firecrackers and erecting high voltage electric fencing. 

Elephants forced to share roads with vehicles due to fragmented habitats
Elephants are having to share roads with vehicles due to fragmented habitats (photo curtesy of National Geographic)
Fragmented habitats are forcing elephants to share dangerous roads
(photo curtesy of World Atlas)

Deterrents are being implemented to try and keep elephants away.  Human presence is a deterrent for elephants as they prefer to raid farms when there are no people about. This requires people to remain in the field for 24 hours/day to guard their farms. Trip alarms do work to alert farmers to chase elephants away. However, the best invention so far are beehive fences, which were first trialed in Kenya, and were very successful as elephants don’t like bees. These beehive fences are low cost, affordable, and easily managed and can be adapted to local conditions. Farmers are producing their own honey, wax and pollen which supplements their incomes. Bees also serve as pollinators for crops and contribute to a healthy ecosystem. Educating locals to protect, respect and care for the elephants and to find ways to cohabit with elephants in their villages is also working. 

Elephants crop raiding
Elephants raiding farmers crops (photo curtesy of The Guardian)
Beehive fencing for elephants
Beehive fencing (photo curtesy of butterflies.org)
What can we do to prevent extinction and cruelty of elephants?

Say no to elephant rides and attending circuses.  

It is preferable to see an elephant in their natural habitat on a safari and watch them go about their daily activities. It is more ethical and more authentic to see and enjoy elephants this way.  Watching them interact with their herd, having a dust bath, water bath and interacting with their young are experiences one never forgets.

Asian elephants are considered endangered by the IUCN and the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES).  

Many ethical ecotourism travel companies are now removing elephant rides and circuses from their tours.

Thailand is well known for elephant cruelty. There has been a 70% increase in numbers of captive elephants in the past 10 years, other countries (India, Laos Nepal, Cambodia, Malaysia and Sri Lanka) are not far behind. 

Elephant cruelty in Thailand
Elephant cruelty in Thailand (photo curtesy of ViraLife)

Studies have shown that 63% of these elephants are suffering in severely cruel conditions.   Africa also offers commercial elephant rides and experiences, and their elephants also undergo the same cruel breaking in process as used in Asia. Africa also has captive breeding centres where they breed elephants for sale to Asian elephant parks for tourism. It is a very lucrative business and young elephants generate U$60,000 per individual.

For many tourists the highlight of their trip is to have an elephant ride, swim or have a selfie with an elephant unaware of the cruelty that in inflicted on these animals for a few minutes of pleasure.  

Tourists hold the power to make the changes necessary for these elephants to be set free and live in their natural habitats by not supporting captive elephant entertainment in any way. 

For many elephants who have been part of captive entertainment they are not able to be released back into the wild and need to be cared for in elephant friendly camps or refuges.  These safe havens operate by caring for the released elephants in a natural habitat and allows observation only experiences for visitors which aids in supporting the financial upkeep for these freed elephants. It also provides jobs for local conservation people who are willing to care for these traumatised elephants and let them live out their lives in peace and safely.  

Do not buy anything that is made from ivory and report any stores that sell ivory products. 

 

Conservation

Elephant conservation programs are being implemented in the wild, such as tracking device collars.  More conservation rangers, sniffer dogs are being trained to keep watch over elephants and wildlife parks.  Allocation of more protected areas for elephants with access to ample food and water. Establishment of safe elephant sanctuaries to live freely and safely.

Volunteer programs set up for people to travel and spend time rehabilitating captive elephants at sanctuaries. Close monitoring of elephant population, reduce ivory trafficking, reduce the demand for ivory.

Declining elephant population map
Map of the decline in elephant population
Elephant living happily in its natural habitat, Mana Pools Zimbabwe
Elephant living happily in its natural habitat, Mana Pools Zimbabwe

a short video of the severe cruelty which young elephants are subject to

References

https://www.bbc.com/news/science-environment-40501667

https://www.worldanimalprotection.org/news/tourists-choosing-elephant-bathing-over-elephant-riding-unaware-cruelty-involved

https://www.worldanimalprotection.us/blogs/facts-about-elephants

https://www.all-creatures.org

https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/aug/12/a-taste-of-honey-how-bees-mend-fences-between-farmers-and-elephants-aoe

https://veer.li/10726

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