The simplest thing you can do is be aware. Humans have a love for elephants, and many of us would like to be very close to them. What you need to take into consideration is at what cost to the elephant (or any other wild animal in captivity) does such closeness cause. Do not attend circuses that use animals in their shows. There is no way to have animals in a circus ethically, and there are other options, such as Cirque du Soleil, that allow for the feel of amazement a circus performer can bring, without any harm to animals. Only go to zoos that seem to be trying to mimic an elephant’s natural habitat, that give them space, stimulation, and companionship from other elephants. When you see an elephant alone in an exhibit, they are having their most basic need, the need for companionship, taken away from them. There are trainers that say their elephants are “people elephants”, but these elephants have no other option, so they bond with their caregiver. They do indeed care for their keeper, but when given the companionship of another elephant they get along with, that becomes their primary relationship. There are many elephants that genuinely like people, but nothing can replace being with a member of the same species, one who communicates as they do. Make sure the location of the zoo allows for their elephants to be outside at least 75% of the year. Elephants live in warm climates; their bodies are not made for cold temperatures as they can suffer from pneumonia, lung infections, and frostbite. If an elephant has to spend the majority of its time in an indoor enclosure, this compounds the psychological and physical affects of captivity.
Never buy anything containing ivory; even the littlest piece of ivory means an elephant was killed to get it. The US is the second largest market for ivory, and these pretty little trinkets are causing the demise of our wild elephant population.
If you go on vacation somewhere that does elephant rides or has elephant camps, resist the temptation to go, as you will not get any sort of real experience with an elephant. You will spend several moments on the back of an animal that is exhausted, somewhat malnourished, possibly stolen from the wild, and lives a deprived, chained life in captivity. An experience that is a moment of excitement for you means a lifetime of misery for that animal. Instead, visit a sanctuary or refuge that allows visitors or has a look out platform. Make sure it is a truly good place for elephants. You should not see any bullhooks, the elephants should look healthy, no open wounds, no injuries, they should not look skinny; all of these things indicate hidden practices that go on when the public is not around, and they should have free access to open spaces. The beauty of elephants is who they truly are when they are allowed to simply be elephants. You should be able to witness, usually from a distance, everyday behaviors that may not seem very exciting, but if you watch closely you’ll soon be mesmerized by the nature and passivity of an elephant’s life. Elephants dusting, swimming, naturally grazing, sleeping, socializing with other elephants, all of those very basic things that are essential to an elephant’s well-being.
Find out if there is any legislation in your local government regarding elephants, and most importantly help educate your friends. Talk about the reality of a captive elephant’s life, write a paper on the impact of poaching on African elephants, design a piece of artwork displaying the beauty of the species or the sadness of the loss of their freedom. Most people don’t realize the effect humans have had on an elephant’s world, and if everyone were to educate one other person, imagine the impact that could have. As Jacques Cousteau said “For man cannot give wild animals freedom, they can only take it away.” We, as humans, are responsible for animals being in these captive situations, and their disappearance from the wild. The least we can do is try to do something about it. Every little bit helps.