Must the Past be Prologue?

_MG_1487 painting copy

A timeless image — elephants crossing the grasslands, feeding, interacting, doing what they have done for millennia. They (and their distant, now extinct cousins) walked the earth long before the advent of homo sapiens. Some scientists believe that the vast areas they cleared in search of nutrition made it possible for our ancestors to come down from the trees and out of the caves and live in communities — a major advance that made us predators rather than prey.  Safety in numbers, stronger gene pools, development of sophisticated communication and planning skills.  Do we owe our alpha species status to the elephant?  Perhaps.  In any event, we seem to have returned the favor by coveting their ivory. And now we face the possibility that the earth we walk will one day be without elephants.

When facing a crisis, it is often insightful to look back at history to better understand what brought us to this point.  “A Brief History of the Elephant Ivory Trade”  released last week by Earth Touch News Network takes a look at the recent history of the ivory trade.  Featuring Dr. Paula Kahumbu, CEO of WildlifeDirect in Kenya, the report covers the dynamics since the 1970s. Well worth viewing.  But what about the longer perspective.  Just when did we get our insatiable appetite for ivory? And how has that appetite impacted the elephant, societies and world trade since then?

In John Frederick Walker’s Ivory’s Ghosts: The White Gold of History and the Fate of Elephants you can read all about it.  If the past is indeed prologue, then the future for the elephant is not very bright.  Ivory has seduced for thousands of years.  Elephants once ranged across all of Africa and from Syria to China. By 500 BCE, the lust for ivory in Egypt eliminated the African elephant populations along the Nile, and Syria’s Asian elephant herds had been eliminated. The list of cities and dynasties that sought ivory read like a who’s who of the ancient world: Carthage, Athens, Pompeii, Assyria, Babylon, Darius, Caligula, Alexander the Great, the Ptolemys, Julius Caeser. Diocletian fixed ivory prices. Pliny the Elder warned of elephant extinction in 77 CE.  Meanwhile in China, the Han Dynasty (206 BCE-220 CE) was trading with markets as far away as Rome.  Included in their caravans along the ancient Silk Route were intricately carved ivory objects. Arabs raided the Swahili coast of East Africa throughout the 7th – 14th centuries and included in their bounty slaves and ivory. Then came the era of European colonization. The race for real estate, slaves and ivory ended interior Africa’s relative isolation from the rest of the world.  The arrival of firearms made large-scale harvesting of ivory possible. No need to go on, read the book, and be astonished as to how ingrained the human craving for ivory is in our global society.

Sadly, we are fighting the awful weight of history in the quest to prize life over ivory’s appeal.  Walker in fact does not believe it is possible.  Because of this, he favors limited, legal sales of Africa’s stockpiles to a regulated market.  Watch “A Brief History of the Elephant Ivory Trade” for clear reasons why most experts disagree.  Walker’s book published in 2009; in the six short years since then, elephant populations have plummeted, and the failure of regulated sales is now established.

Once there were more elephants than homo sapiens.  Now, we are 7 billion and growing while the elephant population is perhaps 350,000 and shrinking.  What separates us from our pre-20th Century relatives is the knowledge that the resource is not unlimited. It’s time to reverse course and let the allure of ivory be relegated to the past.  Tick Tock. Tick Tock.

 

 

 

Giants’ Steps

_C1A5079

Did you know that the largest land mammal — the multi-ton elephant — can walk by you in such silence that you may not even know they are present unless you see them?  If they do break silence, it is with the sound of their eating process or the occasional trumpet or squeal to communicate.  You won’t hear their footstep in open grassland.  The padding on their large feet cushions their step to the degree that they are able to cross great distances in relative silence.

And so it goes sometimes with the biggest news concerning elephants — if you rely on the mainstream media for all your information, you may have missed hearing the very good news in the fight against the illegal ivory trade.

