World Elephant Day 2018: How to volunteer and help conservation efforts around the globe
The story of elephant conservation is as massive and awe-inspiring as you can possibly imagine. In 2012, on August 12, the idea of World Elephant Day was conceived, to celebrate as well as create awareness about the animal, in all its grandeur. The initiative was led by Canadian filmmakers Patricia Sims and Michael Clark, along with Khun Sivaporn Dardarananda, Secretary General of the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation in Thailand. The trio’s love for elephants clearly transcended into something on a much larger scale, and while conservation of elephants has been going on long before August 12 every year, the efforts are now more concentrated and serious than before and here's what you need to know about World Elephant Day.
The need to combat poaching for their ivory tusks, man-animal conflicts and loss of habitat is necessary, and encouragingly, there has been a significant improvement. “There are successful anti-poaching strategies in some African countries like Kenya, Botswana, that are making it harder for poachers to kill elephants for ivory, and there has been more rigorous law enforcement against poachers. Ivory sales ban in China, and the United States, which are the two biggest consumer markets for ivory have been enforced, so there is some headway being made,” Patricia tells us, highlighting the progress made since 2012. The filmmaker and conservationist goes on to add that there have been smaller victories in countries like India, Sri Lanka and Myanmar that have saved the elephants from abuse in captivity.
Patricia is currently working on a special project called ‘Moving Giants’, which involves the translocation of approximately 50 elephants from South Africa to Mozambique. Talking about the program, Patricia says, “The conservation project is important because in one area in South Africa there is not enough habitat for the elephants, and they are being moved to an area in Mozambique where there is a large area of habitat, but not enough elephants.”
Moving the elephants will help both habitats, and ultimately, help to protect the elephants in this area. While the number is seemingly declining, there are many National Parks and Reserves in India and the world conducting tours and setting up foster care as a part of their conservation efforts and all it takes for us to start is our first adoption.
The larger picture
The agreement is unanimous across the board: Like every other animal, elephants too need to be celebrated not only by conservationists, wildlife enthusiasts or filmmakers, but also by the common man living in concrete jungles. “Every meeting with an elephant is a memorable experience because they are such intelligent and sensitive animals,” as Kerala-based zoologist Nibha Namboodiri puts it.
Nibha is more famously known as India’s first female mahout, after she was spotted and photographed riding an elephant over 20 years ago. While she started by studying the animal as a student, she’s now a
conservationist fighting for the proper care of captive elephants in the state.
Meanwhile, according to the last elephant census in 2017, India reported a decrease in the population of elephants by 10 per cent from around 30,000 in 2012 to 27,670. The report alarmed the Forest Ministry and led to the inception of Gaj Yatra, to help protect the animals. Sadly, the effectiveness is yet to be seen. Interestingly, Indian ecologist and elephant expert in Asia, Raman Sukumar states that the report shows the decrease in population due to an anomaly in the 2012 report, involving the use of two different methods of counting — direct and indirect. Raman, who also sits on the National Board for Wildlife in India says that while it is ideal to use one method in counting, the indirect method is not preferred, as it is a longer process that requires a lot of groundwork over several years, making the direct method preferable for the five-yearly census report.
Travelling with the tuskers
Just like it takes a spark to start a fire, the so-called decrease in the population in 2017 helped start conservation efforts in more ways than one. And, along with the various conservation efforts, there are many new ways to engage with these initiatives — least of all, by taking part in tusker tours or walks.
The Elephant Nature Park in Thailand, for instance, allows visitors to feed and even bathe elephants on their daily tours as part of the Saddle Off program. The program takes people on a walk through elephant trails in corporation with a Northern Thai Lanna settlement who act as independent owners to the elephants to take care of them and start from 2,500 Thai Baht onwards. They also encourage people to foster over 70 elephants at the park at 1,750 Thai Baht for their daily needs and care and thus helping people play their part in conservation.
Closer to India, Sri Lanka encourages a variety of activities to help in the conservation of elephants and the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society even allows you to volunteer with them. The Volunteer Program lets people interact with scientists, conservationists, educators, community partners and local villagers surrounding the Wasgamuwa National Park in Matale. The program will involve collecting data and information to develop community-based conservation programs. It will also make people assess and document man-animal conflicts and even teach children about the environment.
Additionally, the Millenium Elephant Foundation in Sri Lanka conducts an Elephant Walk Experience Program that takes visitors on a personalised guided tour, an educational talk and learns about Sri Lankan elephants. As a part of the experience, enthusiasts will get to bathe elephants and also understand how elephant dung is used to make different kinds of paper at the Maximus Elephant Dung Paper Factory. The Elephant Transit Home, as a part of the Department of Wildlife Conservation in Sri Lanka and the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, have two and three elephants respectively up for adoption and the latter starts at Rs 50,000 per adoption depending on the elephant.
With a big heart
Did you know you could adopt elephants? Yes, adoption is not only limited to stray dogs and cats or other animals, but also elephants and other wild animals. There are definitely many ways to conserve elephants, but adoption and fostering seems to be the most ideal way forward and baby steps towards the larger goal. If you thought you need to have basic knowledge about elephants or that it was limited only to certain age groups, it is a wrong notion.
A baby as young as a one-year-old can help in the care of elephants and fostering is not limited to age, country or proximity. The process simply involves funding the care of the elephants to help caretakers
at the facilities with the upkeep and large diets.
