Happy World Elephant Day 2017!
Thank you for visiting Elephants and the Law. Elephants are the most magnificent creatures on our planet. Countless individuals work to protect and conserve the species every day, and this website will discuss legal, political, and moral issues that affect those efforts. This will be a learning experience for me, so hopefully we can work through some of these issues together. I certainly appreciate suggestions and questions from all of you.
This blog might start out being a lot of different things, but, with time and feedback, I hope to grow it into a blog that is really good at just a few things. I am also going to try to photograph and draw everything myself, because I don’t understand stock photos, so, bear with me. Until I reach blog enlightenment, though, the basic purpose of this website is to
- inform all of you guys,
- stimulate open-minded discussion,
- encourage action, and
- hopefully add a compassionate angle to the way the reader thinks about animals in general- while using the elephant as the primary example.
Why? Because elephants are dope.
This debut post will cover the following topics:
- Why Elephants Are Neat
- The State of the Elephant
- What We’re Doing (Wrong)
- How We Can Do Better
Why Elephants Are Neat
Besides the fact that baby elephants are super relatable (see below), elephants are magnificent for so many reasons.
Elephants are self-aware
Elephants are part of the small group of “self-aware” species that currently only includes elephants, dolphins, monkeys, and us. That is hugely indicative of elephant intelligence. I know some humans that could use a little more self-awareness, if you know what I mean.
Elephants comfort each other
Like humans, elephants comfort each other through physical contact with their trunks – elephant “hugs,” if you will.
Elephants stick with their families for life
Fact: the elephant divorce rate is 0%. An elephant herd consists of a matriarch, her daughters, and her daughters’ daughters. And they stick together forever. The herd allows the male elephants to hang out until age 12 – 15, then the male gets the boot. Yasss ladies.
Elephants mourn their dead and celebrate births
This indicates that elephants have a concept of loss and new life. The fact that they grieve like we do is so relatable. Here, I made a sad drawing to illustrate.
Don’t you want a custom sad elephant sketch? Ask for one here!
Elephants exhibit signs of distress
Elephants in captivity exhibit behaviors that do not exist in the wild, such as pacing, gnawing, bobbing their heads, and swaying. Elephants also experience post-traumatic stress indicators. This NYT article is a favorite of mine and talks about this – either read or save for later.
Elephants and Humans have similar histories
Elephants and humans evolved “in parallel” hundreds of thousands of years ago. In fact, some bodies of research show that elephants were around long before humans were. Respect!
ELEPHANTS ARE AFRAID OF BEES
Guys, this is super important information. They are afraid of humans and bees. I am also afraid of humans and bees. And I didn’t think I could love them any more.
Elephants do have great memories
Don’t worry, Shirley and Jenny will have their own post on Elephants and the Law. I’m not crying, you’re crying.
Okay, I’m crying, too.
Elephants are a “keystone species”
More on this later, but elephants help maintain the biodiversity of the ecosystems in which they live. They even poop out seeds that grow into new grass, bushes, and trees. Incredible.
The State of the Elephant
Elephants are in big trouble.
There are technically three species of elephants – the African savanna elephant, the African forest elephant, and the Asian elephant. For our purposes, this site will group the forest and savanna elephants together.
The African elephant population was estimated at approximately 26 million in the 1500s – down to a staggering 600,000 in 1989. Estimates range from 400,000 – 700,000 African elephants, and between 35,000 – 40,000 wild Asian elephants today. These numbers are so low already, and elephants are dying every day.
Dr. Mark Chase heads up the Great Elephant Census, which was funded by Paul Allen, co-founder of Microsoft. This project is meant to show where elephants live. According to the Economist, this is the “most extensive count of a wild species ever attempted.” It’s sad but really, really cool.
Diminishing populations are due to three main factors, the biggest and most horrifying factor being poaching for ivory and meat. Second, elephants are being pushed out of their natural habitat by exploding human populations (exploding humans?!). This means elephants and humans are coming into contact more often. For example, elephants are eating villagers’ crops, which may be the villagers’ only sources of income. Diminishing resources means that one species will suffer as the other thrives.