This past week, when Presidents Obama and Xi Jinjang met in Washington, DC, they agreed to halt the commercial ivory trade in the U.S. and China.  The official fact sheet on their meeting states:  “The United States and China, recognizing the importance and urgency of combating wildlife trafficking, commit to take positive measures to address this global challenge.  The United States and China commit to enact nearly complete bans on ivory import and export, including significant and timely restrictions on the import of ivory as hunting trophies, and to take significant and timely steps to halt the domestic commercial trade of ivory.  The two sides decided to further cooperate in joint training, technical exchanges, information sharing, and public education on combating wildlife trafficking, and enhance international law enforcement cooperation in this field.  The United States and China decided to cooperate with other nations in a comprehensive effort to combat wildlife trafficking. “

This is huge — a giant step by giant nations for a giant animal and megafauna species.  China and the United States are the two largest economies and markets for ivory in the world.  Their commitment to end the market for ivory is essential for ultimately realizing this goal. We can now move beyond finger pointing and on to collaboration.  Ending demand for ivory won’t happen overnight; and it won’t happen without tackling monumental obstacles such as the entrenched, criminal groups that sponsor poaching and the movement of ivory from Africa to the carving factories of Asia.  Nevertheless, the combined commitment of these two giant nations moves us much closer to overcoming these obstacles.

We must keep the pressure on and keep funding the programs that are making a meaningful difference on the ground in Africa and Asia where elephants still live in the wild.  To that end, here is a fun way to help:  take a safari!  The Bodhi Tree Foundation has worked with some leading safari operators to produce eight different safari itineraries.  Ten percent of the proceeds from each safari will be contributed an affiliated elephant conservation project each respective country.  The program, S.A.F.E (Safeguard the Future for Africa’s Elephants), sponsors projects in Kenya, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, Mozambique, Uganda, Tanzania, Cambodia and Thailand — all wildlife treasure chests where you can experience a once-in-a-lifetime encounter with elephants and scores of other wildlife.  If a safari isn’t in your near future, you can also contributed directly to these projects, which the Bodhi Tree Foundation has carefully vetted.  The projects focus on countering the forces elephants face today: poaching, habitat loss, human-elephant conflict and lack of vital rehabilitation and veterinary care.  Any amount you contribute will make a difference as 100% of your donation goes directly to the project of your choice.

Remember, baby steps are just as important as giant steps when taking on a challenge as big as this one!

Photo Essay: Life Without Mom

rain

The ancients thought that rain was the tears of the Gods. During my most recent visit to the David Sheldrick Trust orphanage for elephants in Nairobi, the heavens opened up and poured on these babies during their afternoon feeding. But no amount of rain or thunder could keep them from their “bottles” of milk, a formula developed by the Sheldrick Trust over decades or trial and error. millk

This milk and the care of the Keepers at the Trust have given a new lease on life to scores of baby elephants whose mothers were taken by poaching or natural causes.  Without the care of his or her mother, any elephant younger than two will likely not survive.  The wonderful thing about the Sheldrick program that rescuing baby orphans is only the beginning. After a rescued baby is stabilized physically and emotionally, reintegration to the wild becomes the priority.

Later in the trip, we stayed at the Ithumba outpost in Voi, where “juniors” (aged 3 to 6) are reintroduced to the wild. At sunrise, we arrived at the stockades, where the youngest juniors sleep, to observe their morning feeding, followed by the opening of the stockades.

out

Meanwhile, from the surrounding forests, emerge several herds of wild elephants plus the older juniors who sleep outside the stockades.

greeting

By now, there are more than 70 elephants, from the youngest juniors to orphans who are spending half their time with wild herds, to the wild elephants who love the waterhole at the stockades as well as this integrated community of elephants.

drink

As the morning progresses, we need the keepers to tell us which elephants are ex-orphans and which are wild, the interaction is so complete.

reunion

integration

Perhaps the most touching event was seeing several females, one-time orphans who have reintegrated into the wild, and now pregnant. It completes the cycle of recovery, to be integrated back into the wild, and bringing into the world a new life.  We met Wendy (below), who is due to deliver any day now.

wendy

It remains an unknown — will a female elephant, who was not raised in the traditional manner, know how to be a mother?  We know in breeding herds that have lost their matriarch and other experienced females, younger elephants sometimes exhibit dysfunctional behavior.  And, young females from those herds who become pregnant often do not know how to handle a baby. As a tribute to the “mothering” the Trust employs in training orphans for normal, “real” life in the wild, an incredible event recently took place.  In December, another ex-orphan, Emily, who has already given birth to two wild-born calves, returned to one of Sheldrick’s Voi outposts to deliver her third baby – a highly unusual occurrence as most females go into seclusion to deliver their babies. This film shows the amazing event.

Over Thanksgiving holidays, I lost my mother. No matter how old you are, losing your mother is a monumental sadness, leaving a hole in your heart forever. My loss is strangely softened when I consider this summer’s visit with the orphans and appreciate the truly incredible work done by the Sheldrick Trust.  I originally intended to post this story closer to Mother’s Day.  But now, every day for me is a Mother’s Day of sorts as I give thanks for the special mother I was fortunate to have for my 63  years.

