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Let’s talk about Elephants


An African Elephant from the Ndutu region which adjoins the Serengeti Plain
-Thanks to the unknown photographer

Thought we needed a break from climate and weather related phenomena, so yesterday being World Elephant Day, perhaps we should talk a bit about these (mostly) gentle giants. Sadly, as with most other species we've been talking about elephants have also been experiencing rapid decline. A huge survey in 2016 found that there were less than 400,000 African Elephants left and they had declined by 30% in just seven years. The Asian Elephant has fared even worse with only 30,000 remaining and the smaller, more elusive Forest Elephant which lives in South East Asia now has such low numbers that it's considered critically endangered. According to the World Wildlife Fund, 96 elephants a day are being killed by poachers and usually only for their tusks.

Besides being the biggest mammals in the world – with the African Bush Elephant standing around 3.96 m (13 ft) high and weighing in at over ten tonnes, elephants have a number of other remarkable attributes such as their ability  to communicate through seismic communication and infrasound and the fact that they display a number of traits which we associate with humans such as a sense of self -awareness and the capacity to feel empathy.  You can read more about them here or here. Afterwards you could take the IFAW Quiz to see how well you know your elephants. My main focus today though is on some of the good things happening around Elephant Conservation.


Indian Elephants - Can you spot the difference? Do the IFAW Quiz and find out.

-Thanks to the unknown photographer

  A novel way to beat poachers

Since poaching remains the biggest threat to elephants, US based Working Dogs for Conservation has come up with  novel idea. Using the same techniques used to train dogs to detect firearms and narcotics, they have created teams to detect and track hundreds of poachers and illegal traps. Initially used for this purpose on the Serengeti Plain in Tanzania and the Luangwa Valley in Zambia, their work now includes border patrols in Malawi and Kyrgyzstan to detect and prevent  illegal wildlife products reaching Asia or other destinations.

Nor does their work stop there. With the USA also a popular end destination, sniffer dogs are trained to  to detect wildlife products in closed shipping containers and mail items in order to disrupt the trade at that point.

Interestingly, the dogs used for this purpose are usually strays which would otherwise have been euthanised. Afterwards they go on to enjoy a long and happy retirement, so it’s a double bonus in terms of animal welfare.


Mother and calf at Chitwan Elephant Sanctuary, Nepal


What do you feed an orphan Elephant?

Orphans are often left behind after adult elephants have been killed for their tusks. According to the IFAW it takes 50 gallons (189.27 litres) of milk a day to feed them. In pre -pandemic times this used to be provided by using baby formula paid for with tourist dollars, but with tourism grinding to a halt, the keepers of the Reteti Elephant Sanctuary in Northern Kenya have had to look elsewhere. They found that local goat herders had surplus milk which they couldn’t sell because livestock markets had also been closed due to the pandemic. Luckily testing showed that it made a reasonable substitute, so this has resulted in a new and positive partnership. 


How bees are helping Chinese villagers protect their crops against Elephants

I learned this snippet from doing the IFAW Quiz. Apparently elephants are terrified of bees, so one of its programs focuses on teaching modern beekeeping techniques to Chinese villagers who had been subject to elephant incursions thus keeping the Elephants from destroying crops. It also provides alternative sources of income for villagers. IFAW also provides micro credit to farmers in South Yunnan and teaches people ways to coexist with elephants. With only 3,000 elephants left in the wild,  China is encouraging the establishment of wildlife corridors and planting of suitable vegetation so that a small migratory herd in Yunnan Province can move freely.

 In December 2017 China, the main market for ivory, took the remarkable step of banning sales of ivory with Hong Kong set to follow suit in 2021. Unfortunately, demand persists and ivory continues to be sourced from countries where it remains legal such as Japan or more likely from Thailand, Myanmar and Vietnam and where enforcement is lax. However, times are changing. Research by the World Wildlife Fund has shown that the main buyers these days are older generations, particularly older women from provincial towns, who still see it as a status symbol and a store of wealth. The WWF  hopes that by educating travellers via travel agents and tour guides, its popularity will continue to wane.

Elephants have a long history in Asian culture and usually symbolise Good Luck. It's high time for  elephants to have a bit of luck too. 


Now about that "Moon Wobble" and protecting our coastal cities.....

Sea Level Rise 1 - The Moon Wobble and what other countries are doing

Sea level Rise 2 - Is there a cheaper way than seawalls?