Symbols of strength and wisdom, the elephant is believed to be sacred and incredibly valuable in many cultures. In this way, these majestic animals are to be preserved. Sadly, we have done the opposite.
We have singlehandedly eliminated hundreds of species in the past few decades, the elephant being no exception. The trade of ivory is unrelenting despite an international ban by CITES in 1989, and the statistics available to us are disheartening. In 2013 the IUCN’s African Specialist Group completed their most recent analysis, their elephant database indicated 397,601 definite individuals throughout Africa.
To put that in perspective, there were as many as five million African elephants in the 1930s and 1940s. Last year, a study found that more than 100,000 African elephants had been killed between 2010 and 2012. It is now estimated that one elephant is killed for their ivory every 15 minutes.
The loss of native habitat has also had a devastating effect on the wild populations of both the African and Asian elephants. The Asian elephant’s population is estimated to be somewhere between 25,600-32,750 wild individuals.
Poaching and habitat loss aside, elephants have been plucked from the wild and placed into captivity for years to be used for our entertainment or put to work. Thanks to a number of organizations working tirelessly to end the suffering of exploited animals, elephants are finally being phased out of many circuses and zoos.
We are so thankful to the sanctuaries taking in abused neglected and exploited elephants both here in the United States and abroad. It is through these incredible organizations working to raise public awareness, conserve the elephants native habitat, and ensuring the elephants in their care are safe for the remainder of their lives, that we can begin to hope for the future of the species.
1. The Elephant Sanctuary, Tennessee
The Elephant Sanctuary was founded by Carol Buckley and Scott Blais in 1995. A 501(c)(3) nonprofit, the Asian and African elephants at the sanctuary reside on 2,700 acres in Tennessee, the largest in the nation.
All of the female elephants at the sanctuary were formerly used for entertainment purposes, abused or neglected. At the sanctuary, the elephants are able to live the remainder of their lives peacefully in herds, something incredibly important to the social structure of the species.
While the sanctuary where the animals reside is closed to the general public, a welcome center is available for visitors who may view the elephants on one of thirteen cameras.
2. Boon Lotts Elephant Sanctuary, Thailand
In loving memory of Boon Lott, an elephant rescued and loved until his last breath by founder Katherine Connor, Boon Lotts Elephant Sanctuary is a safe haven for elephants on more than 400 acres in rural Thailand.
The elephants at Boon Lotts are provided with a stimulating and natural environment, so natural in fact that in 2007 Boon Lotts welcomed their first calf, Star (a feat that has proven only minimally successful at zoos all over the world). Although the little calf died unexpectedly in 2010, the environment Katherine Connor provides for the animals proves that they’re, given the circumstances, thriving.
3. Performing Animal Welfare Society, California
Founded by the late Pat Derby and her partner Ed Stewart, the Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) maintains several sanctuaries for abused and neglected animals. PAWS newest sanctuary, the ARK 2000, is a 2,300-acre safe haven in San Andreas, California.
A renowned facility, PAWS was the first to successfully use a non-dominance technique with the elephants in their care, meaning no weapons (bull hooks) or other aversive training techniques.
4. Elephant Nature Park, Thailand
With 250 acres of untouched habitat, the elephants at the park are no longer forced to perform or work and instead have free range to do as they please. Visitors are welcome to come tour the facility and learn to respect the elephants who live in as natural of an environment as possible.
Elephant Nature Park also runs an amazing program that works with former elephant exhibitors to help them transform their abusive acts into sanctuaries where elephants are never abused or forced to work for a profit.
5. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Kenya
If you’ve seen the movie Born to be Wild, you’ve seen the work being done at the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT) in Kenya.
Founded by Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick in 1977 in memory of her late husband David Sheldrick, the wildlife trust has received global recognition for their conservation and rehabilitation program. Through the Orphan Project, DSWT has successfully hand raised and reintegrated more than 150 elephants back into the native wild herds.
For many of us, we will never have the opportunity to see an elephant in the wild. Given the circumstances, we experience these animals only in captivity. Future generations may only be able to experience their beauty through pictures.
The fate of the elephant is in our hands.
If you would like to get involved:
- Consider volunteering or donating to one of the facilities listed above (or any other reputable sanctuary housing elephants).
- Raise awareness! Continue to share articles exposing the devastating impact poaching, habitat loss and captivity has on these animals.
Lead image source: Ryan Poplin/Flickr