Please consider fostering a baby elephant as a tribute to your mother and all the mothers in the world who make each of our lives possible.  Click here for more information on the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust.  And, for a complete history of the Trust, do read Dame Daphne Sheldrick’s wonderful book, Love, Life and Elephants: An African Love Story.” 

Life Insurance

_I1A8523 copy

The African elephant’s natural life span in the wild is up to 70 years.  The median age is 56, meaning that half die before 56 and half live to be older than 56.  These statistics, however, assume no human intervention.  The poaching crisis has altered the metrics of wild elephants in many ways, none of them good.  Studies of female elephants in Kenya’s Amboseli Park between 1960 and 2005 estimate their median age to be 36, a good 20 years shy of the natural median age.  While Amboseli suffered a devastating drought in the late “aughts,” poaching has been virulent for the life of the study and is largely responsible for the shortened life span of these elephants.

Worse yet, the impact on longevity goes far beyond the body count from poaching.  The elephants with the longest tusks are the oldest, most experienced and most blessed genetically.  Poaching has robbed Africa of most of its big tuskers, and with them, their contribution to the gene pool and knowledge banks of the herds, particularly in the case of the matriarchs who lead the breeding herds.  This raises the risk for those who survive and the yet-to-be-conceived.  Much like a dysfunctional human family, a herd without the wisdom and leadership of the older females will not learn behaviors they need to survive and contribute positively to their pachyderm community.  For example, young female elephants learn nurturing skills from their mothers and aunties.  Should they give birth absent their 20 years of motherhood apprenticeship, they will not know how to react to their newborn or give it the intensive care the baby requires.  And, any baby elephant younger than two cannot survive without its mother.  Without the elders’ memory, herds will not know where to migrate to during droughts.  The stress level of elephants in groups lacking good leadership is much greater; behavior is erratic and sometimes belligerent.  The dysfunction of elephant groups that have lost their elders could accelerate the  decline of elephant populations just as surely as the poachers bullet has been doing.

The young elephant in the photo above is a lucky guy, with a doting mother, lots of aunts and cousins.  Without poaching, he has a good chance of living well beyond 56.  But how can we help insure he has this opportunity?

The best life insurance policy for all elephants would be to eliminate the demand for ivory.  Much attention is deservedly paid to the role of the Chinese is driving demand.  Yet, let’s not lose sight of the fact that the US is the #2 market for ivory.  President Obama announced plans for upping US involvement in fighting poaching and reducing demand, including a ban on most commercial sales of ivory in the United States (USFWS fact sheet on the ivory ban).

Like much of the federal budget, the appropriations to implement these actions are being held hostage to special interests and congressional dysfunction.  If you are inclined to get involved politically, here is an excerpt from a Wildlife Conservation Society mailing I received that may help you compose a communication to your elected representatives:

I’m writing to you as a constituent and supporter of the Wildlife Conservation Society to ask you to help save elephants from extinction. Please oppose any appropriations riders that would interfere with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service’s (FWS) efforts to strengthen controls on the commercial trade in elephant ivory. Riders, like Section 115 of H.R. 5171, would prematurely stop a regulatory process that will consider public comments prior to finalizing any rule changes. It would also result in a return to prior regulations that were fraught with uncertainty for buyers, sellers, and enforcement agents.

An estimated 35,000 African elephants are killed by poachers each year for their ivory. At this rate, African elephants will be wiped out across large areas of their range within our lifetime. Individual elephant tusks can sell for tens of thousands of dollars, and reports indicate that the substantial portions of these illegal profits are ending up in the hands of transnational organized crime syndicates that also conduct trafficking of humans, drugs and weapons and extremist groups like Joseph Kony’s Lord’s Resistance Army and al Shabaab that use the proceeds to finance human rights abuses and terrorist activities.

And attach the short video from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, WILD: Saving Africa’s Elephants.  This says it all. Let’s do everything we can to help elephant communities not only survive, but also thrive.

 

Eye on Elephants

_C1A4693eleye

Did you know?  Elephants have relatively small eyes for an animal of their size. Their eyes’ position on the sides of their massive heads produces better peripheral than binocular vision.  Elephants rely much more on their senses of smell and hearing than on their eyesight.  In fact, there have been reports of blind matriarchs leading their herds just fine.

