Beyond Your Backyard - World Elephant Day

By Kimberly J. Epp

August 12th is the day we celebrate our elephants - but what is there to really celebrate? We all love elephants, but there is no question that our Pachyderms need our help. From poaching and trophy hunting in Africa to the cruel elephant tourism industry in Thailand to the abuse of temple elephants in India and all of the elephants living a life of sadness and abuse in zoos and circuses - there isn't much to celebrate.

There are now fewer than 500,000 African Elephants found across the vast continent of Africa, where tens of millions once roamed. One elephant is poached in Africa every 15 minutes. The largest land mammal carries her young for 22 months, and doesn't breed until her mid-teens, so how can elephants keep up with the poaching? At this rate, elephants will be gone in Africa before 2050. New anti-poaching methods are being developed, but poachers often seem one step ahead.

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In India, 12 per cent of the Asian Elephants are in captivity, living a terrible life of abuse. Kerala has much of these temple elephants, and their lives are sad and abuse-filled. Many die of starvation, from impaction or from untreated and infected wounds inflicted on them by their mahouts from use of a bulhook. Leg chains sometimes even have spikes, which also inflict wounds in their sensitive skin. Sixty per cent of Asian Elephants live in India. Much of their migration routes are being blocked off by people who refuse to co-exist. Electrocution of elephants at electric fences blocking their migration routes is becoming all too common. Thailand is now also considering the trade of their elephants.

Cute Asian Elephant calf in India. Asian Elephant calves are hairy, while African Elephant calves have wrinkles. Among the many differences between the two species, their ears are smaller and in the shape of India - while African Elephant ears are larger, and in the shape of Africa (Photographer unknown).

Cute Asian Elephant calf in India. Asian Elephant calves are hairy, while African Elephant calves have wrinkles. Among the many differences between the two species, their ears are smaller and in the shape of India - while African Elephant ears are larger, and in the shape of Africa (Photographer unknown).

Zimbabwe lifted protection on elephants, and now allows for their hunting, in a country once considered their last refuge. They are selling baby elephants stolen from their mothers. There are culls in South Africa. Trophy hunting is a profitable business in South Africa. Much of Africa is being exploited by wealthy Asians. Elephants play an important part in spreading seeds as they walk. Without elephants, the vegetation would be greatly impacted as it would no longer be varied. Plants and trees would no longer be found in large areas where they once were - only because of the elephants.

The orphaned African Elephant calves at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya are headed back to their sleeping quarters after a long day of walking and playing in the mud and water. The keeper acts as the matriarch as a herd would, and the elephants follow him. The orphans also have a keeper sleep in their quarters in case they have nightmares. Sometimes an orphan of a poaching incident will wake screaming at night, so the keeper is there to soothe them. The SWT cares for all kinds of African wildlife orphans and also rescues and treats wildlife trapped in holes, snares and in distress (Photo via the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust).

The orphaned African Elephant calves at the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi, Kenya are headed back to their sleeping quarters after a long day of walking and playing in the mud and water. The keeper acts as the matriarch as a herd would, and the elephants follow him. The orphans also have a keeper sleep in their quarters in case they have nightmares. Sometimes an orphan of a poaching incident will wake screaming at night, so the keeper is there to soothe them. The SWT cares for all kinds of African wildlife orphans and also rescues and treats wildlife trapped in holes, snares and in distress (Photo via the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust).

The Pygmy Elephants of Borneo are now fewer than 1,500, and only carry their first baby at around 40. The Palm Oil industry is destroying their habitat, and now they are even facing poaching. These are the smallest elephant species, and were only distinguished as their own species in 2007. You can help them by staying away from the junk and processed foods that contain palm oil.

Two happily rescued Asian Elephant friends at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Touch is an important part of elephant companionship. When a new rescue is brought in the herd goes to meet him/her and they greet by trumpeting, caressing and smelling the new resident with their trunks. Elephant Nature Park is run by Lek Chailert and her Canadian husband Darrick Thomson. (Photo by Elephant Nature Park)

Two happily rescued Asian Elephant friends at Elephant Nature Park in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Touch is an important part of elephant companionship. When a new rescue is brought in the herd goes to meet him/her and they greet by trumpeting, caressing and smelling the new resident with their trunks. Elephant Nature Park is run by Lek Chailert and her Canadian husband Darrick Thomson. (Photo by Elephant Nature Park)

Our own Lucy in Edmonton is in so much pain due to arthritis and standing on cement that she is on daily narcotics. She suffers also from foot disease, undiagnosed breathing issues, and even colic. Her only hope for any kind of a future is being sent to a sanctuary. It is past time for the city to retire her. The Lucy Edmonton Advocates Project is asking the city to let an Independent vet examine her. They hope the city will agree to move her to a sanctuary like the Tennessee Elephant Sanctuary.

