August 12 is World Elephant Day, which means it’s a great time to recognize the many ways elephants are important.
After all, elephants are known as a “keystone species,” meaning that plants, other animals and even ecosystems depend on them. Elephants help plants by spreading their seeds in their droppings. Even their footprints matter — when it rains, those huge prints become water troughs for other animals to drink from.
Highly emotional beings, elephants grieve for their dead. They’re smart and expressive. Finally, of course, elephants are beautiful, majestic giants. We love them. We need to show them how much we love them by doing something meaningful to help them survive.
Estimates say an elephant is killed every 15 minutes. That adds up to a sobering 96 elephants every day or about 36,000 animals every year. If this pace doesn’t stop, we risk extinction of the elephant in the wild by 2025. No one wants a world without elephants a mere 10 years from now.
To help you celebrate these magnificent animals, we’d like to introduce you to 5 organizations devoted to researching and protecting elephants.
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT)
The DSWT, founded in 1977, is active on many fronts in the fight to save elephants from extinction. One of its most notable efforts is the Orphan’s Project, which rescues and rehabilitates elephants and rhinos orphaned by the illegal poaching industry.
So far the project has successfully hand-raised more than 150 baby elephants. Even better, it has been able to reintegrate these orphaned calves back into wild herds.
The DSWT also sponsors the iWorry campaign, which works to raise awareness of the illegal ivory trade. iWorry urges world governments to focus more resources and energy on this problem, getting its message out by sharing evidence of poaching via social media, press releases and the annual International March for the Elephants each October. This year’s march will occur in cities around the world on Oct. 4.
Save the Elephants
Save the Elephants (STE) describes its mission in this way: “[T]o secure a future for elephants and to sustain the beauty and ecological integrity of the places they live; to promote man’s delight in their intelligence and the diversity of their world, and to develop a tolerant relationship between the two species.”
It strives to achieve this mission by seeking out opportunities to fund activities that reduce demand for ivory, fight international ivory trafficking and curtail elephant poaching.
STE’s particular specialty is GMS collaring and tracking of elephants. It works actively to improve tracking technology to enable conservationists to keep tabs on how quickly elephants are moving and where vulnerable elephants are at any given time.
In addition, STE’s “Monitoring the Illegal Killing of Elephants” program enables them to provide helpful data about poaching hotspots as well as safe zones.
The Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS)
Most elephant lovers despise circuses and any other venue in which they are held captive and forced to “perform” for human entertainment. The Performing Animal Welfare Society hates that, too. Fortunately, they do something about it.
PAWS rescues abandoned, “abused, neglected, retired and needy captive wildlife through intervention and legislation designed to stop the problem by prohibiting indiscriminate breeding of exotic animals for the pet industry and the use of wild animals in entertainment.”
The elephants and other rescued performers live in PAWS’ sanctuaries in enclosures designed to mimic their natural habitats. There are even specially designed enclosures geared to the needs of elderly, injured and arthritic animals. The animals are able to roam freely, their lives of misery and confinement behind them.
Six African and five Asian elephants currently live at PAWS’ ARK 2000 sanctuary in San Andreas, Ca., along with tigers, lions, bears and a black leopard.
Elephants Without Borders
Some countries in Africa have an abundance of elephants, while others are seeing shocking declines in numbers. Elephants Without Borders (EWB), based in Botswana, believes that elephant conservation efforts need to look past individual country borders and focus broadly on what’s happening across the African continent.
In EWB’s own words:
At EWB, we believe elephants are of considerable economic, ecological, cultural and aesthetic value to many people in the world and are one of Africa’s most valuable wildlife species. They are the flagships, providing motivation for raising awareness, stimulating action, encouraging funding for conservation efforts, and generating opportunities to reconsider the boundaries between conservation and rural development. Our vision, to open borders for Africa’s wildlife through education and research will help ensure future generations share their lives with these great giants.
EWB conducts research on the ground and in the air into elephant migratory patterns, home ranges, population dynamics and use of habitat. Among other things, this information and the models derived therefrom help African wildlife managers identify problems and assist with conflict resolution.
Elephant Asia Rescue and Survival Foundation (EARS)
Founded in Hong Kong in 2010, EARS promotes awareness of the issues affecting the Asian elephant. Among its efforts, EARS educates Asian tourists on what it calls the “dark side of elephant tourism” — the innumerable camps throughout Thailand that force hundreds of elephants to perform, give rides and even beg for money on the street.
In particular, EARS is concerned about trekking camps, in which hard chairs are tied to the backs of elephants so they can give rides to tourists. Some of these camps maintain 80 or more elephants for this purpose. It can be an unhappy life.
Many trekking camps over work their elephants, leave the heavy chairs on their backs all day, load heavier than acceptable and do not offer enough food or water. There is also no enrichment for the elephants or freedom for them to behave naturally and roam in a forest environment when they are not working.
EARS believes responsible elephant tourism can help to save the elephants throughout Asia but ONLY if camps maintain the highest level of elephant care, food requirements, hygiene and environmental enrichment.
EARS believes tourists in Thailand can influence change for abused captive elephants if they will provide feedback to EARS on the conditions they witness in these trekking camps.
Want to let the world know you’re celebrating World Elephant Day? Wear something grey on Aug 12. Better yet, offer your financial and social media support to one of these great organizations or any of the many others doing important work on behalf of these lovely creatures.
The ellies need us — now.
Photo credit (main image): Thinkstock