You may think I have taken my eye off elephants since my last blog post was in June.  Between a gloriously long trip to Kenya this summer, followed promptly by a move from CT to AZ and all that entails, I have been negligent in posting.  The good news is that many others have kept their eye on the elephants, creating more awareness of their plight than ever before.

A landmark study, published in the August 19 issue of Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, led by George Wittemyer of Colorado State University,  concluded that three-quarters of local, African elephant populations are declining. The bottom line: in the past three years, at least 100,000 elephants have been killed by poachers. Combined with death due to natural causes, more elephants are dying than being born.  While the killing rate had been estimated by various NGOs, this is the first, scientifically-based study that quantifies births and deaths on a continent-wide basis.  For policymakers who had any doubts about the conservation community’s calls for action, this documentation should put those doubts to rest.

At the same time, several major, awareness-raising campaigns have been launched or are in the works.

WildAid has been particularly busy.  Working with Yao Ming, the legendary NBA Chinese national, WildAid has funded a documentary, “The End of the Wild,”  which chronicles Yao Ming’s 2012 trip to Kenya and South Africa.  A related PSA, “Say No to Ivory,” launched in 2013, while the documentary premiered this past August.  Both are carried by CCTV, China’s primary state-owned network.  A companion book, “A Journey in Africa,” is also being published in China. In March 2014, Yao delivered a petition during the opening session of the Chinese People’s Political Consultative Conference (CPPCC) asking China’s government to ban sales of ivory.

Yao has serious credentials as a conservationist; previously, he was the primary spokesperson for WildAid’s campaign against the killing of sharks for sharks’ fin soup.  A 2013 survey of major Chinese cities revealed an 85% drop in demand for shark soup; of those who quit ordering the delicacy, 65% cited public information campaigns as the reason.

Here in the US, which remains the second largest market for ivory (behind China), Academy award-winning producer, Kathleen Bigelow, premiered “Last Days” at this year’s New York Film Festival.  This three-minute PSA, also developed in conjunction with WildAid, delivers a message that carries the same impact as her films “Zero Dark Thirty” and “Hurt Locker” : When a person buys an item made of ivory in a market in China, it is quite possible that they are actually funding the next major terrorist attack somewhere in the world; based on strong evidence linking the illegal ivory trade to some of the most notorious terrorist groups in Africa. And it is certain that they are complicit in the illegal slaughter of elephants– which face imminent extinction in the wild if the demand for ivory in China and elsewhere is not curbed.

If that isn’t enough star power, Angelina Jolie recently signed on to direct “Africa,” a drama based on Richard Leakey’s fight against ivory poachers in Kenya. Oscar-winning screenwriter Eric Roth (“Forrest Gump,” “The Curious Case of Benjamin Button”) wrote the script.  David Ellison’s Skydance Productions, known for blockbusters such as the “Mission: Impossible” series and the upcoming “Terminator: Genisys” trilogy, is behind the picture.  Meanwhile, back in Africa, Richard Leakey is still waging his war against poaching.  This has block-buster potential!

These efforts have the most potential to stop poaching — by killing demand, rather than elephants.  Keep your eye on the elephants and stayed tuned!

The Intelligent Gift of Knowledge

_MG_0033-Edit copy

Elephants are among the most intelligent creatures in the “animal world.”  Some of their most remarkable acts of intelligence include empathy; highly complex social structures; the ability to recognize themselves in a mirror; long memories of migratory routes and the behaviors of other species; and the ability to be taught.  Their level of intelligence enables them to be knowledgeable — to know how to handle various situations, make decisions, and communicate among the herd.  Elephants even know which branches to seek out if their tummy is upset.

Human intelligence was demonstrated earlier this week at summit held in Gaborone, Botswana, hosted by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature) and the government of Botswana. Representatives from 30 countries that are critical in deciding the fate of elephants participated:  key African elephant range states including Gabon, Kenya, Niger and Zambia and ivory transit states Vietnam, Philippines and Malaysia, and ivory destination states, including China and Thailand.  The Associated Press reports:

“One of the 14 measures the delegates committed to involves classifying wildlife trafficking as a “serious crime.” According to the IUCN, this will unlock international law enforcement co-operation provided under the United Nations Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime, including mutual legal assistance, asset seizure and forfeiture, extradition and other tools to hold criminals accountable for wildlife crime. Other measures agreed upon include engaging communities living with elephants in their conservation, strengthening national laws to secure maximum wildlife crime sentences, mobilizing financial and technical resources to combat wildlife crime and reducing demand for illegal ivory.”  (click here and here for full story)

