Monday, July 25, 2016

This Week's Elephant In The Room

Mohan the elephant is safe. He is no longer with his captors. 

For his safety, this is all that we can report for now.
Please stay tuned, and thank you for your support! If you are in the United States and would like to receive breaking text alerts on this situation, please text WILD to 51555.

We currently have a list of more than 50 names belonging to elephants in critical need of rescue. Some are performing painful tricks in the circus, others are confined to tiny spaces in temples, still others are used for begging on the street -- the way Raju once was.

All are sick and many are disabled. Our dream for every last one of them is a life of freedom and good health. These elephants should be able walk freely, to roll in mud if they want, to spend hours playing in water. They need space; for us to help them with that, they need land.

Laxmi, Chanchal, and Bijli taking a nap after their morning rounds.
Walnut (aka Wally) cooling off.
But our elephant center in Mathura is fast approaching capacity, and we want to expand it to accommodate 50 more elephants over the next 5 years. We have the perfect spot picked out, right next to a naturally flowing river. Can you imagine an elephant coming from a lifetime in chains to a natural stream -- with  the freedom to spend endless hours bathing, playing, and relaxing?  
Please help make this dream a reality by donating to our special elephant land fund todayOn behalf of the all the elephants who await freedom, we thank you!

Great news -- we’ve got Europe’s attention! The more of us join, the more impact we’ll have. Sign the petition and share widely! Click to signEvery 15 minutes an elephant is brutally slaughtered for its tusks, and at this rate they will be gone forever in just a few years. Momentum is growing for a complete, permanent global ban on ivory -- but the European Commission has just come out against it!

The elephant crisis is heartbreaking. In some areas these magnificent, sensitive creatures are so terrified of people they only come out at night, and mourning baby elephants refuse to leave the butchered corpses of their mothers. Now 29 African governments have said if Europe gets its way, it will spell extinction for our elephants, and they need our help.

A key global summit is just around the corner where we could win the total lasting ban we need, and there are signs powerful countries like France and Germany could lead a rebellion against the EU’s elephant death sentence. African governments will deliver our giant call straight into key meetings to build support for the ban -- sign now to keep our elephants safe, and share with everyone you know:

All over the world, iconic species are being driven to the edge of extinction thanks to hunting, poaching and habitat loss. It’s creating a crisis that threatens us all -- scientists are warning that as each species is lost, another strand is pulled out of the web of life. Pull out too many, and the ecosystems we rely on will collapse. 

Europe has been a world leader in efforts to tackle the illegal wildlife trade, but while it supports the current ban on ivory, it is also open to talks on resuming the legal ivory trade in the future! Right now elephant poachers can sell illegal ivory in the limited legal market, and experts say a resumption of the ivory trade could make the poaching crisis get much worse, driving our elephants to extinction.

So let's build a global wave of support for our amazing wildlife, and make sure European governments support maximum protection for elephants to stop more slaughter. It will be a tragedy like no other if our children and their children only know elephants from books and videos. Add your name and spread the word to save the elephants:

Our global people-powered movement is the best chance our wildlife has to survive and flourish. We’ve helped usher in the end of the ivory trade in Hong Kong, won an EU ban on bee-killing pesticides and campaigned for dozens of protected ocean and forest parks around the world. We even bought a rainforest for orangutans! Now we need to step up for elephants again, and get another global win for wildlife.

Momentum is growing towards a global permanent ban on the ivory trade, but the European Commission has just come out against this plan to help end the elephant slaughter! Nearly 30 African countries are standing up for elephant survival -- let’s join them and build a global call to get Europe on board to save our elephants from extinction!

This week, Tanzanian authorities announced that they seized 1.4 tons of elephant tusks and arrested a group of MAJOR international ivory dealers.[1]

Authorities believe that the recently seized ivory came from 140 elephants in the Selous Game Reserve. An area once home to the largest population of elephants in East Africa, it has now become home to senseless slaughter.

We can't stand idly by while poachers drive elephants into extinction to profit off their tusks. We need to END to the illegal ivory trade.

