Elephants are renowned for their intelligence, sensitivity, and rich emotional lives. They have been recorded mourning for dead relatives on numerous occasions, just like humans. In the wild, these animals live in close-knit matrilineal herds, forming loving bonds with friends and family members that can last a lifetime. When these bonds are torn apart by the animal captivity industry, the psychological effects this has on the animals can be devastating.
Popular tourist attractions involving these animals, such as trekking and elephant painting, are often marketed as “cute,” but are, in fact, anything but. The training process involves breaking an elephant’s spirit by locking them in chains for days to endure beatings, causing them to fear their human handlers. The idea is that this fear will get them to perform whatever trick is required without complaint. Painful bullhooks, whips, and chains are used to keep the animal in their place.
These types of forceful training methods are also commonplace in circuses that use elephants. A growing number of countries around the world have banned the use of wild animals in circuses, but in places where the cruel practice continues, the affected elephants experience injuries, illnesses, and a much higher mortality rate than their wild counterparts.
This trend can be readily observed in zoos as well: a recent study on zoo elephants by the American Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) found that approximately two-thirds of the elephants surveyed displayed stereotypic behaviors like head bobbing, weaving and swaying. This type of behavior – which indicates severe psychological distress – is virtually unheard of amongst wild populations.
As if all this weren’t proof enough of the savagery that we humans inflict on these beautiful beings, the illegal ivory trade is driving the African elephant toward extinction. One African elephant is killed by poachers every fifteen minutes, adding up to a total of around 100 victims every day, or 35,000 to 50,000 every year. An amazing artists’ collective, Artists Against Ivory, is on a mission to combat the problem by changing people’s perceptions of elephants and raising awareness of the urgent need to protect them.
This beautiful photograph shows us exactly where a baby elephant belongs: not in a zoo, not in a circus, not in any place where they will be put on display as an object of human amusement … but by their mother’s side.
The sweet image perfectly captures the beauty of these animals and reminds us why it would be an incalculable tragedy if we were to lose them forever. If you want to learn about how you can help save this majestic species, click here.
Image source: Artists Against Ivory/Facebook