Elephant Conservation Initiatives

What are the AZA Standards for elephant care?

The AZA Standards for Elephant Management and Care set requirements for space requirements, enclosure design, nutrition, reproduction, enrichment, and veterinary care to give elephants a quality living environment. The standards, which became mandatory in 2006, were developed in consultation with zoo elephant experts, as well as field researchers and animal welfare advocates. AZA's standards go far beyond what is required by the United States Department of Agriculture's Animal and Plant Health Inspection Service (APHIS) or state regulatory agencies and AZA-accredited zoos typically exceed them to provide superior elephant care and management practices.

Elephant Conservation Initiatives

In the face of extensive in situ elephant population declines, the AZA community supports and participates in numerous conservation projects that take strategic and effective action to protect and conserve these populations as well as raise awareness and engage the public in conservation action. AZA-accredited zoos also provide financial and technical support to National Parks and Reserves and conduct fundraising to further leverage that support.

AZA Animal Programs

AZA manages nearly 500 cooperative Animal Programs that are responsible for developing, implementing, and supporting extraordinary animal management and conservation strategies. The AZA Elephant Taxon Advisory Group (TAG) examines the conservation needs of the entire elephant taxa and develops recommendations for ex situ population management and in situ conservation strategies based upon the needs of the species. The Elephant TAG has developed a Regional Collection Plan (RCP) that specifies the optimal manner in which the ex situ populations should be managed and identifies essential goals, scientific investigations, and conservation initiatives needed that will best serve both the ex situ and in situ populations. 

The AZA Elephant Species Survival Plan® (SSP) Program cooperatively manages the ex situ Asian and African species of elephant populations within and between AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums. The Asian and African Elephant SSPs have developed Master Plans which identify ex situ population management goals and recommendations to ensure the sustainability of healthy, genetically diverse, and demographically varied populations. The Master Plan also provides a thorough in situ conservation strategy for the species that spans research, public education, fund raising, field projects, and a reintroduction program to preserve and protect the in situ populations and their habitats.

Support of Elephant Conservation Organizations

AZA and its accredited zoos provide the majority of funding for the International Elephant Foundation (IEF), a 501(c)(3) non-profit organization that supports a wide variety of elephant conservation and related scientific and educational projects worldwide. Recently, AZA and the IEF announced the 2009 IEF Grant Awards, the funds for which are provided by zoo donations. A total of total $165,000 was granted in 2009 to support projects that prevent human-elephant conflict, combat poaching, protect habitat, prevent disease, advance research, and educate people, adding to the $1.4 million that has been awarded to like-minded projects since 1998.

AZA and its accredited zoos also led the creation of the Bushmeat Crisis Task Force (BCTF), a coalition of more than 30 major conservation organizations and zoological parks, that aims to curb the illegal commercial trade of wildlife meat for human consumption in Africa, including the forest elephants in central and western Africa. BCTF plays a key role in conservation by maintaining a bushmeat trade information database, developing mechanisms for information sharing and raising awareness, increasing collaboration and field program actions, identifying support from key decision-makers, coordinating public relations/ media campaigns, engaging African partners and stakeholders, and building collaborative policy, decision-making, fund-raising, and action strategies.

Elephant Conservation Grants Fund Projects

The AZA Conservation Grants Fund (CGF) supports the cooperative conservation-related scientific and educational initiatives, including those related to elephants, of AZA, its members, and their collaborators. A number of CGF awards specifically address elephant issues and people interested in conducting additional elephant-related work should consider applying to CGF for support. Some of the past elephant-related CGF awards include:

  • Average Daily Walking Distance of Captive African Elephants (Loxodonta africana) (Zoological Society of San Diego, 2007)
  • Developing Rapid Hormone Kits for Monitoring Reproductive Activity in Elephants (Smithsonian's National Zoological Park (CRC), 2006)
  • Development of Sex Selection Protocols for African and Asian Elephant Sperm (Indianapolis Zoo, 2005)
  • Sumatran Elephant Healthcare and Conservation Program (Oregon Zoo, 2001)
  • Development and Validation of Simple and Rapid LH and P4 Field Kits for Prediction of Ovulation in the Elephant (Indianapolis Zoo, Southwest Missouri State University, Six Flags Marine World, 2000)

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