Protesters at Great Lakes Medieval Faire demand elephant's retirement. Each weekend this summer from July 9 through August 14 the Great Lakes Medieval Faire runs as it has for years, but this summer a group of animal rights protesters has gathered to demand the retirement of 'Nosey' – an African elephant cow owned by Liebel Family Circus they say is mistreated, in pain and ill health.

The group, known as 'Nosey's Voice', is active on social media and representatives have gathered at the Faire to protest Nosey's continued involvement there and to call for her retirement. “She deserves better,” Nosey's Voice representative Cathy Lazarus said. “She's old and she's in pain. She deserves to go to a facility where she can be with other elephants.” In a video clip submitted to Gazette, an adult performer can be seen doing a back-flip onto Nosey's trunk. A charming display of acrobatic skill that Airavat Foundation for Wildlife Conservation principal veterinarian, founder and CEO Dr. Rinku Gohain said in a review of the video that actually indicates Nosey finds painful.

“For a around a second just prior to the expected landing the elephant is seen to extend its neck forward and slightly tilting its head towards the left,” Gohain said. “This is a clear indication that the elephant is aware of the impending weight landing on its trunk and might be from routine act of display and the anticipated uncomfortableness to follow. The trunk is multifunctional and prehensile organ used for various purposes like communicating, touching, smelling, feeding, watering, dusting, holding and for defense. The length of the trunk also contains numerous small sensory hairs that help in tactile communication. Paralysis or injuries to the trunk of an elephant can be very detrimental because these may result in collective dissociation of many vital functions.”

Protesters also call attention to Nosey's gait during performances, saying veterinarians who've observed her or footage of her believe she may be lame or arthritic. 

“The appearance indicates that it is consciously placing its right hind leg in positions that gives it more comfort and ability to support its hind body weight while moving forward and avoiding more weight support on the left,” Gohain said. “This indicates discomfort avoidance either of the left hip joint upon more weight bearing or avoidance of discomfort on the right that may result from movement of the joint on subconscious or free placement and therefore a particular weight bearing on the right is being preferred.” 

A November 2014 examination by the University of Florida Small Animal Hospital found no clinical evidence of arthritis or lameness, but recommended further evaluation and exhibition riding should be limited. 

Veterinarian Dr. Philip Ensley, who worked with Asian and African elephants for over three decades and helped administer American College of Zoological Medicine which certifies practitioners of zoological medicine, called Nosey's living conditions and care 'grossly substandard' in documents submitted to Gazette. 

“This is the worst, most prolonged, documented example of an uncorrected case of suffering and abuse in an elephant I have ever reviewed,” Ensley said. “USDA inspection reports regarding Nosey document serious, willful, and chronic violations of the Animal Welfare Act with repeated noncompliance with the regulations and standards governing veterinary care, handling, housing, and husbandry. It is not surprising that Nosey has already displayed aggression and attacked a handler on at least one occasion.” 

Ensley said in his report it may only be a matter of time before Nosey becomes damgerous to others as well. “Circumstances of captivity such as those which Nosey has experienced cause aberrant behavior,” Ensley said. “It is believed and has been demonstrated—and I have experienced—that captive elephants are capable of postponing retaliations against perceived improper care and are capable of acts of retribution which can result in aggressive acts of outrage. Inadequate safety practices will most certainly lead to Nosey seriously injuring another handler, or killing a handler, a circus patron or child during an elephant ride.” 

Lazarus said Liebel Family Circus owner Hugo Liebel has been cited dozens of times for violations of the Animal Welfare Act. “[Liebel] has been cited over 200 times,” Lazarus said. “People can just look at Nosey and see from her skin, from how she moves that she's miserable. She deserves to be in a sanctuary with other elephants.” Representatives of Great Lakes Medival Faire did not respond to requests for an interview.

NEW! Watch & Share 'Nosey's Life Behind The Circus Tent' By CWI by Action For Nosey Now
CompassionWorks International's latest Nosey investigation reveals heartbreaking footage of Nosey's sad existence in the circus as well as her life in chains out of the public eye.

