A scenario that is not easily rectified - Veterinary Practice
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A scenario that is not easily rectified

Our conservation correspondent looks at the work of Mark Shand’s Elephant Family charity

MARK Shand, the late brother of
the Duchess of Cornwall, was an
adventurer, travel writer, raconteur,
and conservationist. His book,
Travels on My Elephant, in which
he recounted his 750-mile journey
through India on an elephant that
he purchased and
named Tara, became
a bestseller and
winner of writing

The experience also
changed his life and he
became passionate about the plight of
the Asian elephant, both in terms of
its welfare and conservation status. In
2002 he founded the charity Elephant
Family, now the largest UK funder of
projects dedicated to conserving this
iconic species.

Whilst it is the ivory trade and the
destruction of the African elephant
that tends to grab the headlines, the
Asian elephant is at equal or greater
risk, having seen a 90% reduction in
numbers over the last 100 years and
being “rewarded” with a place on the
International Union for Conservation
of Nature (IUCN) red list.

Historically, the range of the Asian
elephant stretched from Syria in the
west right across Asia south of the
Himalayas into China and then down
through South East Asia to the island
of Java. It still survives in 13 countries
including India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Burma and Thailand but many of
the populations are fragmented and
isolated, residing in small pockets of
natural habitat that remain untouched.

Whilst it is impossible to be certain,
it is estimated that total numbers
of wild Asian elephants may lie somewhere in the region of only

Habitat loss

The main threat to the species is
habitat loss, with probably 95% of
original elephant habitat already
destroyed through farming, plantations,
mining and transport infrastructure – a
common enough scenario in rapidly
developing countries with increasing
human populations and one which we
have already been through in Western
Europe and North America.

It is a scenario that is not easily
rectified, particularly with an animal
such as the elephant which lives in
family groups and requires huge
areas over which to forage and follow
traditional migratory routes. As
elephant habitat becomes surrounded
by farmland, the animals increasingly
come into conflict with humans either through simply moving from one area
to another or, on occasions, through
the direct raiding of crops for food.
Deaths of humans, elephants, or both,
are a common outcome.

The poaching of Asian elephants
for ivory is another pressure on the
population though not as significant as
the current destruction of the African
elephant for its tusks. The tusks of
Asian elephants are relatively small
and it is only the males in this species
that produce anything of interest to
poachers. Nevertheless, it is a further
drain on an animal already under
considerable pressure.

Capture and trading

Of greater importance than ivory is
the capture of young wild elephants
and the subsequent trading of these
across borders to take part in the
tourist trade. This is particularly
prevalent in Thailand where elephant
rides, trekking and the opportunity
for tourists to have photos taken with
young elephants are a lucrative source
of income for local people.

The organisation TRAFFIC (the
wildlife trade monitoring network)
has recently raised concerns that
numerous young elephants captured
in neighbouring Myanmar (Burma) are
being held at “camps” on the Thai/
Myanmar border, ready to be sold to
the tourist trade in Thailand should the
border authorities relax their policing of these illegal movements.
The elephants are captured by being herded into “pit” traps with the adults
frequently killed as valueless.

young ones are then subjected to a
physically brutal “breaking-in” process
over a period of days in much the same
way as horses were once “broken”.

Raising awareness

Elephant Family is doing much to
secure the long-term future of the
Asian elephant by raising awareness
of the above threats and their welfare
implications, and by supporting the
purchase of migration corridors and
remaining habitat.

By preserving such habitat it is not
only elephants that will bene t but
also the manifold wildlife species that
inhabit the same ecosystems and,
ultimately, it has to be said, humankind
as well.

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