Chinese ban ivory

Some good news to start 2018: Preliminary studies are showing the ban on ivory in China is working well.

From the BBC:

“Wildlife campaigners believe 30,000 African elephants are killed by poachers every year.
State media said there had already been a 65% decline in the price of raw ivory over the past year.
There had also been an 80% decline in seizures of ivory entering China, said Xinhua.
The ban was announced last year and came into effect on Sunday, the last day of 2017.”

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Happy New Year!

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Riding an elephant

With the new year coming, I’m dreaming of travel.  Maybe you are too?  But, if riding an elephant was on your bucket list, you might want to think twice:

Daniel Turner, Associate Director for Tourism at Born Free told the BBC:

While some may consider riding on top of the largest land mammal to be a cultural experience that holds an air of romance, few recognise that this practice actually significantly compromises the welfare of these magnificent animals and potentially places people at risk.
Riding or interacting with captive elephants, swimming with dolphins, walking with lions, or cuddling a tiger cub for a photo – these are just some of the many worrying tourism excursions and activities involving animals. All can impact on the welfare of the animals involved, and risk people’s safety.

What can you do instead?  Visit a sanctuary, where often you can interact with the elephants (feeding them, helping with bath time) yet know that they have plenty of time with their peers and in natural surroundings.

Here are some reputable ones I’ve heard about:

The Wildlife Friends Foundation Thailand, Thailand

Elephant Nature Park, Thailand and Cambodia

Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary, Thailand

David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Kenya

The Elephant Sanctuary, South Africa (3 locations)

Elephant Rehabilitation Center in Agastyarvanam Biological Park, India

Millennium Elephant Foundation, Sri Lanka

YouTube: David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya

 

 

 

 

Jumbo the Elephant

A recent blurb in The Telegraph features a review of a documentary:

One could easily have imagined Attenborough and the Giant Elephant (BBC One), the bittersweet tale of the world’s first animal superstar – Jumbo the elephant, London Zoo’s foremost attraction in Victorian times – filling a prime-time slot in the Christmas or Boxing Day schedules. But perhaps it was deemed too sad. Too liable to dial down Yuletide high spirits with its archaeological examination of unintentional animal cruelty and the appalling ignorance of generations past.

I had never heard of Jumbo, but his story is rather tragic.  He was a superstar attraction, the first time many had ever seen an elephant.  He was beloved by children on both sides of the Atlantic.  

However, he was severely mistreated.  He was forced to perform and did not receive proper medical care.  His keeper then gave him alcohol to depress his violent outbursts.  He ended up dying in a horrid fashion – being hit in a train crash.

The only comfort is that perhaps Jumbo planted the early seeds of animal rights in people’s minds.  Seeing a live elephant made some care more about their welfare, and zoos have made positive changes since that time.  Many circuses have gone out of business or have stopped using animals in their shows.

 

 

 

Giving Tuesday

After Black Friday and Cyber Monday, it’s nice to have a day dedicated to charitable giving.  Each year in November, I use the tip money I receive through my job to donate to a cause that is meaningful to me and receives good reviews.

This year I chose the Guide Dog Foundation and Vet Dogs.  It is located in my home state, and I have bought holiday cards from them in the past.  They have sent me a quarterly newsletter and I have been so impressed by their dedication to the animals and their human companions.

Video: VetDogs, youtube

Last year I gave to the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust and I continue to foster an elephant there.  It is an amazing organization in Kenya, dedicated to rescuing elephants (and rhinos and giraffes).

Video: DSWT, youtube

 

Mob burns elephants

Sanctuary Wildlife Photography judged five thousand entries this year, and the top prize went to Biplab Hazra’s heartbreaking image of elephants being hurt by an angry mob in India.  Entitled “Hell is Here”, one can see a mother and calf trying to flee as firecrackers and fires surround them and even light their feet and tails.  Their pain and fear is obvious, and the wicked delight of the human mob is frightening to witness.

The photographer described his image in his official contest entry:

[The] calf screams in confusion and fear as the fire licks at her feet. Flaming tar balls and crackers fly through the air to a soundtrack of human laughter and shouts. In the Bankura district of West Bengal this sort of humiliation of pachyderms is routine, as it is in the other elephant-range states of Assam, Odisha, Chhattisgarh, Tamil Nadu and more.

According to the Washington Post, India has sixty percent of the world’s Asian elephant population.  Yet, we know India is also the second most populous country on Earth and very well may overtake China this century.  This means that land and resources are scarce, and elephant-human conflict continues to increase.   Add in the problem of climate change, and available resources become even more valuable.  There is no easy solution to the problem, but Hazra believes the government is not trying very hard to think of solutions.

From the Washington Post:

“The ignorance and bloodlust of mobs that attack herds for fun, is compounded by the plight of those that actually suffer damage to land, life and property by wandering elephants and the utter indifference of the central and state government to recognize the crisis that is at hand,” Hazra wrote.

 

President Trump removes ban on hunting trophy imports

In yet another sign that President Trump wants to undo everything the Obama administration accomplished, he is removing protections for elephants.  His son Donald Jr. was also infamously photographed hunting elephants, so this may also be yet another desire to benefit his own family.  From the Washington Post:

The Trump administration announced Wednesday that the remains of elephants legally hunted in Zimbabwe and Zambia can now be imported to the United States as trophies, reversing a ban under former president Barack Obama.

African elephants are listed as threatened under the Endangered Species Act, but the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has determined that large sums paid for permits to hunt the animals could actually help them “by putting much-needed revenue back into conservation,” according to an agency statement.

This claim that the money goes back to conservation is wrong.  The US has allowed other African countries like South Africa to send hunting trophies to the States because they have been able to prove that the money earned is spent wisely and not used to line corrupt officials’ pockets.  Zimbabwe and Zambia have not provided the necessary proof.  In fact, you only need to read about Zimbabwe’s current political crisis to know that corruption is a major and long standing problem there.  The idea that such a government would put the revenue from hunting trophies into conservation is laughable.  Not surpringly, Zimbabwe and Zambia have seen some of the greatest declines in elephant populations in Africa due to poaching, over-hunting, and environmental destruction.  In addition, Zimbabwe has sold elephants to places like China, hoping to raise quick cash without thinking about the long term ramifications of selling its natural wildlife and resources.  From Al-Jazeera:

Maternity leave for elephants?

Laos’ elephant population has decreased fifty percent in thirty years.  A newly published study by the French Beauval Nature Association for Conservation and Research says the elephant population is dependent on the socio-economic practices of Laos.  If current trends continue, there will be no elephants in Laos by the end of the century.

Currently, most elephants in Laos are used for labor in the timber industry and the tourist industry.  Since elephants have a long gestation period and wean their young for two years, owners have not planned well for reproduction, citing short term economic concerns of lost work time.  Therefore, elephant owners either do not devote time to reproduction or they send a mother back to work too soon, jeapordizing both her and the baby’s health.

This has greatly contributed to loss of population.  In addition, since most of Laos’ elephants are now in captivity, the gene pool is getting smaller.  Certain males and females are chosen for breeding, disrupting natural selection.

The study shows the long term economic benefits of allowing elephants extended maternity leave from work.  It also encourages breeders to allow wild elephants to mate with captive ones, thus expanding the gene pool.

A suggestion by some researchers is for the government or corporations to compensate owners for elephant maternity leave.  This would allow the owners to treat elephants better without fearing loss of vital income for their family.   Along with conservation (halting the destruction of habitat), smart breeding practices and elephant maternity leave will help stabilize (or even increase) the elephant population in Laos.