Officially founded, supported and launched by Patricia Sims and the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation on August 12, 2012, World Elephant Day celebrates the efforts of 65 wildlife organizations and several thousand individuals that work tirelessly to educate the world to the plight of the wild African and Asian elephants, as well as working to improve conditions for captive elephants.
The inaugural celebration was marked with the release of Return to the Forest. Narrated by William Shatner, the film was made by Patricia Sims and Michael Clark, who were inspired by what they witnessed in Thailand to create World Elephant Day.
African and Asian elephants, listed as “endangered” and “vulnerable” respectively, have long been the target of poachers for their beautiful ivory tusks. Despite the trading of ivory being made illegal in many nations, the demand for the material has skyrocketed its value, which now exceeds that of gold. The U.S and China lead the way, with the largest markets for illegal ivory.
With the promise of so much money, poachers are not deterred by conservation laws, killing two of the worlds most well known pachyderms just this year. Legendary Kenyan elephant Mountain Bull was killed by poachers for his ivory tusks this May, while Satao, one of Kenya’s largest elephants, met the same fate only weeks later. The recent deaths highlight the continued need for awareness and conservation efforts, with elephant populations dwindling not only at the hands of heartless poachers, but, as with so many wild species, the loss of their natural habitat to agriculture and mining, in other words, humans. Considering that humans are largely to blame for the dwindling elephant population it makes sense that conservation groups are reaching out to humans to help turn the tide.
The hash tags #WorldElephantDay and #GoGrey are appearing across social media by conservation groups and stars alike.
— Stephen Fry (@stephenfry) August 12, 2013
While the conservation of the remaining elephant population, which is reduced by an estimated elephant every 15 minutes, is the main focus of the day, many nations still allow abhorrent conditions for captive elephants in second rate zoo and circuses. Adorable videos of elephants doing tricks, like painting their own portraits, are also the target of the day. While these videos make their way around the internet under headers like ” too cute,” they are actually the result of hours and hours of training and prompting by trainers looking to cash in on the market for such things. After seeing such a video scientist Richard Dawkins traveled to Thailand to investigate.
“To most of the members of the audience, what they have seen appears to be almost miraculous. Elephants must surely be almost human in intelligence if they can paint pictures of flowers and trees in this way. What the audience overlooks are the actions of the mahouts as their animals are at work.
This oversight is understandable because it is difficult to drag your eyes away from the brushes that are making the lines and spots. However, if you do so, you will notice that, with each mark, the mahout tugs at his elephant’s ear.
He nudges it up and down to get the animal to make a vertical line, or pulls it sideways to get a horizontal one. To encourage spots and blobs he tugs the ear forward, towards the canvas. So, very sadly, the design the elephant is making is not hers but his. There is no elephantine invention, no creativity, just slavish copying.
Investigating further, after the show is over, it emerges that each of the so-called artistic animals always produces exactly the same image, time after time, day after day, and week after week. Mook always paints a bunch of flowers, Christmas always does a tree, and Pimtong a climbing plant. Each elephant works to a set routine, guided by her master“
This video shows how the captive elephants are prodded to perform this “artistic” task.
Awareness of the fight to save the elephant does not end with the elephants themselves. In 2012 Game Rangers Association of Africa, who fight to preserve Africa’s natural and cultural heritage, lost many of their own in the fight to protect the wild elephants. The rangers urged the International Union For Conservation Of Nature (IUCN) to expand both protection efforts for local wildlife as well as for those protecting them. Hundreds of rangers have lost their lives in the protection efforts across Africa, and rangers continue to call for African governments to take measures to insure justice for these brave rangers, “Rangers are the guardians of our planet’s most precious natural assets and it’s unnerving to think that every day they go to work, their lives are at risk as a result of human greed and cruelty,” says Julia Marton-Lefèvre, IUCN Director General. “Without solid protection, proper law enforcement and a strong support network for those unsung heroes of conservation, our efforts to protect wildlife are a lost case. Any conservation action should start with supporting those that put their lives on the line to protect it every day.”
If you would like to get involved in conservation efforts please contact the World Wildlife Foundation, whose efforts not only work to save the elephants, but also all endangered and threatened species around the world. To show your support to the rangers on the front lines of the war against poachers, visit the Game Rangers Association of Africa. If you can not support efforts financially remember to #GoGrey and show your support for #WorldElephantDay across social media.
Images: WorldElephantDay.org, Twitter, International Fund For Animal Welfare