Friday was World Wildlife Conservation Day, so I thought it would be a perfect opportunity to dedicate a post solely to how you can make a difference to the conservation of elephants this Christmas!
To start things off, have a watch of the precious video below. This is the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust‘s Christmas adoption video for 2015. If you are stuck on what to get your loved ones this Christmas – foster an orphaned elephant!:
It is no secret that I am a HUGE wildlife conservationist, with a particularly special place in my heart for elephants. The question I get asked the most often is “Why elephants?” An easy question to answer on the outset, but if someone has a spare few minutes I will always give them my much lengthier and heartfelt response.
My initial love for elephants stems from my family history. My Mum is from Kenya, a country so rich in wildlife and natural beauty it takes your breath away and becomes a part of your soul. Mum has always shown a keen interest in the protection of her home-country’s wildlife and ever since I can remember has always loved elephants the most! When I was younger I always thought they were extremely cute, but it wasn’t until I was a teenager I became increasingly aware of the threats these exceptional creatures faced.
To add to my ever-increasing love for these animals, seeing them in the wild really was the icing on the cake. There are no words to describe how majestic and magical they are… all I can say is visit East Africa and experience for yourself if you can; only then will one know the true feeling of seeing an elephant up close, in the wild.
As a species, there are so many wonderful qualities that make elephants unique. They are unlike any other creature on this planet. Just because they live in ways different to what we know, communicate in noises we do not understand and exist in ways we cannot comprehend; this does not mean we are superior as humans. In fact, I think it is the other way round. Elephants understand love better than any other living creature, they show compassion, emotion, intelligence and tenderness of the soul. We have much to learn from them, for they live peacefully and display behaviours we can only dream of humanity having.
In a more biological context, there is a reason elephants have been called the ‘gardeners of Eden’. Elephants are a keystone species (a species that maintains an ecological area – without their existence, their habitat would also cease to exist). Mother nature is so incredibly fine tuned, that any shift in the system could upset an entire ecosystem past the point of recovery. There are many ways elephants act as keystone species; one example is that they pull down trees and break up thorny bushes, creating grasslands for other animals to survive. If you would like to read more about elephants and their environment, these webpages sum it up nicely: EDGE; Field Trip Earth; Think Elephants.
Elephants are fundamental to the existence of grasslands and forests and are the most peaceful and intelligent creatures on earth. So, why are we humans killing them? The answer: greed.
Every 15 minutes (96,000 a year) elephants have their faces hacked off whilst they are still alive, their tusks ripped from their faces, to be sold to markets mainly in China and the far east; to be made into trinkets and other materialistic items. With ivory prices higher than gold, where does the money go? It funds terrorism and corrupt Governments.
As an entire picture, each piece of ivory represents a dead elephant, a distraught family, an orphaned traumatised baby, a dying ecosystem, a supported terrorist group, multiple terrorist attacks, human mass murder, fear and distress in developing and developed nations, conflict and war. That is the price that is paid for buying a piece of ivory. The conservation of elephants should not even be an option, but a necessity.
One of the direct effects of elephant slaughter are the babies left behind. Elephant babies are much like human babies, completely dependent on their mothers, emotionally aware and have a similar age progression as well. With the death of an elephant, the baby left behind is traumatised, defenceless and heartbroken; without any chance of survival without its mother. This is where the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s incredible life-saving work is essential – rescuing and hand-rearing tiny orphaned elephants until many years later they are old enough to be gradually reintegrated into the wild once more. This organisation is fantastic – if you would like to read more about the charity please click here to read an earlier blog post, alternatively browse their website or Facebook page.
This year, the DSWT have rescued a record number of baby elephants, with a huge influx into their nursery unit in the last few months. To put it short, it is extremely expensive to raise a baby elephant – they guzzle gallons of milk a day, need medical care and attention and are cared for 24/7 by the wonderful keepers (who even sleep in the stockades with them!). They are given the closest thing to the love, care and attention their own mothers would have given them in the wild. The DSWT’s orphan programme is extremely successful having seen elephants right through from tiny babies to wild adult elephants; with many having had their own calves they come back to visit DSWT to show their precious babies to the people who saved and raised them. These are the success stories… by raising an orphaned elephant you aren’t just saving one, you are saving future generations and herds. Wendi is one such example:
The DSWT don’t just care for many elephants, but they also operate Anti-Poaching, Mobile Vet & Aerial Surveillance Teams. These are the people who patrol vast areas of East Africa, keeping as many elephants safe as possible and also reacting to emergency life-threatening situations.
There are many ways that you can get involved with elephant conservation through different organisations. To list just a few of my favourites: The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, Born Free Foundation, Save The Elephants and Tusk Trust. A lot of these organisations are also involved in the protection of other species, such as big cats, primates and marine animals.
I feel I should also make a special mention for rhinos as well. Rhinos are just as heavily endangered as elephants and usually the protection of both these species come hand in hand. Rhino numbers are plummeting for a similar reason to elephants; their horns are used in Chinese ‘medicines’ to “cure” rheumatism (which have obviously been scientifically proven to not work). If you are interested in helping with rhino conservation, any of the charities mentioned above have rhino protection projects, as well as another wonderful charity I have grown fond of: Saving the Survivors. This small charity was founded in 2012 to care and look after rhinos that have fallen victim to poaching or traumatic incidents. Please have a look at their website and Facebook page for more information.
How can you help this Christmas?
The best way to help any conservation efforts is usually to donate to the charities, or in the case of DSWT and some other organisations, there is an array of ways you can donate and receive so much back in return:
1. You can donate via the DSWT’s ‘Make a Wish’ gift programme, where you can specifically give to specific parts of the DSWT work e.g. milk bottles for the babies, GPS Unit for the trackers etc. http://giftshop.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org
2. You can buy wonderful little elephant related gifts for your loved ones on the DSWT’s ‘Elephant Diaries’ page http://www.elephantdiaries.org/shopping
3. Last but not least – you can adopt a baby elephant! Their adoption programme is brilliant. If you follow the link you can find out what the gift of fostering will include this Christmas http://www.sheldrickwildlifetrust.org/asp/fostering_christmas.asp
If that hasn’t convinced you, have a look at my family’s beautiful and precious little herd, consisting of Barsilinga, Lasayen, Mbegu and Godoma:
I hope this post has highlighted the importance of elephant conservation and how in this season of giving, everyone can make a small difference to helping to save a truly remarkable species. We have to protect these incredible elephants as if our life depends on it; because in this world… it does.