Lucy the Asian Elephant at the Edmonton Valley Zoo. Lucy has been in captivity here since she was two years old, over 4 decades. Half of this time she has been kept in solitary captivity. She exhibits the common traits, such as swaying, found in animals in solitary confinement. Elephants are herd animals, not meant to be alone. The zoo has her perform menial tricks for the audience, such as seen here. Lucy is the zoo's top money maker. It is time to send Lucy to sanctuary (photo via "Friends of Lucy").

Lucy the Asian Elephant at the Edmonton Valley Zoo. Lucy has been in captivity here since she was two years old, over 4 decades. Half of this time she has been kept in solitary captivity. She exhibits the common traits, such as swaying, found in animals in solitary confinement. Elephants are herd animals, not meant to be alone. The zoo has her perform menial tricks for the audience, such as seen here. Lucy is the zoo's top money maker. It is time to send Lucy to sanctuary (photo via "Friends of Lucy").

Elephants in zoos rarely live past age 50. Lucy is already 44, and doing very poorly. Spending so much time on cement, walking on the cement instead of soft surfaces cause foot issues and arthritis not seen in wild elephants. Water is very important to pachyderms, and Lucy doesn't even have a pool to soothe her aching bones. Every additional winter she spends in Canada brings her closer to an early death. Her walking has slowed, and she is in obvious pain. She has little space to roam in and her walks do nothing to help her obesity.

A captive and chained Asian Elephant in Kerala, India. Kerala is a notorious state in their use and abuse of temple elephants. This bull elephant is massively underweight and is forced to walk in shackles in the sun on the extremely hot pavement for hours. The ever present bullhook is at the mahout's side. To find out how you can help visit the Voice of Asian Elephants Society ran by Gods in Shackles.

A captive and chained Asian Elephant in Kerala, India. Kerala is a notorious state in their use and abuse of temple elephants. This bull elephant is massively underweight and is forced to walk in shackles in the sun on the extremely hot pavement for hours. The ever present bullhook is at the mahout's side. To find out how you can help visit the Voice of Asian Elephants Society ran by Gods in Shackles.

Due to too little walking and now the daily narcotics, she currently also suffers impaction. Impaction is another leading cause of death in captive elephants due to a diet not varied enough and lack of exercise. Dependent on species, elephants can walk up to 80 km a day in the wild, and eat over 200 forms of roots, shoots, berries, leaves, grasses, and bamboo. The fact that Lucy has foot disease, obesity, colic, arthritis and now impaction means that time is running out. You can help Lucy by joining the Lucy Edmonton Advocates Project at the following link;

Lucy's Edmonton Advocates' Project (LEAP)

So what can you do to help? You can spread awareness, educate others, become an elephant advocate, foster an elephant at an orphanage like the Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, never ever ride an elephant, only visit accredited sanctuaries, don't go to zoos or circuses that house elephants, support an elephant sanctuary like Elephant Nature Park, join elephant groups like the Voice for Asian Elephants Society, sign petitions to the government of Thailand asking them to not export their elephants, contact senators about rescuing captive elephants, contact your government about banning elephant trophies, contact the City of Edmonton about retiring Lucy, join the Lucy Edmonton Advocate Project. *Elephants need all of our help!*

The Voice of Asian Elephants Society site may be accessed by clicking here.

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Epp is an Environmental Educator and writer, as well as the Past President and Field Trip Director for the Moose Jaw Nature Society. She can be reached at kepp@shaw.ca or via the MJNS Facebook page.

Monthly meetings will resume again on Friday, September 27th, where our guest speaker will be Jan Shadick of Saskatoon's "Living Sky Wildlife Rehabilitation".

She will bring a few of her furry/feathered outreach friends, so mark the date! You can follow the Moose Jaw Nature Society facebook page for event, field trip and program info at this link; https://www.facebook.com/moosejawnaturesociety/

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