elephants

Today would be my grandmother’s eighty-first birthday, if she were still alive. She loved elephants. I’m looking at a ceramic one of hers that lives on my coffee table. It’s trunk is up, like most of the ones in Nanny’s collection. Elephants are sometimes known to be lucky, which goes back to the elephant-headed Hindu deity Ganesh. They are also used in feng-shui for luck.

Any interest I had in elephants as a child can certainly be contributed to the time I spent at my grandparents’ home. As it happened, I was a child in the eighties, when poaching of Africa’s elephant population caused their numbers to decline by half. We “adopted” a whale in one of my grammar school classes, but we were also keenly aware of a need to “save the elephants,” even at that young age.

Time has passed, and although the ivory trade was banned across the planet at the end of that decade, there is still trouble. If you are a regular reader of Your Daily Vegan’s news roundup every morning (you are, right?), you might be aware of the poaching problem in Kenya, and the ivory trade in China. Climate change and habitat loss are also posing problems for elephants. In the research article Devastating Decline of Forest Elephants in Central Africa, the findings were pretty clear: “Analysis of the largest survey dataset ever assembled for forest elephants… revealed that population size declined by 62% between 2002–2011… The population is now less than 10% of its potential size, occupying less than 25% of its potential range.”

Elephants are one of the most intelligent animals on this planet. They have strong family ties and are known to grieve when one of their number dies. If one is hurt, others will help. They are playful, they are altruistic, going out of their way to not harm others, and they are majestic.

Andrea Turkalo, an American scientist who was featured on 60 Minutes in a segment called “The Secret Language of Elephants,” has been studying a group of wild African elephants for over twenty years, trying to translate the animals’ complex vocalizations into an “elephant dictionary” and trying to protect them from poachers. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust has been rescuing and hand-rearing orphaned baby elephants (and rhinos) for years, with the ultimate goal of returning them to the wild when grown.

It certainly seems that the largest land mammal on Earth is in a fight for its very existence. Zoos like to say that they exist in part to help with conservation of species – and many of us take them for their word. Picture an excited child watching an elephant in its “habitat” – maybe with its baby – at a zoo. Do you see them? Maybe it was you, not so many years ago. Now picture that same excited child at the circus, watching the elephants do tricks. Yep, could’ve been you again, before you were aware of the horrible treatment of circus animals. Once you know better, you do better. And elephants?  They deserve better than we give them.

There are things we all can do to help elephants, right now. Here are just a few:

1. Support organizations working to protect habitat,  to stop illegal poaching and ivory trade, or building sanctuaries and other places for domesticated elephants to live freely, such as these.

2. Boycott organizations that exploit/abuse elephants for entertainment and profit.
Elephants do not belong in circus tents or zoos. Period.

3. Buy wood products certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.
The FSC promotes “environmentally sound, socially beneficial and economically prosperous management of the world’s forests,” the elephant’s natural habitat!

4. Buy fair-trade, shade-grown coffee.
Commercial crops grown on plantations have decimated elephant habitats.

5. Don’t buy ivory!
Antique ivory can still be legally purchased and can be found in jewelry, pool cues and balls, dominoes, and piano keys.

6. Adopt an elephant at an animal sanctuary!
You can make a difference in the life of an elephant today by sponsoring or adopting an elephant who lives at an animal sanctuary (such as The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee).  Your donation and/or sponsorship helps to pay for food, shelter, and vet bills.

7. Talk about elephants!
Starting a conversation can get people thinking about a topic differently, and the more people who are aware of their plight, the more chance we have to help change it. Spread the word not only about why we should help, but how we can.

Photo credit: _Mrs_B via flickr