By Arwa Lodhi
Elephants are so often represented in cartoons, TV shows and children’s books, they seem common, but in fact, Asian elephants are now endangered, and with a huge increase in poaching, African elephants are not far behind.
These are intelligent, empathetic, sensitive creatures. They are one of the few species we know of that mourns their dead, specifically with a mysterious bone-touching ritual, and they, along with some apes and dolphins, are intelligent enough to recognise themselves in a mirror.
During the Asian tsunami of 2005, there were several reports of ‘working’ elephants (used to give tours of the jungle) picking children up, throwing them onto their backs, and running away from the danger. (Click here to read one such heart-warming story), and these gentle giants have become Buddhist symbols of mental strength.
Big Animal, Bigger Problems
Despite the almost human-qualities of these ancient creatures, they are being brutally killed for their ivory in Africa, and in Asia, Borneo pygmy elephants are in danger of being poisoned by palm oil owners and plantation workers, who often kill these animals to stop them from eating palm fruit. Increased human demand for land also means that elephants’ native habitats are being greatly reduced, and obviously, it’s difficult for elephants to coexist with humans, due to their size and food requirements. When they do wander near villages, they commonly trample and consume crops, leading to conflict with humans which often ends up being fatal for both humans and elephants.
So widespread are the problems facing this animal, African elephants are currently listed as a vulnerable species by the International Union for the conservation of Nature, and the Asian elephant is on the endangered list. Poaching statistics are depressing: they are at their highest levels today than they have ever been since the global ivory trade ban was adopted in 1989. Wielding AK-47s and rocket-propelled grenades, dozens of poachers in Cameroon’s Bouba Ndjidah National Park, a reserve area, slaughtered hundreds of elephants, reminiscent of a similar butchering in 2006 just outside Chad’s Zakouma National Park.
How You Can Help
Not even reserves are safe places for elephants, so it’s more important than ever for people who care about elephants to make their voices heard. There are several charities focused on elephant conservation, including elephantconservation.org and the Sheldrick Widlife Trust, where your donation of time or money could help save these creatures from extinction, but you can also help save the elephant by:
1. Refusing to buy any ivory products (which are illegal, anyway!)
2. Condemning those who do
3. Spreading the word by sharing this article.
4. Not buying into greenwashing schemes like Tiffany’s ‘Knot on my Planet’ – (the brand is giving the profits they make from a certain item to elephant conservation – but this totally ignores the fact that mining by brands by Tiffany’s actually harm the elephant more than help!)
Humans have created the dire situation the elephants find themselves in today – but we can also be the solution to the problem we’ve created.