It’s another day in the calendar to recognise the plea of one of mankind’s favourite animals. Save The Elephants Day falls on April 16 and a huge surge in conservation and awareness is planned for the day.
Despite an international ban on trade and many different country specific laws preventing it, poaching is still an epidemic problem. It isn’t just elephants who suffer, as trophy hunting for many animals persists, but elephants come near the top of the list thanks to the ivory which they produce.
According to the World Elephant Day website, as of 2016 more elephants are being killed for their ivory than are being born. Now that’s a sobering statistic. African Elephants are somewhat more prosperous than Asian, of which there are roughly 40,000 remaining worldwide. That still sounds like a large number, but when you consider that that number was in the millions only 100 years ago, that’s sobering too.
Asia is under the microscope for elephant poaching, as China is a main importer of the world’s ivory. Used in traditional Chinese medicine, ivory is worth a tonne of money on the black markets. However, trophy hunting and ceremonial hunting of African elephants has gone down, so that’s something.
As with many animals, disappearing habitats also contributes to the uphill struggle facing the world’s elephants. This has a direct result on poaching too, as it reduces the number of safe havens for elephants, opening them up to further targeting for their ivory. As a result, national parks in Africa and Asia are more and more important with every passing year, for all animals, not just elephants.
One topic of controversy with elephants in addition to poaching is tourism. Elephants have always been traditionally and culturally important to those whom have lived in close proximity. This has meant that elephant tourism, circuses and tourist parks have slowly become a staple of areas where they live. It’s only just becoming clear how damaging this can be though. All over Asia, elephants are still used in circuses and tourist parks extensively. This obliterates the local populations of the animals as most of these animals are taken from their families as infants. It affects the individual elephants in many ways, the most obvious and shocking of which are extensive physical injury, malnourishment, shorter lifespans and debilitated social abilities. This has a knock on effect on people too, as animals in such conditions could be less predictable, endangering those around them.
Riding specifically among elephant tourism causes all sorts of problems to the elephants and is actively discouraged by conservation and volunteer groups, Frontier included.
Their popularity does mean that exploitation is rife, and in the case of tourism, it often has more negative effects for the individual and groups of elephants that it affects, despite much of the intention behind it being to benefit the elephants. We’re slowly getting clued up on these things, but the populations of elephants aren’t diminishing slowly. They’re dying out fast.
One of the main fighters against elephant poaching has been volunteers and volunteering projects. Many African countries support projects that look after elephants, monitor their migrations, breeding and nutrition in an attempt to put together more and more methods of ensuring their future.
The importance of elephants to the world can be summed up in one phrase. That is, that they are a keystone species. They create and maintain the ecosystems in which they live and allow the rest of the ecosystem around them to flourish. Without them, huge expanses of grassland in Africa and forest in Asia are untamed and unbalanced. Their cultural significance cannot even begin to be measured.
As it stands, the price of Ivory worldwide has quadrupled in recent years. With the increasing demand increasing cost but fewer animals, something has to give. We can only hope that that thing that gives isn’t the world’s elephant population.
Laws have been introduced to try and control it, but policing such a trade is fraught with complications. For starters, simply confiscating ivory doesn’t help save the elephant from which it came, and so helping those who are alive is the key. National parks do an amazing job, monitoring not only the elephants, but their environment to ensure they have the facilities available to flourish.
So what can you do? Well, there are several possibilities available. Volunteering with elephants is an obvious one, and a far safer option than some methods. Recently, a poacher patrol helicopter pilot was killed by poachers when his helicopter was shot down. That gives some strong indication of how dreadful this industry is.
Follow this link for some of Frontier’s Elephant Conservation Projects worldwide.
By Guy Bezant - Online Journalism Intern
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