With the largest brain of all terrestrial mammals, elephants are intelligent and really do never forget. Research has shown that elephants can recognise individuals after years apart and can remember tracks and routes to alternative food or water sources when food is scarce or during dry seasons when watering holes dry up. They live in matriarchal family groups, which is a group, or herd, of related females. The leader, or matriarch, is the oldest female. Bonds are tight and the whole herd pitches in to look after babies when they are born.
But, elephants are in trouble. There are around 400,000 African elephants left, with many killed daily by poachers for ivory, meat and other body parts. Asian elephants are worse off still, with less than 40,000 remaining, many of which are captive, not wild. The biggest threats include habitat loss, capture for the entertainment and tourism industry and poaching.
Elephants need our help, so to celebrate World Elephant Day, here are a few things we can do to be elephant ethical!
Be an elephant ethical tourist
Elephants are amazing to see. Experiencing them up close may well be on your holiday to-do-list, but watch which experience you go for. Whilst some are elephant friendly, many are unethical, cruel and inflict pain on elephants that not only live in unsatisfactory conditions but have also been put through torturous training regimes. Elephants form strong bonds with each other, and often training begins by separating young babies from their mothers; an extremely stressful experience.
What to avoid
Elephant ethical experiences should put the needs of the elephants before the needs of the tourists. Living conditions should be as close as possible to those they would experience in the wild and they shouldn’t be made to perform any unnatural behaviours.
If you are planning a holiday and are looking for an elephant ethical experience, here are a few things to avoid:
- Experiences in towns and cities
- Riding or sitting on elephants
- Experiences where elephants are dressed up, painted or performing tricks
- Elephants that look unhealthy, injured, bruised or wounded
- Elephants that are thin and look malnourished
- Elephants that are chained up
- Trainers with bullhooks or other things like sticks that are used to punish elephants
For some elephant ethical experiences, check out this article.
Be an elephant friendly shopper
Illegal poaching is a big problem for African and Asian elephants, so first and foremost, avoid Ivory and any products made from elephants – unless it is paper made from elephant dung. Elephant dung is everywhere and if collected, cleaned and processed can be turned into beautiful paper and stationery products. This is a huge step in elephant conservation, as it provides an alternate income for people that live in close proximity to elephants, that doesn’t involve harming them in any way. It also reduces human-elephant conflict as it is raising the value of elephants and changing mindsets.
Habitat loss is also a big issue for elephants and is often a result of agriculture and crop growing. Being aware of what you are buying and for example, selecting fair trade coffee or Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certified timber will ensure you are not supporting elephant habitat destruction. Palm oil is another one to avoid as the industry is linked to deforestation and habitat loss. See the OneKind Planet website for more hints and tips on living an AnimalKind lifestyle.
Spread the word
Elephants have attracted worldwide concern and there are many organisations devoted to saving them from extinction, many of which are listed here. Supporting organisations that either work to stop poaching, protect habitats, promote eco-friendly tourism or fund elephant sanctuaries will all help. But, one thing you can do easily is spread the word. The more people know about elephant ethical tourism or products, the more support elephants will have – so get talking! Following projects like World Elephant Day is also important in educating people on how to #BeElephantEthical.