Elephants across the globe are in crisis. Elephants in captivity around the world face a life of isolation, living within substandard facilities facing boredom, neglect and in some cases direct abuse at the hand of humans. Unfortunately it comes down to human greed and lack of understanding. The only reason elephants are subjected to these lives of imprisonment is to entertain people; we are intrigued by the animal world and we want to be as close to it as we can, even if means the animal is destined to a life of suffering. Elephants are incredibly intelligent and uniquely emotional, they are an animal that is designed to migrate up to 30 miles a day, their family structures are complex, the extent of their society is profound. So what is it that we learn from when they’re performing arcane tricks in a circus ring or living a solitary existence in a concrete enclosure? It certainly isn’t the truth of these magnificent and majestic animals. One of the most tragic realities is that drastic impact captivity has on an elephant’s longevity. In the wild elephants can live to be 60-70 years old, in captivity, the average life is cut in half. What’s worse is the primary cause of their early demise; the number one killer of captive elephants in foot disease, infections in the bones of their feet that lead to systemic infections and crippling. Some Zoos need to be given a little credit, there are some that are trying to make a difference, expanding enclosures and providing a more natural diet but the limiting parameters and lack of sizeable habitats cannot be disregarded. The end result of the multi million dollar expansions have little increased benefit for the elephants, it matters little if the space is 1/2 an acre or 3 acres, it is still woefully inadequate.
We know we can make a difference, we know the direct benefit that sanctuary life can bring to an elephants life. Two notable elephant sanctuaries in the US, Performing Animal Welfare Society (PAWS) and The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee (TES) have paved a progressive path forward for captive elephants. Both organizations have provided free ranging natural habitat environments for more than 35 elephants, both have observed a tremendous and positive evolution with their resident elephants, elephants that had previously been given months to live have thrived for several years, elephants isolated for more than 40 years have become intimately social and keystone members of the herds, physical and emotional injuries and ailments have been completely reversed. Sanctuary life can literally add years to an elephant’s projected longevity as fear and psychological burdens, decades old melt away.
Elephants in the wild are facing a different threat. Throughout the past few years poaching has escalated to a degree that hasn’t been observed in over two decades. In a recent article profiling the impact of the ivory trade in Tanzania the numbers are staggering, up to 30 elephants a day are being slaughtered for their tusks, by the end of the year more than 10,000 elephant will have been senselessly killed in Tanzania alone, solely for the purpose of household trinkets and jewelry. The poaching epidemic is so prolific that Barack Obama has pledged $10 million dollars to help support anti-poaching campaigns. This is an international tragedy and it will take international efforts and a definitive ruling by the Convention for the International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES), to put a complete ban on the trade of ivory. The international media has profiled the catastrophic slaughter of elephants but the general public remains unaware of the horrifying reality. One of the primary ways to create positive action is to share the truth with your friends and family, ask them not to close their eyes to the truth, ask for their help to make a difference. Social media networking is one of the greatest gifts we have at our fingertips, the wider we spread the web of knowledge the greater the chance we have to impact positive change.
In June of 2013 Joyce Poole, founder of ElephantVoices, and founding director of Global Sanctuary for Elephants, visited China (read more), providing an opportunity to share the truth behind the ruthless capturing of baby elephants destined for a life of confinement, isolation and neglect in zoos. While in China, Joyce welcomed the opportunity to profile the harsh reality of the ivory trade and to spread the word about their Every Tusk Costs a Life campaign. Most consumers of ivory are ignorant to the fact that elephants are slaughtered for their tusks, often dying slow and very painful deaths by poisoned arrows and spears. Not only is the fabric of elephant society being fractured, but human greed has a very real potential of being responsible for the demise of the species. The ivory trade must stop if there is going to be any hope for the survival of elephant species.
We still have time to make a substantial difference for elephants around the globe. We can develop sanctuaries for captive elephants, providing them with an opportunity to experience a level of freedom and peace they haven’t known since infancy. With our knowledge we can encourage and reinforce progressive legislative measures to create a compassionate future. Together we can impact the lives of hundreds if not thousands of elephants and we can help protect a species from irreversible decline. It is up to all of us to walk through life, educated about the repercussions of our decisions, to use the knowledge that we have for the greater good of the world around us and to share what we know to create a positive change.