Yet again CWI finds long-suffering Nosey the elephant forced to give rides and circus performances. However, what was even more disturbing was the condition we found her in when out of the public view. Hidden behind a tarp while awaiting her circus performance, Nosey was shackled by her feet, unable to move but a step in any direction. She continually reached for leaves and attempted to free herself and to take down the tarp shielding her view. (via CWI Investigations: Nosey the Elephant. Ohio, 2016)

Please watch, share, and educate your family and friends on the fact that circus life is NO LIFE for animals and help get the word out that elephants do not belong in the circus ~ Feel free to add these hashtags to your posts when sharing:

#ActForNosey ~ #BoycottTheCircus

#BanElephantRides ~ #SanctuaryForNosey

Please Watch, Share & Tell Everyone that Nosey needs and deserves so much more than circus life! Action for Nosey Now

CompassionWorks International's Video ~ Nosey's Life Behind The Circus Tent!
The Science Is In: Elephants Are Even Smarter Than We Realized. We now have solid evidence that elephants are some of the most intelligent, social and empathic animals around—so how can we justify keeping them in captivity?
Credit: blieusong/Flickr
One day in 2010, while taking a stroll in his backyard, Kandula the elephant smelled something scrumptious. The scent pulled his attention skyward. There, seemingly suspended in the air, was a sprig of bamboo decorated with bits of cantaloupe and honeydew. Stretching out his trunk, he managed to get the fruit and break off a piece of the branch, but the rest of the tasty leaves remained tantalizingly out of reach. Without hesitation he marched straight to a large plastic cube in the yard, rolled it just beneath the hovering bamboo and used it as a step stool to pull the whole branch to the ground. Seven-year-old Kandula had never before interacted with a cube in this manner. Determined to satisfy his stomach and his curiosity, he did something scientists did not know elephants could do: he had an aha moment. 

A couple weeks earlier a team of researchers led by Diana Reiss and Preston Foerder, then at City University New York, had visited Kandula’s home at the National Zoo in Washington D.C. They placed sticks and sturdy cubes around the yard and strung a kind of pulley system similar to a laundry line between the roof of the elephant house and a tree. From the cable they dangled fruit-tipped bamboo branches of various lengths both within and without of Kandula’s reach. After preparing the aerial snacks they retreated out of sight, turned on a camera and waited to see what the young elephant would do. It took several days for Kandula to achieve his initial insight, but after that he repeatedly positioned and stood on the cube to wrap his trunk around food wherever the scientists suspended it; he learned to do the same with a tractor tire; and he even figured out how to stack giant butcher blocks to extend his reach.

Other elephants had failed similar tests in the past. As it turns out, however, those earlier studies were not so much a failure of the elephant mind as the human one. Unlike people and chimpanzees, elephants rely far more on their exquisite senses of smell and touch than on their relatively poor vision, especially when it comes to food. Previously, researchers had offered elephants only sticks as potential tools to reach dangling or distant treats—a strategy at which chimps excel. But picking up a stick blunts an elephant’s sense of smell and prevents the animal from feeling and manipulating the desired morsel with the tip of its dexterous trunk. Asking an elephant to reach for a piece of food with a stick is like asking a blindfolded man to locate and open a door with his ear. “We are always looking at animals through our human lens—it’s hard not to,” Reiss says. “But now we have an increased appreciation of diverse thinking creatures all around us because of so much research on so many species. It’s fascinating to try and find ways of testing animal minds so they can show us what they are really capable of.” 

People have been telling legends of elephant memory and intelligence for thousands of years and scientists have carefully catalogued astounding examples of elephant cleverness in the wild for many decades. In the past 10 years, however, researchers have realized that elephants are even smarter than they thought. As few as eight years ago there were almost no carefully controlled experiments showing that elephants could match chimpanzees and other brainiacs of the animal kingdom in tool use, self-awareness and tests of problem-solving. Because of recent experiments designed with the elephant’s perspective in mind, scientists now have solid evidence that elephants are just as brilliant as they are big: They are adept tool users and cooperative problem solvers; they are highly empathic, comforting one another when upset; and they probably do have a sense of self. 