Helping to create a world in which elephants and humans can co-exist comfortably requires knowledge that we humans do not yet possess. Critical to these efforts is better knowledge on elephant populations and locations.  Elephants Without Borders, a Botswana-based conservation group, has the skill set to do a Pan-African survey of elephant populations, but not the means or equipment.  Enter Microsoft co-founder and eco-philanthropist, Paul Allen.  During the Summit, Allen committed $8 million to fund such a survey, including the three airplanes and two helicopters required by EWB scientists.  The donation will enable the survey to be conducted during the 2014 dry season across all 13 elephant range countries. (click here for full story)

This gift of knowledge increases the chances of success for all programs directed toward helping elephants survive, whether related to habitat, policing, prosecuting or education.  The noise level is increasing, and not a moment too soon.  Elephants are currently being killed faster than they can breed.  And there is nothing intelligent about that.

The Soul of Giving

soul2

It’s “Giving Tuesday.”  Following Black Friday and Cyber Monday, we return to the spirit of the season, giving thanks, celebrating that which nourishes our souls and opening our hearts and wallets for those we love as well as those who need our help.

As you make your gift lists, remember the elephants and the wonderful organizations who are truly making a difference on their behalf.  Check “Experts” for a list of those organizations.

If elephants had credit cards and access to the Internet, they too would probably partake in holiday gift giving.  Elephants possess an innate feeling for each other, well-documented, cradle-to-grave behavior  —  from the care of a newborn to the mourning of a  lost one.

Earlier this year, The New Atlantis, a journal of technology and society, published an article,  “Do Elephants Have Souls?”.  While lengthy and scholarly, the article contains a wealth of information on elephant behavior, from fact to “elephantasies.”    Or, if you find that article too dense to finish, read this link about the tribute elephants paid to conservationist Lawrence Anthony when he died Spring 2012.  This story will make you believe!  It is worth considering what is it about the elephant that has so drawn humans to it, from the dawn of civilization.

We are concluding another dreadful year for elephant populations and, some might say, elephant souls.  Please take some time to appreciate what special creatures elephants are and pledge some of your giving to their future.

Where the Elephants Are

1Y7C3703-Edit-2 copy

Since 1979, Africa’s wild elephant population has been slashed by about 75%.  Many experts believe that the current poaching rate will leave Africa without any wild elephants by 2025. Those grim statistics would suggest that it is no longer possible to see enormous herds of elephants such as those photographed by Peter Beard in 1976 near Tsavo National Park in Kenya (click here).

The plague of poaching however is not evenly spread across Africa.  Southern Africa has, for the most part, been spared the ravages of poaching with respect to its elephants (but not, sadly, with respect to its rhino population).  In Botswana and Zimbabwe in particular, it is still possible to encounter groups of elephants with several hundred or more animals.  This past August, we found the Savute Marsh in northern Botswana inundated with elephants (pictured above), as far as the eye could see, best estimates being around 800.  The elephant population in this region is mobile, moving freely about riparian areas where Botswana, Namibia, Angola, Zambia and  Zimbabwe converge.  Historically, elephants migrated across an even larger area, allowing the habitat to replenish itself in between elephant visitations.  In the 20th Century, civil wars in the region took a toll on elephant populations and many ceased to migrate, congregating along the Chobe River in Botswana, which remained stable throughout.  Now that peace has been realized, the elephants roam more widely, but many return to Botswana at various times of the year or when water is short.

elephant paradiseNeighboring Zimbabwe also has large elephant populations, particularly in and around Hwange National Park, which borders the Chobe area of Botswana.  But now a new form of poaching, more deadly to the ecosystem than ever, has been discovered in Hwange.  In July, rangers discovered about 90 dead elephants, whose tusks has been removed.  Not only were the elephants dead, but so were the vultures, hyenas and lions who fed on their corpses and other animals who drank from the same waterholes.  Forensic analysis showed that cyanide had been used to poison the elephants by poachers; thus, impacting the entire food chain in the area.  Since then more victims have been discovered, bringing the elephant death toll to at least 300 (click here for report). Tom Milliken, program leader for the Elephant and Rhino Traffic network, claims: “This is the largest massacre of elephant in this part of the world for the last 25 years.”

