By: Lizzie Stallings
In our passionate effort to spread awareness about a variety of conservation issues through documentary film, the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival has supported and advocated preservation causes geared towards Great Apes, Cougars, the Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone in the past 3 years alone. This year, our focus is Elephants. The biannual Conservation Summit of 2015 will bring some of the worlds most renowned and knowledgeable elephant advocates together to discuss and examine the range of factors threatening the elephant population, but in the meantime, we want to continue spreading awareness. So who and what are killing Asia and Africa’s wild elephants? Why should we care? And how can we contribute to the end of this cycle?
We will post our “Herd” blog brief on the myriad issues facing the African and Asian elephant populations in installments. This is our first, a mere introduction of the many threats and potential solutions to this problem of elephantine proportions.
Elephants Endangered: The [Trunk]ated Truth
Today, there are only about 400,000 African elephants left in existence. The Asian elephant population is even smaller, having dwindled to nearly 40,000 in the past 2 decades. These numbers decrease annually due to illegal poaching and the fatal ongoing conflict between elephants and humans as a product of agricultural expansion. The notion of the imminent extinction of this majestic species is not only a sad one; both types of elephants are keystone species, meaning their presence in the wild is pivotal in maintaining the balance of forest and savannah ecosystems. They provide nutrients, create water access, and help to sustain biodiversity in their given habitats, meaning that the fewer there are in the wild, the greater the impact on all other species in the region.
However, it is important to note that there is a definitive difference between African elephants and the Asian species. In African elephants, both males and females grow tusks. At no point in their lives do they “shed” or “re-grow” their tusks, meaning tusk removal is synonymous with elephant death. Only Asian males grow tusks, so the proportion of poaching fatalities is smaller amongst this species. However, the casualties are still alarming.
Beyond the illicit ivory market and the consequent poaching, the factors greatest affecting Asian v. African elephant-survival are the following: 1) Human-elephant environmental conflict and 2) the illegal capture of calves from the wild and deaths of their mothers or other adults in the process.
Our next post will follow the calf-capture, beginning with an anecdotal look into the elephant-tourism industry in Asia.
Until then, read, research, and remain aware.