Despite the sharpened awareness of elephant sentience, many zoos around the world continue to maintain or expand their elephant exhibits and increasing numbers of heavily armed poachers are descending on Africa to meet the soaring demand for ivory, killing as many as 35,000 elephants a year. The U.S. recently banned ivory trade, with some exceptions, but there have been no steps toward outlawing elephant captivity. At least a few zoos are using the latest science to transform their elephant enclosures, giving the animals more room to roam as well as intellectually stimulating puzzles. Only some zoos can afford to make such changes, however, and many elephant experts maintain that, given everything we know about the creatures’ mental lives, continuing to keep any of them locked up is inexcusable. 

Mental mettle

The modern elephant mind emerged from an evolutionary history that has much in common with our own. The African bush and forest elephants, the Asian elephant, and their extinct relatives, the mammoths, all began to assume their recognizable forms between three and five million years ago in Africa. As Louis Irwin of The University of Texas at El Paso explains, both humans and elephants adapted themselves to life in Africa's forests and savannas around the same time, emigrating to Europe and Asia; both evolved to live long and often migratory lives in highly complex societies; both developed intricate systems of communication; and both experienced a dramatic increase in brain size. 

Over the years numerous observations of wild elephants suggested that the big-brained beasts were some of the most intelligent animals on the planet. They remembered the locations of water holes hundreds of kilometers apart, returning to them year after year. They fashioned twigs into switches to shoo flies and plugged drinking holes with chewed up balls of bark. They clearly formed strong social bonds and even seemed to mourn their dead (see “When Animals Mourn” in the July 2013 issue of Scientific American). Yet scientists rarely investigated this ostensibly immense intellect in carefully managed experiments. Instead, researchers looking for evidence of exceptional mental aptitude in nonhuman animals first turned to chimpanzees and, later, to brainy birds like ravens, crows and some parrots. Only in the past 10 years have scientists rigorously tested elephant cognition. Again and again these new studies have corroborated what zoologists inferred from behavior in the wild. 

Scientists living among herds of wild elephants have long observed awe-inspiring cooperation between family members. Related elephant mothers and their children stay together throughout life in tight-knit clans, caring for one another’s children and forming protective circles around calves when threatened by lions or poachers. Elephant clan members talk to one another with a combination of gentle chirps, thunderous trumpets and low-frequency rumbles undetectable to humans, as well as nudges, kicks and visual signals such as a tilt of the head or flap of the ear. They deliberate among themselves, make group decisions and applaud their achievements. “Being part of an elephant family is all about unity and working together for the greater good,” says Joyce Poole, one of the world’s foremost elephant experts and co-founder of the charity ElephantVoices, which promotes the study and ethical care of elephants. “When they are getting ready to do a group charge, for example, they all look to one another: ‘Are we all together? Are we ready to do this?’ When they succeed, they have an enormous celebration, trumpeting, rumbling, lifting their heads high, clanking tusks together, intertwining their trunks.” 

Cynthia Moss, director of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants and another preeminent elephant researcher, once saw a particularly amazing example of elephant cooperation. One day the young and audacious Ebony, daughter of a matriarch named Echo, bounded right into the midst of a clan that was not her own. As a show of dominance, that clan kidnapped Ebony, keeping her captive with their trunks and legs. After failing to retrieve Ebony on their own, Echo and her eldest daughters retreated. A few minutes later they returned with all the members of their extended family, charged into the clan of kidnappers and rescued Ebony. “That took forethought, teamwork and problem-solving,” Moss says. “How did Echo convey that she needed them? It's a mystery to me, but it happened.” 

In 2010 Joshua Plotnik of Mahidol University in Thailand and his colleagues tested elephant cooperation in a controlled study for the first time. At a Thai conservation center, they divided an outdoor elephant enclosure into two regions with a volleyball net. On one side stood pairs of Asian elephants. On the other side the researchers attached two bowls of corn to a table that slid back and forth on a frame of plastic pipes. They looped a hemp rope around the table so that when both ends of the rope were pulled simultaneously the table moved toward the elephants, pushing the food underneath the net. If a single elephant tried to pull the rope by him or herself, it would slip out and ruin any chance of getting the food. All the elephants quickly learned to cooperate and even to patiently wait for a partner if the scientists prevented both animals from reaching the rope at the same time. One mischievous young elephant outsmarted the rest. Instead of going through the hassle of tugging on one end of the rope, she simply stood on it and let her partner do all the hard work.

