Sound the trumpets – there is hope for elephants after all!
From where I sit in Cape Town as the Director of IFAW’s Southern Africa operations and as the Elephant Programme Director, the message is clear – IFAW is serious about elephants and their protection. I can think of no better symbol for terrestrial conservation success than that of elephants.
Just as whales are the charismatic symbols of the oceans, elephants, and the state of their protection at any given time, are reliable indicators of where to focus limiting resources. Elephants in the wild continue to face numerous threats, including habitat loss, poaching for ivory, conflict with humans and poor management and/or land-use policies.
Burgeoning human populations in both Africa and Asia have resulted in increasingly fragmented habitats and increased human-elephant conflict. Increased demand for ivory in the East, notably China, has resulted in increased poaching in many parts of both Africa and Asia. Some governments continue to purport that their elephant populations should be managed through lethal means such as culling, assertions which present serious animal welfare concerns, not to mention a total disregard for science.
On the surface, there is a lot to be concerned about but the good news is that there are many positive efforts underway to address these challenges. I am proud to say that the International Fund for Animal Welfare is at the forefront of developing model approaches to protect elephants in the wild in both Africa and Asia. On the habitat front, IFAW is working in partnership with the Kenyan and Malawian governments on three to five-year elephant habitat protection projects.
In Africa, these efforts are currently focused in Amboseli National Park in Kenya and Liwonde National Park in Malawi. Through these site-specific projects, IFAW provides support for anti-poaching, human-elephant conflict mitigation, research, community outreach and infrastructural development and maintenance. We have a similar project in Manas National Park in India where we work in partnership with the Wildlife Trust of India (WIT) to protect this critical Asian elephant habitat.
We are also working on all fronts to end the ivory trade. In Europe we are working to ensure that the public connects the dots between poor policy decisions > demand for ivory > increased poaching and illicit trade, so that they can put pressure on policymakers to end the slaughter of elephants in the wild. We are also reaching out to consumers, notably in China, to let them know just how devastating their actions are for wild elephant populations. Further, we are providing law enforcement training in Africa to enhance capacity to stamp out the criminality involved in this trade.
And lastly, in closing the IFAW loop of action to combat the ivory trade, we are working to stamp out poaching through the provision of training and equipment in both Africa andAsia. And then there’s the complex interface between elephants and people. As long as elephants and people live in close proximity to each other, a reality in many parts of Africa andAsia, conflict is an inevitable consequence.
The best we can do in the short-term to promote harmonious coexistence is to develop case-specific mitigating strategies. IFAW is doing just this in China, India, Kenya and Malawi. But, there’s more. Through a dedicated research effort in southern Africa using both elephant and human population demography data, IFAW is working on developing a predictive view of what the state of human-elephant conflict might look like 10 to 20 years down the line.
Such a proactive approach sets us apart in being able to assist governments in making informed conservation management decisions for elephants, not only in the short-term but in the long-term too. Lastly, IFAW is using science to assist conservation planning and thus enhance elephant protection efforts. In southern Africa, through a dedicated research partnership with the Conservation Ecology Research Unit (CERU) of the University of Pretoria, IFAW is working to understand elephant dynamics in the region, including population growth rates, how and why elephants use space, understanding elephant impacts and, understanding human-elephant conflict dynamics in the region.
Developing a solid scientific platform for decision making will result in a far more ethical approach to elephant management in the region, one where culling will remain a remnant of the past. In Kenya, IFAW is working with the Amboseli Elephant Research Project (AERP) to understand the effects of drought on the social structure of the Amboseli elephants.
From where I sit in Cape Town as the Director of IFAW’s Southern Africa operations and as the Elephant Programme Director, the message is clear – IFAW is serious about elephants and their protection. We are committed to promoting conservation and animal welfare policies and approaches that not only benefit elephants, but the people that live alongside them too.
If we don’t get it right for elephants, how will we succeed at getting it right for less charismatic species? We have an obligation. Help us help them. -- JBL