The third big threat to elephants is their use in entertainment, including their capture and sale to zoos, circuses, and the tourism industry.
- While circuses are starting to give up their elephants due to public pressure, zoos are still keeping elephants in captivity.
- While some zoos claim to promote research and conservation, they actually have the opposite effect. Shameless plug, I discuss this topic in my paper.
- Entertainment includes trophy hunting of elephants. Elephant trophy hunting is disgusting, especially since the elephant species has been threatened/endangered for such a long time.
- Also, regarding tourism, elephant back rides might not be the innocent elephant bonding experience we all hoped. See this article and also this article. Stay woke, everyone.
What We’re Doing (Wrong)
Thankfully, there are countless organizations that aim to protect and conserve the elephant species. There are also parks, reserves, and sanctuaries where elephants are legally protected. There are international and national laws and regulations banning the trade of ivory, and efforts to stop poaching are increasing every day. Even for elephants in captivity, at least in the U.S., local, state, and federal laws and regulations allegedly promote elephant welfare and conservation.
So, why are elephants still disappearing?
Two big reasons.
Market for Ivory
Poaching is already illegal, so no ivory ban is going to stop it. If there is a market for ivory, then you bet someone is going to cash in. The trade is most alive in China, where animal welfare is sort of lagging, as well as in Japan and Thailand. And some ivory consumers claim to “not know” where the ivory actually comes from. Apparently more than one consumer here and here thought ivory “grew back like a fingernail.” Why would it be so valuable? What? Is this pers…. I can’t.
Because of diminishing resources and increasing contact between elephants and humans in African countries, some villagers view elephants as nuisances and don’t care if the species survives. This contributes to the lack of cooperation and continued poaching of elephants.
How We Can Do Better
There are so. many. ways. We can do better globally, nationally, and individually.
International bodies should crack down on poaching, but that is expensive and requires cooperation among countries. Logistically, we need better surveillance, cooperation, and evidence-gathering, for poachers to be brought to justice.
Additionally, because human-elephant conflict is most intense where the economy stinks, conservation efforts should target these economies. If we invest in the economies and people of these villages and countries, we can stop their dependence on the crops or livestock that elephants may threaten. But we have to change our strategy.
In the US
The US and other countries where elephants are not a native species should ban the import of elephants altogether unless the elephants are headed, as a very last resort, to a sanctuary. An *actual sanctuary, not a Ringling Brothers Fake Sanctuary. But, in reality, that should never be necessary. There is no reason for elephants to come to the US, and the dollars that are spent bringing them here would go much further funding conservation efforts in their native countries.
We can change the way we think about elephants and other large species. If we take on the perspective of an elephant, or tiger, or giraffe; if we are aware of their needs and their similarities to us; then we will naturally recoil at the site of them in captivity. We should cringe at the exploitation of intelligent animals in which circuses engage. We should be furious that zoo elephants have less than an acre to inhabit, when they are known to walk 30 miles a day in the wild.
We should do the following:
- Support a worldwide ivory ban;
- Refuse to visit circuses that still exhibit animals;
- Refuse to engage with tourist attractions abroad that feature elephants;
- Refuse to visit zoos with large animal habitats;
- Continue to publicly shame those that hunt elephants and other endangered species for sport (seriously?);
- Put pressure on those groups that contribute to the exploitation of large species; and
- If you have the resources, contribute in some way to the mission of organizations that work to conserve and protect this and other large species. I hope to have a page with a comprehensive list of these organizations soon.
When my passion for elephants was budding, I read Lawrence Anthony’s book, The Elephant Whisperer. In it, Mr. Anthony says “Perhaps the most important lesson I learned is that there are no walls between humans and elephants except those that we put up ourselves, and that until we allow not only elephants, but all living creatures their place in the sun, we can never be whole ourselves.” Practicing compassion is essential for healthy relationships among humans, and when compassion and human decency fail, the law should intervene.
Thanks so much for reading. Stay tuned for a World Elephant Day Bonus Post Surprise. Then, I’ll be posting again next Thursday!