Some scientists studying wild elephants have argued that, in addition to cooperating for survival’s sake, the creatures are capable of genuine empathy. Poole recalls, for example, one elephant flinching as another stretched her trunk towards an electric fence; it was fortunately inactive at the time but had been live in the past. Elephants often refuse to leave their sick and injured behind, even if the ailing animal is not a direct relative. Poole once observed three young male elephants struggle to revive a dying matriarch, lifting her body with their tusks to get her back on her feet. Another time, while driving through Kenya’s Amboseli National Park, Poole saw a female elephant give birth to a stillborn baby. The mother guarded her dead calf for two days, trying over and over to revive its limp body. Realizing that the grieving mom had not had any sustenance this whole time, Poole drove near her with an offering of water. The elephant stretched her trunk inside the car and eagerly drank her fill. When she was done, she remained with Poole for a few moments, gently touching her chest. 

When elephants encounter an elephant skeleton, they slow down, approach it cautiously, and caress the bones with their trunk and the bottoms of their sensitive padded feet. Elephants do not show the same interest in the remains of other species. In one experiment elephants spent twice as much time investigating an elephant skull as those of either a rhinoceros and buffalo and six times longer probing ivory than a piece of wood. Moss has witnessed elephants kicking dirt over skeletons and covering them with palm fronds. 

Plotnik and renowned animal behavior expert Frans de Waal of Emory University recently teamed up to study elephant empathy. On a monthly basis between the spring of 2008 and 2009 they observed 26 Asian elephants at the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand, looking for signs of what researchers call “consolation.” Many animals are capable “reconciliation”—making up after a tussle. Far fewer animals display true consolation: when a bystander goes out of his or her way to comfort the victim of a fight or an individual that is disturbed for some reason. On dozens of occasions Plotnik and de Waal saw elephants consoling one another. A perturbed elephant often perks up its ears and tail and squeals, roars or trumpets. Over the course of the study, many elephants behaved in this way, because of an altercation, because they were spooked by something—such as a helicopter or dog—or for an unknown cause. When other elephants recognized these signs of anxiety, they rushed to the upset animal’s side, chirping softly and stroking their fellow elephant’s head and genitals. Sometimes the elephants put their trunks in one another’s mouths—a sign of trust because doing so risks being bitten. 

The aspect of elephant intelligence that is the trickiest to gauge—the one that has really challenged scientists to think like an elephant—is self-awareness. Scientists now have preliminary evidence that elephants are indeed self-aware, overturning previous findings. To determine whether an animal has a sense of self, researchers first place a mark on an animal’s body that it can identify only with the help of a mirror. Then they wait to see if the animal tries to get rid of the mark when it encounters its reflection. Doing so, the reasoning goes, means the animal understands when it is looking at itself rather than another animal. In the earliest studies on elephant self-awareness, researchers placed a one by 2.5–meter mirror outside the bars of an enclosure, angled in such a way that the animals could see only the upper thirds of their bodies. The elephants reacted to the reflection as they would to another elephant, raising their trunks in greeting. When the scientists dabbed the elephants’ faces with white cream, the animals failed to recognize that the marks were on their own bodies. 

But what if the experimental design itself prevented the elephants from understanding that they were looking at themselves in the mirror? After all, elephants identify one another primarily by touch, scent and sound—not sight—and the animals in the study could not physically investigate the mirror. So Reiss, de Waal and Plotnik decided to redo these experiments, this time allowing the elephants to use all their senses. 

In 2005 the trio constructed a 2.5 by 2.5–meter shatterproof mirror and bolted it to a wall surrounding an elephant yard at the Bronx Zoo in New York City. Three female Asian elephants named Patty, Maxine and Happy were free to approach and inspect the sturdy mirror at their leisure. When they first encountered the contraption, Maxine and Patty swung their trunks over it and attempted to scale the wall to which it was attached, as though checking to see whether another elephant was hiding behind the glass. When they found nothing, all three elephants swayed their trunks and bobbed their heads while looking right into the mirror, just as we might wave our hands to see whether a shadow is our own. They stared at their reflection and stuck their trunks inside their mouths as though searching for snagged spinach. 

