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My daughter is in year 4 at primary school and we did the research for this post together in preparation for her poster presentation on elephants.
Once elephants were common in Africa and Asia but they are not common any more mostly because of killing for their tusks for ivory. Some elephant populations are now stable and growing thanks to conservation but others are at risk because of poaching (usually for ivory), killing to keep them away from villages or farms, war, and habitat destruction.
In the last ten years about 111,000 elephants were killed, mostly for their ivory.
In some countries there are no regulations to stop the killing of elephants and transportation and sale of ivory
Illegal wildlife trade is one of the largest criminal activities in the world and is worth $7.8-10 billion per year, after drugs, human trafficking and weapons.
Elephants can be protected in conservation parks but poachers are very advanced in terms of weapons and transportation and park rangers can be killed, trying to protect endangered animals.
Last year Thailand banned the trade of ivory but when several African countries tried at the October 2016 meeting of CITES in South Africa to ban the trade in ivory globally, the motion failed to receive 2/3 of the votes, partly because it was blocked by the EU block who claimed that some elephant populations are stable.
Lee White, from Gabon, told the CITES meeting in South Africa in October 2016 that his country was “haemorrhaging” about one tonne of ivory per month as a result of poaching.
He said that one thousand African park rangers had lost their lives over the past decade in fighting against the illegal trade.
Some conservation parks let hunters come and pay a lot of money to kill an elephant, for example in Namibia. This podcast on the BBC includes interviews in Namibia about that topic. That money is ostendibly used to pay rangers to protect the other elephants in the conservation park.
What can we do:
Ask governments to protect elephants by having more police, stronger punishment, and less demand for ivory
Provide equipment, training and money to protect park rangers and police when they are threatened by armed poachers or offered bribes.
Reduce demand for ivory by encouraging people to ask questions and get facts before buying any ivory.
Elephants need a lot of space because they walk a long way during their migrations and they eat a lot of plant material every day.
There are lots of human-elephant conflict because humans need space for towns, farming and building roads, pipelines, canals etc.
Large conservation parks provide safe places for elephants to live, for example the KAZA park has 250,000 elephants living there.
Elephant tourism and festivals
Elephants in Thailand were used for logging but this was banned in 1988 and new national parks were made to protect the forests. When logging was banned the elephant owners in some cases were unemployed and needed money so they started using elephants for tourism.
Elephants are often overworked and live in poor conditions. They are forced to perform difficult tricks, paint pictures and give rides to people. The elephants are often treated very badly during training, being beaten, stabbed with hooks, and forced to do the same boring routine every day. Often they are not fed properly, they are tired and made to work too much and they are physically and mentally suffering.
Many have wounds on their head and ears from years of abuse. Thinking back to my trip to Chitwan National Park in Nepal with my favourite charity, Room to Read, my safari on an elephant to see wild white rhinoceros was a mixed experience. My elephant, Gulaab (rose) was bleeding from an open and partially scarred, deep wound behind her ear that the rider repeatedly poked with a metal spike. It made me nauseated and I cried but I didn’t object and when Gulaab took us to see 3 wild white rhinoceros I forget about her torment. I still feel guilt about that.
Baby elephants are stolen from their mothers and used for entertainment and begging from tourists. A baby elephant can be sold for more than $33,000.
Elephants have to be ‘broken’ before they can be used in tourism. To break the elephant they trap the baby elephant in a small cage and poke it with spikes, starve it, stop it from sleeping and make it afraid of humans. About half of the elephants die during their torture.
Instead of taking a ride on an elephant tourists should go to a sanctuary and watch elephants walking or bathing in a river and enjoy watching the elephants playing with water.
When we were visiting a big zoo in Indonesia we rode on an elephant that was very sad and it’s spirit was broken. I regret taking my children on the elephant just because I didn’t want them to miss out on an experience. Instead I missed an opportunity to encourage strong ethical principles in my children.
Have you visited an elephant sanctuary? Have you seen an elephant in the wild?