Most national parks, reserves and zoos in India are increasingly moving towards adoption and fostering of elephants to help in the long-term conservation process. Mysore Zoo in Karnataka encourages adoption and people can foster care for the two elephants in Vandalur Zoo in Tamil Nadu at Rs 666 per elephant (daily; involves buying the raw materials for their food). The elephants can be adopted on a daily, weekly, monthly, quarterly and half-yearly basis depending on the preference of the donor.
Independently, Wildlife SOS India encourages people to adopt and foster the 21 elephants at their Elephant Conservation & Care Centre at Mathura in Uttar Pradesh ranging from baby elephants to even older elephants rescued from different parts of India. Apart from adoption, the WSOS also conducts tours to educate people about elephants by introducing them to the veterinarians, keepers and even interacting with the elephants. They also conduct volunteering programs where enthusiasts can experience what it is like to take care of elephants. The Wildlife Rescue & Rehabilitation Centre in Bengaluru also has five elephants, in active need of fostering.
However, the state of Kerala is bound by the Captive Elephants Management Rules, which does not allow any person to own or sponsor an elephant or take care of it, but there may soon be a change, hopes Dr Dayamon Mathew, veterinarian with the state-run Kottur Kappukadu Elephant Rehabilitation
Centre near Thiruvananthapuram.
Internationally, The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi encourages people to adopt elephants to help further the cause of protecting elephants and many from India, are among their list. The adoption is at a bare minimum of $50 per orphan per year and while the Trust is currently caring for 80 milk-dependent orphaned elephants across four units, 20 of these are currently being cared for at the nursery in Nairobi National Park. The trust has been helping conserve African Elephants in Nairobi since 1977, after it was founded by Dr Dame Daphne Sheldrick, in honour of her late husband, David Leslie William Sheldrick, naturalist and founding Warden of Tsavo East National Park. They have a nursery in the Nairobi National Park, and over the years rescued over 100s of elephants, and had them rehabilitated to the wild.
The fostering cost involves covering the milk requirements, veterinary care, stockades and keeper salaries. Interestingly, adoption is just not about one elephant but also entails funding field projects that include anti-poaching, aerial surveillance and mobile veterinary initiatives. “After the elephant is fostered for, the Community Outreach program undertaken by the Trust also helps save the biodiverse tracts of land through our Saving Habitats project, which keep the orphans and other wild animals protected even when they are no longer dependent on our daily care”, says Rob Brandford, Executive Director of The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.
Trunk to conserve
Among many other measures, adoption and fostering has remained low-key in the process with just a few hundred people taking a step further in an attempt to conserve elephants. “While adoption and fostering is a very small attempt at conserving the entire population of Asian and African elephants, it helps create empathy and thus awareness amongst people which is definitely necessary,” says Raman, who has been studying elephants in India for the last 30 years, and has many books to his name like The Asian Elephant: Ecology and Management, Elephants Days and Nights and Story of Asia’s Elephants, among others.
On the global scale, The World Wildlife Fund, which is at the forefront of wildlife conservation and protection of endangered species, works differently. With symbolic elephant adoption (of African elephants), donors gain access to an online kit which contains a wide variety of cards, adoption certificates, photos and even a species card, enabling them to helping in conservation. Interestingly, India’s first attempt at conservation came in 1992, when the Government of India started Project Elephant, a campaign to help protect the animals. The initiative seems to be the most effective so far,
according to conservationist Kartick Satyanarayan. “It is comprehensive in its approach as it focuses both on conservation of wild elephants as well as welfare of captive elephants,” he tells us. Kartick, who is also the founder of conservation non-profit Wildlife SOS India adds that the project has funds set for restoration of migratory routes of elephants, mitigation of human-elephant conflict, habitat preservation, public education and awareness programmes. However, the implementation is very thin as colliding factors like rampant deforestation for developmental projects has lead to habitat fragmentation, which is one of the biggest problems right now.
Time to volunteer
Elephant Conservation & Care Centre (Mathura, Uttar Pradesh)
WildlifeSOS India has volunteer programs where participants can closely work with caretakers
while also giving them a bath, feeding and interacting with them. They will also be asked to make reports and teach children about the environment as part of the session.
Wasgamuwa National Park (Matale)
Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society conducts The Volunteer Program through which individuals can interact with scientists, conservationists and local villagers.
Tips from Sims
World Elephant Day co-founder Patricia Sims (above) suggests these guidelines for people:
• Follow ethical tourism guidelines.
• Learn about and support elephant conservation.
• Protect habitat for wild elephants.
• Do not support places that exploit elephants for entertainment.
• Do not buy ivory or other wildlife products.
Man vs wild
While conservation is important, the need to address Man-Animal Conflict is equally necessary when it comes to elephants. Spread across Jharkhand, Odisha, South Bengal, Karnataka, Kerala and Tamil Nadu - the major factors are mining, loss of habitat and land use transformation and the increasing green cover because of multiple crops in the same area, which are nutritious and make the elephants come out of forest areas. Interestingly, climate change has also forced elephants to come out in search of suitable climate leading them to encroach fringe areas in India. Poaching for ivory tusks from the African Elephants is threatening the population but has however been curbed with the implementation of measures.
Did you know?
• An elephant’s testicles are inside its body.
• They have more smell receptors than any other mammal on the planet.
• They have a gestation period of 22 months.