A few days later the scientists painted a white X onto the right side of each elephant’s face. Maxine and Patty did not seem to notice the marks, but Happy began to touch the X on her face with her trunk after strolling past the mirror a few times. Eventually she faced her reflection and repeatedly swiped at the painted part of her face with the tip of her trunk. 

The fact that only one of three elephants noticed the X on its face might seem a disappointing performance, but it is actually quite remarkable. Reiss points out that even in studies with chimpanzees—which most researchers accept are self-aware—sometimes fewer than half pass the mirror test. Plotnik argues that expecting elephants to pay attention to a random blotch on their face may not have been the best test of their self-awareness anyhow. Whereas chimpanzees are fastidious groomers that spend hours picking nits and gnats out of one another’s hair, elephants stay clean by getting dirty, routinely spraying themselves with dust and dirt to deter insects and parasites. And they love to galumph in mud. “There’s no reason to think elephants would have same kind of vanity," Plotnik says. 

Brains behind bars
All the new evidence of elephant intelligence has intensified the debate about whether to continue keeping the creatures in captivity. Former elephant caretaker Dan Koehl maintains a thorough database of elephants around the world. He has records of 7,828 elephants currently in captivity: 1,654 in zoos or safari parks; 4,549 in "elephant camps" where tourists can ride the animals; 288 in circuses; and the remaining in temples, sanctuaries or private residences. The latest research on the well-being of U.S. zoo elephants is not particularly encouraging. With mny collaborators, animal welfare expert and Vistalogic, Inc., consultant Cheryl Meehan recently completed a gint study on nearly all of the 300 or so elephants in North American zoos accredited by the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA). The researchers assessed the physical and mental health of captive elephants with a combination of photographs, videos, blood and hormone tests, veterinary reports, and surveys filled out by caretakers: about 75 percent of the elephants were overweight or obese; between 25 and 40 percent had foot or joint problems of some kind depending on the year; and 80 percent displayed behavioral tics, such as pacing and continual head bobbing or swaying.

Stephen Harris of the University of Bristol and his colleagues conducted a similar study on U.K. zoo elephants in the late 2000s. I asked him whether it is possible to keep an elephant physically and mentally healthy in a zoo. His answer was succinct: “No.” The elephants he studied spent up to 83 percent of their time indoors, often in cramped conditions; the majority had abnormal gaits; 75 percent were overweight; more than 50 percent had behavioral tics; and one individual displayed tics for 14 hours in a single day. Captive elephants also have higher rates of infertility and die younger on average than their uncaged counterparts. Whereas wild elephants migrate great distances through the forest or savanna in search of food and water—eating huge amounts of tough, fibrous grasses and shrubs that are difficult to digest—zoo elephants spend too many hours standing idle on concrete and consume calorie-rich foods they would rarely encounter in their native habitat. Researchers have also learned that many zoo elephants do not get the rest they need because they do not like to lie down and sleep on stone or other hard surfaces.

Few zoos can adequately re-create the complex social life of wild elephants. Female elephants in captivity are often strangers acquired from here and there. Any friendships that do form can dissolve in an instant when a zoo decides to relocate an animal. “Sometimes people treat these creatures like furniture,” Moss says. Researchers used to think that male elephants, which leave their clans in young adulthood, were loners. They now know, however, that male elephants socialize extensively with one another. Yet zoos mix males and females in ways that would never occur in the wild and try to offload adult males if they become too cantankerous or lustful.

Now that the evidence of the elephant’s intellect and emotional life is no longer mostly anecdotal the zoological community faces even more pressure to answer a daunting question: Why keep elephants in captivity at all? Zoos usually give two main reasons: to rescue elephants from dire situations, such as the threat of poachers or the stress of living in so-called rehabilitation centers in Asia that keep the creatures leashed to trees; and to teach the public how amazing elephants are, in hopes of promoting their conservation.

