Guest post by AZA SAFE: Asian Elephant team, special thanks to Adam Felts and Danielle Ross, Columbus Zoo & Aquarium
Ask any visitor at an AZA accredited zoo what they think about elephants, and the overwhelming response will be “we love them!” It’s easy to love elephants. They are one of the most recognized, adored and celebrated animals on Earth. For the everyday visitor, elephants make an unforgettable visit; and many are awestruck the first time they see one and they become a must-do for every trip to the zoo. However, some visitors do not realize that elephants are found in both Africa and Asia. A simple Google search about elephant conservation turns up thousands of results; most of which are focused on African elephants. We believe all elephants should be celebrated and supported, and that the specific plight of Asian elephants should be elevated in the public eye. This August, the Asian elephant SAFE program is inviting everyone to celebrate Asian Elephant Awareness Month. We want everyone to show #TONSoflove for Asian elephants as we kick off a three-year awareness and action campaign.
Let’s look at the numbers - Asian elephants were one of the first ten species included in AZA SAFE: Saving Animals from Extinction, which launched in 2015 on Endangered Species Day. These incredible creatures are one of the world’s most endangered species, with an estimated population of less than 40,000 wild elephants found in only 13 range countries. An astonishing 20% of the world’s human population lives in or near their habitat! Almost one third of the remaining wild Asian elephant population is managed by humans. Over the past 75 years, the Asian elephant population has declined by nearly 50%. It is imperative that we raise awareness and take action to save the Asian elephant and protect their habitat.
Photo Credit: Ray Meibaum, Saint Louis Zoo
The Asian elephant SAFE program is advancing priorities that arose from the 2017 Range State Meeting held in Jakarta, Indonesia and resulted in the signing of The Jakarta Declaration for Asian Elephant Conservation. Using the strengths and expertise of the dedicated professionals in AZA institutions, the Asian elephant SAFE program will contribute significantly to elephant conservation by focusing on the human-managed population. These animals will play a significant role in the survival of the species.
With this in mind, Asian Elephant SAFE is helping range states develop a registry of human-managed elephant populations in Asia. While a third of Asian elephants are managed by humans, there currently is no way to track these elephants consistently. Asian elephant SAFE is working with Indonesian experts to enhance the existing registration program with the goal of using DNA analysis to identify all human-managed elephants in Indonesia. Additionally, microchip technology and photo identification will be used to create a database for easy processing and confirmation of each individual elephant’s identify. After perfecting the technology and processes in Indonesia, the remaining 12 range countries will be able to utilize the same methods.
In addition, this August - the inaugural Asian Elephant Awareness Month - AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums have teamed up to raise awareness of Asian elephants by engaging our millions of supporters. We will celebrate Asian elephants as the unique species that it is. By focusing solely on Asian elephants, we can help our audiences understand the specific issues these elephants face and how different conservation strategies are needed to protect them than are needed for their distant relative, the African elephant. Using the hashtag #TONSoflove to unite and unify the Asian elephant community of supporters, the goal is to get 40,000 likes or shares, one for each of the 40,000 elephants that remain in the wild. Keep your eye on the AZA network for more details on the launch of this awareness campaign.