Just when I thought there might be one elephant paradise left on earth, a nefarious ploy by poachers that threatens all wildlife presents itself.  Could all of Africa’s wildlife now be threatened just because humans want ivory trinkets? This definitely raises the threat level.

 

Forest Elephants, A Species Apart

forestele

In December 2010, scientists from Harvard, the University of Illinois and the University of York in Britain announced their finding that the African savanna elephant and the forest elephant are distinct species, having been largely separated for 2 million to 7 million years.  The forest elephant is found in the vast Congo Basin, which stretches across six countries:  Cameroon, Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Republic of Congo, Equatorial Guinea and Gabon.  The determination that they are separate species came from DNA analysis of the modern-day pachyderms — savanna, forest and Asian elephants — and their extinct ancestors — the wooly mammoth and mastodon. The highlights of their study can be found here.

I was fortunate to observe several forest elephants on my recent trip to Republic of Congo.  What an experience!  With rounder ears and slim, straight tusks, the smaller forest elephant has some obvious physical differences.  In addition, their eyes are a light brown, as is the case of most of the forest-dwelling animals in the dense rain forest.  The forest elephant lives in very small groups, unlike the vast herds savanna elephants occupy.  Their world is unbelievably impenetrable.  The forest covers an area larger than Alaska, with few natural openings.  With ample food and water throughout this ecosystem, they live a solitary life, most of them never setting eyes on a human being.   An elephant’s home range can be nearly 800 square miles.  As a result, they are shy and skittish when sensing a “foreign” presence.  The elephants we spotted kept their distance, usually widening that distance considerably once they picked up our scent.

Because their world is so remote and inaccessible, little is known about the habits of forest elephants.  What we do know, and in spite of their isolation, poaching is taking an enormous toll on them.  Heavily militarized groups  from Sudan and Uganda have slaughtered hundreds of forest elephants across CAR, Cameroon, Gabon and DRC.  The WCS reports that the  in Gabon alone, the forest elephant population has been halved in the past decade.

Slipping into their world for just a week was a special privilege.  In addition to the forest elephant, we encountered western lowland gorillas and wild chimpanzees.  Sitings were infrequent and required trekking through very dense and insect-infested, damp rain forest.  One would think that this habitat would protect them from the evils of the outside world.  But the barriers are breaking down.  The demand for ivory is penetrating the impenetrable; and ivory carvers favor the  tusks of forest elephants as they are softer and easier to shape.  Logging and mineral extraction operations also are bringing more human “commerce” into the entire Congo Basin.  Is there time to get to know this “new” species of elephant?  . . .to be continued. . .

The Price of Celebrity

celebrity ele

Earlier this  year, I made a post about Asian elephants and issues concerning the quality of life they have in captivity.  Now, The New York Times Magazine has published a great article, entitled “The Hard Life of Celebrity Elephants.”

The author, Rollo Romig, is a freelance writer in India with first hand exposure to the popularity of elephants as temple and festival adornments.  While elephants in captivity can be seen throughout India, the State of Kerala hosts the preponderance of celebrations that employ elephants as part of the traditional rituals practiced.  I had a chance to observe this first hand at the Thirunakkara Festival in Kottayam in March 2012.  This particular festival lasts for ten days, featuring three elephants on the first day and climaxing with 20 festooned elephants on the final nights (photo above).

India has many laws protecting elephants and as the following passage from the articles points out, the number of elephants in captivity is slowly diminishing:

“The demand for elephants is skyrocketing just as the supply is plummeting. In 1982, India banned the capture of wild elephants except to protect the animal or its human neighbors, and it has been illegal to import captive elephants from other states since 2007. Despite their history in domestic situations, there’s no such thing as a domesticated elephant. Nearly every captive elephant in India was captured from the wild, and in Kerala, captive breeding is almost unheard-of, mostly because Keralites overwhelmingly prefer their elephants to be male (since they have tusks), which considerably shrinks their mating pool. When the Forest Department finished microchipping Kerala’s captive elephants in 2008, it said there were more than 700. Now the department estimates that there are fewer than 600, pressed into service at an ever-growing number of festivals.”

Certain elephants have fan clubs and followings but celebrity does not equate to quality living.  Life as an adorned festival performer is unnatural, as is being solitary and unable to roam freely.  One wonders what will happen should the number of existing temple/festival elephants dwindle substantially below the demand for them.  Let’s hope their role in festivals can be phased out so that the remaining wild elephants are not quietly drafted into service.