These arguments have become increasingly tenuous over time. Few elephants in zoos today were rescued from an awful life; instead they were born in captivity. In the mid-2000s zoos embarked on an especially aggressive captive elephant breeding program, trying to compensate for all the animals they had lost to disease and frailty. "For every elephant born in a zoo, on average another two die," concluded a comprehensive 2012 investigative report by The Seattle Times. As for educational outreach, modern technology has rendered zoos obsolete. “When I was a kid we had no television and even when we did wildlife images were very few,” Harris says. “You went to the zoo to interact with elephants, to ride on them and touch them—there was no other way to get a sense of them. Now of course there’s an information overload. You can get a sense of scale and see all kinds of wonderful behaviors from photography and films that you would never see in captivity.” Consider how much one can learn from vivid scenes of wild elephants in a nature documentary of Planet Earth caliber compared with the experience of staring at an arthritic bobble-headed zoo elephant.

Other scientists think that, even if there are few good reasons to keep elephants in zoos in the first place, arguing for an abrupt end to elephant captivity is naive and idealistic, especially outside North America and Europe. “Although I believe all elephants should be wild, unfortunately that is not realistic," Plotnik says. In Asia, where he works, people have been using elephants as beasts of burden for centuries and currently have thousands of the animals captive in camps. Suddenly releasing all those animals is simply not feasible; there may not even be enough wild habitat left to accommodate them all. Plotnik thinks the best way forward is maintaining the wild Asian elephant population through conservation and slowly phasing out the captive one by finding new, equally lucrative jobs for elephant caretakers. Moss wants something similar for elephants in zoos in the U.S. and Europe: “I would like to see them live out their lives and have no more breeding or importation.” Meehan hopes the kind of information she has collected will help improve the well-being of zoo elephants.

In recent years at least a few zoos have been trying to use animal welfare science to make their elephant enclosures more like sanctuaries. The Oregon Zoo in Portland is close to remodeling its elephant habitat in a way it claims will improve the livelihood of its four male and four female Asian elephants. Elephant Lands, set to open in 2015, is a hilly 2.5-hectare habitat covered mostly in deep sand rather than concrete and featuring a 490,000-liter pool for wallowing, bathing and playing. Elephants will be free to roam from one part of the terrain to another, explains elephant curator Bob Lee, which should hopefully allow males and females to interact as they choose. Various feeding machines will provide elephants with food at random intervals, because studies have linked such unpredictability to healthier body weights. Other feeders will exercise the elephants’ trunks and brains with out-of-reach snacks and mechanical puzzles.

Refurbishing elephant enclosures so they are roomier and more intellectually stimulating is at once an acknowledgment and dismissal of the research on elephant intelligence and welfare. After all, if the zoos really have the animals’ best interests at heart, they would close their elephant exhibits. In 2005 the Detroit Zoo became the first to give up its elephants solely on ethical grounds. Spending so much time in close quarters—and waiting out the harsh Michigan winters indoors—left their two Asian elephants physically and mentally ill. Wanda and Winky were moved to the Performing Animal Welfare Society's (PAWS) 930-hectare sanctuary in San Andreas, Calif. A handful of zoos have followed suit, but they are in the minority.

Ed Stewart, president and co-founder of PAWS, thinks that even his massive haven is not adequate to keep the elephants as healthy as they would be in the wild. "Elephants should not be in captivity— period," he says. "It doesn’t matter if it’s a zoo, a circus or a sanctuary. The social structure isn't correct, the space is not right, the climate is not right, the food is not right. You can never do enough to match the wild. They are unbelievably intelligent. With all of that brainpower—to be as limited as they are in captivity—it's a wonder they cope at all. In 20 years I hope we will look back and think, 'Can you believe we ever kept those animals in cages?'"

Save sacred elephants from being tortured and abused in India
Despite India's progressive animal protection laws (considered to be the best in the world), elephants in the country are suffering unimaginable cruelties in the name of tradition.

These sacred and holy elephants are beaten and enslaved in ‘training’ camps located in Kerala and Karnataka. Many elephants have languished there for decades, chained to concrete pillars or trees. Some of them are babies who have been poached from their mothers, put in chains and beaten with rods to break their spirit. Their lives are filled with misery and despair.

