Elephants across the globe are in crisis. Elephants in captivity around the world face a life of isolation, living within substandard facilities facing boredom, neglect and in some cases direct abuse at the hand of humans. Unfortunately it comes down to human greed and lack of understanding. The only reason elephants are subjected to these lives of imprisonment is to entertain people; we are intrigued by the animal world and we want to be as close to it as we can, even if means the animal is destined to a life of suffering.
Elephants are incredibly intelligent and uniquely emotional, they are an animal that is designed to migrate up to 30 miles a day, their family structures are complex, the extent of their society is profound. So what is it that we learn from when they’re performing arcane tricks in a circus ring or living a solitary existence in a concrete enclosure? It certainly isn’t the truth of these magnificent and majestic animals.
One of the most tragic realities is the drastic impact captivity has on an elephant’s longevity. In the wild elephants can live to be 60-70 years old, in captivity, the average life is cut in half. What’s worse is the primary cause of their early demise; the number one killer of captive elephants is foot disease, infections in the bones of their feet that become systemic and joint disease.
Some Zoos need to be given a little credit, there are some that are trying to make a difference, expanding enclosures and providing a more natural diet but the limiting parameters and lack of sizable habitats cannot be disregarded. The end result of the multi million dollar expansions have little increased benefit for the elephants, it matters little if the space is 1/2 an acre or 3 acres, it is still woefully inadequate.
GSE can make a difference. We know the direct benefit that sanctuary life can bring to an elephant’s life. The two notable elephant sanctuaries in the US, Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee (TES) have paved a progressive path forward for captive elephants. In our work with elephants at sanctuary, we have witnessed elephants that had previously been given months to live thrive, elephants isolated for more than 40 years become intimately social and keystone members of the herd and physical and emotional issues completely reversed. Sanctuary life can literally add years to an elephant’s projected longevity as fear and psychological burdens, decades old melt away.
Elephants in the wild are facing a different threat. Throughout the past few years poaching has escalated to a degree that hasn’t been observed in over two decades. The impact of the ivory trade in Tanzania is staggering: up to 30 elephants a day are being slaughtered for their tusks, by the end of the year more than 10,000 elephant will have been senselessly killed in Tanzania alone, solely for the purpose of household trinkets and jewelry.
This is a global tragedy and it will take international efforts to resolve. The international media has profiled the catastrophic slaughter of elephants but the general public remains unaware of the horrifying reality. Most consumers of ivory are ignorant to the fact that elephants are slaughtered for their tusks, often dying slow and very painful deaths by poisoned arrows and spears. Not only is the fabric of elephant society being fractured, but human greed has a very real potential of being responsible for the demise of the species. The ivory trade must stop if there is going to be any hope for the survival of elephant species.
Human-elephant conflict is due to an ever-growing population that continue to encroach on the space of native wildlife. The elephants are seen as the threat, although the issue wouldn’t exist if their only homes weren’t being taken away from them. Most of the areas this type of conflict occurs are poverty stricken and the rules created to protect the elephants’ natural habitat are ignored and not enforced.
Different facets of this include injuries and deaths to humans, crop raiding, competition over resources with livestock and elephants being killed by humans. It is estimated that between 300-500 people are killed by elephant attacks each year and it’s becoming increasingly more common. The number of elephants killed by humans due to elephant-human conflict is unclear as many elephant deaths are reported as ‘accidents’ or not at all.
Habitat degradation and fragmentation forces elephants into smaller more densely populated areas, increasing human-elephant conflict. Forests are disappearing, elephant families are being broken up, genetic diversity is lost and ancient elephant pathways are broken and inaccessible. The world elephants once knew, no longer exists.
We all still have time to make a substantial difference for elephants around the globe. Together we can impact the lives of hundreds if not thousands of elephants and help protect the species from irreversible decline. It is up to all of us to walk through life, educated about the repercussions of our decisions, to use the knowledge that we have for the greater good of the world around us and to share what we know to create a positive change.