Three generations ago, Asia had over 100K elephants living in the wild. Today, it is estimated that only half of them remains. This means that in less than a century, we have lost 50K of them. What happened?
The main reason is that elephants have lost their wide ranging forests due to the growing population. Their habitat has been fragmented to give way to human settlements. Asia is to date the most populated continent in the world, where close to 20% of the total human population lives where elephants live or close to them, according to the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) . This puts a huge amount of pressure on their habitat in countries like India, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Indonesia as humans need to grow crops, build infrastructure and develop commercial activities.
Experts say that Asian elephants are even more endangered than the African elephants due to habitat loss. They’re also fewer in number. The International Elephant Foundation estimates that the number of remaining Asian elephants is between 30K and 50K, which comprises one-tenth of the population of African elephants. And let’s remember that those same elephants are disappearing in the wild due to poaching.
Here are 5 reasons why we need to take action today
They’re loosing their place in the forests - You might have seen the news earlier this year where a mob set fire to a baby elephant and his mother in India while looking for food in a farmland. This sadly is one of the many cases illustrating the ongoing human-elephant conflict in the Asian continent. Elephants often wander in plantations which causes unrest and retaliation from the villagers, many times resulting in the killing of the elephants. Additionally, railroads and electric towers are built in what used to be their homes, so many die on rail road accidents or electrocuted. A report published in early 2019 highlighted that elephants were being poisoned and shot around coffee and tea plantations in India as they disrupt the agricultural activities taking place in their habitat.
They’re poached for our entertainment - Their commercial use - and not just elephant rides - also includes temple ceremonies, street begging, logging and festivals. The majority of Asia’s elephants live in India where many are “exported” to neighboring countries like Nepal to work at hotels and riding camps. A TRAFFIC investigation concluded that elephants in Myanmar are also poached and later exported to Thailand. These “crude capture methods have led to a high mortality level” according to the threats identified by the WWF. Unfortunately for us travelers this means that, when we take part in activities involving working elephants, we’re also responsible for their decline.
Their reproduction is declining - Contrary to the African elephants, only a few female Asian elephants have tusks. This means that poachers go after the males for their ivory, which consequently affects the reproduction rates of Asian elephants as females have less chances of breeding. According to Duncan McNair, CEO of Save The Asian Elephant, there are parts of India where there is only one male for every 200 females. This recent article on Nepal’s elephants indicates that when an elephant dies, it is not being replaced. They currently have only about 100 wild elephants.
They’re being tortured to be tamed - Footage of undercover investigations gathered upsetting images of calves who were captured and brutally “trained”. Their fate is now in the hands of the “trainers” who, for weeks and even months at a time-, confine them and beat them with hammers, sticks with spikes and bull hooks. They are starved and left with no water, away from their family till they give up. This horrific and ancient method is called phajaan. The purpose? To wreck them psychologically which is later reinforced with the use of bull hooks and sharp objects throughout their lives as a reminder of what could happen again if they’re not compliant.
They are inadequately fed, cared for and isolated - Elephants are über intelligent creatures with complex and strong social bonds. To them, touching one another is a sign of reassurance. In the wild, they eat up to 300 pounds of grass and branches a day and they take naps, bathe and walk with their herd. In captivity however, they’re kept in chains which often times have spikes that cause painful injuries every time they try to stretch. Many are blinded by their handlers so that they’re easier to exploit. They develop problems with their limbs, their backs and their feet as a result. Clean water is not usually available despite them needing to drink about 200 liters of water daily and they’re kept in unsuitable shacks and concrete sheds.
How to help?
1 - Raise awareness - Social media is a great tool to do promote causes. The same way social media sets consumer, travel and fashion trends, the same way it can help tourists know how to make humane and responsible choices. It also informs others of the sad truth behind elephant rides and shows.
The current hashtag #NoPrideinElephantRide is taking off. Here are some hashtags you can use next time you see or share a post to help elephants: #notinmybucketlist #wildlifenotentertainters #BeKindToElephants #phajaan #responsibletourism
2- Refuse to ride - A concrete action that will immediately alleviate the burden on Asia’s working elephants is to not ride them. Even if your friends or family members decide to do it, you can still say no and explain the reasons why. The tour companies and hotels that offer such “services” must also hear what you have to say. By being vocal of your concerns, you’re letting the industry know that this kind of activity needs to stop. Go to Refuse to Ride.org and sign the petition.
3- Use your skills - Do you speak another language? Are you good at writing or at getting people to support your causes? Reach out to organizations that need help to raise funds or to blogs and media outlets that could use your expertise to create contents. Many places rely on trusted volunteers to handle their social media. Look for an organization that resonates with you and offer to share your knowledge with them.
4- Own your power as a consumer - Invest your money wisely and humanely. Choose only elephant-friendly activities, venues and products. When ethical principles become the basis of our decisions, the tourist industry in Asia will have to yield and change their practices. Some have already done so! Check out these places in Thailand, Cambodia and Nepal.
5- Join those helping already - There are many organizations helping Asian elephants in captivity. Many advocate for their humane treatment and eradication of all forms of exploitation. There are others like Save The Asian Elephants (STAE) that are strongly working towards creating laws that will prevent British companies from offering touristy activities that abuse and hurt elephants. Their campaigns are already making an impact. Watch this video interview to learn more.
Just this week, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is meeting in Geneva where a big push for the conservation of elephants will be taking place. Elephant conservation is at the top of their agenda and members will get to decide, among other things, to either ban elephant exports to other countries or to allow them, Follow CITES news here.
Elephants cannot wait for all the stakeholders to be on the same page. Today is the day in which we need to act in whichever capacity we can to protect them. I hope you join us!
Thank you for being here.