An article in The Daily Mail Newspaper recently highlighted the story of 57 of these elephants who have been suffering for years in the name of tradition. Click here for story.

Please join Wildlife SOS in requesting the Prime Minister of India and the Forest Minister to ensure cruel practices of training and management are legislated by using existing laws that must be extended to apply to elephants held privately used for processions, begging and tourism and have the elephants live out their lives in a sanctuary setting where humane management techniques are practised and the elephants receive the dignity they deserve.

This petition will be delivered to: Honourable Prime Minister, Government of India, Shri Narendra Modi ji and the Hon’ble Minister Ministry of Environment, Forests & Climate Change, Shri Prakash Javadekar

Historic Victory! Rhode Island Becomes First State to Ban BullhooksShare the terrific news and then take action for big cats and elephants forced to perform for Circus World. 

Cute Orphaned Baby Elephant and Giraffe Are The Best of Friends. Kiko, the now one-month-old baby giraffe, was found abandoned in Kenya’s Meru National Park when he was just one week old. Too small to make it on his own, Kiko was lucky enough to have been rescued and brought to the incredible people at the The David Scheldrick Wildlife Trust (DSWT). Loboito the baby elephant also featured in this video arrived at DSWT last week, orphaned at only three weeks old. It is difficult to say what happened to his mother or to the rest of his herd, but with no one to care for him he would have died alone in the wild. When Loboito saw Kiko roaming about, it was love at first sight! These two adorable babies are now best of friends and reported to be so inseparable that Kiko is even sleeping with the baby elephants. Well, until he is big enough for the giraffe stable, that is. With the love and support of the amazing people working for DSWT, these two babies will have a chance to grow up and be released back into the wild, proving how essential DSWT is to Africa’s conservation efforts. Although the two early lives for these animals were incredibly tragic, they have found love at happiness at DSWT’s orphan sanctuary. This animal sanctuary in Nairobi, Kenya is home to a large number of orphaned baby elephants, rhinos and giraffes, all the victims of Africa’s brutal wild animal poaching trade. Poaching poses a major threat to all of Africa’s Wildlife and has brought many species to the verge of extinction. Which is why the work that they are doing at DSWT is so important. If you would like to support the amazing work this organization does, click here

It can be difficult to understand how this all comes together to save elephants.

With that in mind we have produced this short video to help audiences comprehend how the process comes together in order to prevent and combat wildlife crime. (This, of course, is a simulation; this footage is not of elephants actually being shot and killed, but we felt it necessary to drive home the harsh reality of the situation.)

Please stay tuned as we continue to report on the milestones tenBoma achieves.
See how we're saving elephants
They say that "knowing is half the battle." Well IFAW's tenBoma project shows how information can be crucial for stopping an elephant poacher's bullets.

Elephants are still being killed for their ivory at a frightening rate - an average of one every 15 minutes. And all the killing continues to fuel the illegal wildlife trade.

The transnational organized crime networks that run the illegal wildlife trade are sometimes known to traffic drugs, weapons and humans as well.

In order to defeat that network, we needed to build our own. So after consultations with military, government and Kenyan wildlife crime experts, we created the tenBoma project.

Named after a traditional Kenyan community policing project, tenBoma uses information from many sources to help predict with precision when and where poachers will strike next.

IFAW Chief of Staff Faye Cuevas, a former military intelligence officer, takes you behind the scenes in this video to show how we're taking the lessons learned from counter-terror operations to stop poachers BEFORE they kill elephants.
I hope you are as inspired as I am by the video. I truly believe that combining modern technology and intelligence, as well as the brave efforts of the Kenya Wildlife Service rangers and community members, is the best way to defeat poaching and disrupt criminal networks involved in the trade.

I'll be sure to keep you updated about tenBoma - keep an eye out for future communications.

African wildlife officials appalled as EU opposes a total ban on ivory trade (The Guardian)

29 African Nations Urge EU to Halt Elephant Slaughter (Environment News Service)

In Fighting Illegal Ivory, EU Lags Behind (National Geographic)

Obama says that urgent action is needed to save elephants from going extinct (The Guardian)