The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) are kicking off a month-long campaign to raise awareness of the plight of Asian elephants and to empower the public to take action to help save the endangered species. The inaugural Asian Elephant Awareness Month features activities at the Zoo, a community conservation event and an engaging social media campaign (#TONSoflove) that will give wildlife fans ample opportunities to show their love for Asian elephants.
Why Asian Elephants?
Asian elephants face unique challenges compared to other elephant species. They are much more susceptible to elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV), a fast-moving virus with a 60% fatality rate. Asian elephant populations in the wild have fallen below 40,000 (roughly equivalent to the human population of Yukon, Oklahoma) according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, which classifies the species as endangered. African elephant populations are 10 times more abundant with about 500,000 individuals in the wild. The 13 nations that make up the natural habitat of Asian elephants contain the densest human population on the planet and, as a result, elephants’ room to roam has been reduced by 85% in 40 years. Poaching for ivory is a major threat to all elephant species, but because only male Asian elephants have tusks, illegal hunting has created a scarcity of males and a lack of genetic diversity in some wild populations.
“Asian elephants and the specific threats they face are almost invisible to the general public,” said Rebecca Snyder, OKC Zoo curator of conservation and science. “It’s been the African elephant species that has long dominated the conversation and represented all elephants in the zeitgeist. We want Asian Elephant Awareness Month to raise awareness about the dire situation facing Asian elephants and provide actionable ways for the public to get involved to ensure the species’ future.”
#TONSoflove Social Media Campaign
AZA-zoos, animal caretakers and all wildlife fans are encouraged to share their love of Asian elephants on social media with #TONSoflove. To provide a visual signal unifying the posts, participants are encouraged to hold their hands in the shape of a heart and use that heart to frame an el-fie (elephant selfie). Fans are asked to include the #TONSoflove and reasons why they love Asian elephants in their photo captions. To learn conservation and fun facts about Asian elephants, click here.
Asian Elephant Awareness Month Events
The OKC Zoo is celebrating World Elephant Day on Sunday, August 11, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. Presented by Bob Moore Subaru, Zoo guests are invited come together for elephants and enjoy a day of fun and learning with games, crafts, bio-facts and other activities on-site at the Zoo’s Sanctuary Asia elephant habitat and entry plaza. This global event brings attention to how individuals can help conserve and protect these beloved animals. At Sanctuary Asia, Zoo guests can play conservation games for chances to win sweet treats, made by companies observing sustainable palm oil practices, complete an elephant “fun fact” activity card for a chance to get a “TONS OF LOVE” temporary tattoo, and design a conservation flag. In the entry plaza, guests can pledge their support and sign their names to a banner that will be given to the elephants during a special 2 p.m. presentation at the elephant pavilion in Sanctuary Asia. All World Elephant Day events are free with Zoo admission.
Empire for Elephants! Also on Sunday, August 11, Empire Slice House, located in Oklahoma City’s Plaza District, is donating a portion of sales to the International Elephant Foundation specifically to help fund EEHV prevention and treatment in Asian elephant native range countries. Additionally, the first 100 patrons to dine-in at Empire Slice House will receive a voucher good for one small bag of OKC Zoo Poo, redeemable at the Guest Services office in the Zoo’s entry plaza. The ZOObaru and animal experts will be on-site from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. Plus, the OKC Zoo elephant team will assist the Empire Slice team as they unveil their new Ellie elephant mascot at 6:30 p.m.
All-new conservation wristbands featuring a limited-edition elephant design will be available at the Empire for Elephants event, World Elephant Day event and are now available for purchase at multiple locations at the Zoo for $2. Proceeds support the Zoo’s conservation initiatives through Round Up for Conservation.
How the OKC Zoo & AZA Help Elephants
In addition to supporting the Northern Rangelands Trust since 2009, which protects elephants, the OKC Zoo has been working with Rainforest Trust to purchase and preserve 13,000 acres of forest in central Sumatra and 18,000 acres of forest in Borneo, both of which are natural habitats for Asian elephants. The OKC Zoo also helps support a number of other elephant conservation projects, including the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Rakhine Yoma Elephant Range Project in Myanmar and International Elephant Foundation’s conservation efforts in Sumatra. These projects support boots on the ground teams that protect forests, prevent poaching and encroachment, and mitigate human-elephant conflict. Since 2010, the Zoo has contributed more than $400,000 to elephant-related conservation. The OKC Zoo participates in the Asian Elephant Species Survival Plan (SSP), developed by the AZA.
The AZA Saving Animals from Extinction (SAFE) program unites experts from around the world to solve problems facing vulnerable and endangered species, including Asian elephants. Between 2012 and 2016, 41 AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums reported taking part in a variety of field conservation projects benefitting Asian elephants, including the mainland, Bornean, Sumatran, and Sri Lankan subspecies. Over those five years, the AZA community invested over $1.7 million in Asian elephant conservation, plus an additional $1.4 million to projects that focused on both African and Asian elephants, such as donations to the International Elephant Foundation (IEF).
Show #TONSoflove for Asian Elephants this month! Located at the crossroads of I-44 and I-35, the Oklahoma City Zoo is an Adventure Road partner and a member of Oklahoma City’s Adventure District. The Zoo proudly holds accreditations from the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, and the American Association of Museums. Guests are welcome daily from 9 a.m. until 5 p.m. with exhibit buildings closing at 4:45 p.m. Stay connected to the world of wild! Find the Zoo on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and visit Our Stories. To learn more, call (405) 424-3344 or visit www.okczoo.org.