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Protect the Pachyderms

Apr/09/2023 / by Pratika Yashaswi

Loved “The Elephant Whisperers?” Here’s how you can do your bit to safeguard these social animals

A bathing elephant
A bathing elephant. Shutterstock

“The Elephant Whisperers” wasn’t one of those documentaries that saddened you, guilted you for existing, and filled you with doom and gloom. It was a poignant, resonant elegy on the relationship between these gentle giants and their caretakers: humans and nature. But it also touched upon the heartbreaking complexities of human-animal conflict and its costs to conservation and human safety.

Like many of us who fell in love with Raghu and Ammu, you may yearn to do something for these endangered beauties. If so, you can do so, from as far away as the United States, Britain, or wherever you live. Here are seven ways, with a list of three South Asian organizations that need you!

Tips to help elephants

Don’t buy ivory or elephant leather

We know, we know. Ivory is beautiful, its smoothness irresistible. But the illegal trade of ivory is one of the main reasons behind the mass poaching of elephants. By refraining from buying ivory products, you are directly helping to reduce the demand for these items. You are also discouraging poachers from killing elephants for their tusks. Scientists have successfully 3D-printed an alternative called digory, and there are traditional options such as Jarina seeds.

Look for Forest Stewardship Certified (FSC) timber and paper

Elephants depend on healthy forests for their habitat, but rampant deforestation is destroying their homes. They are also used in the timber industry. When purchasing wood or paper products, look for the Forest Stewardship Council (FSC) certification. The FSC label is the world’s most trusted mark for sustainable forestry. This ensures that the products come from responsibly managed forests that support both the environment and the animals in it. Learn how to verify FSC labels here.

Beware of elephant tourism, especially elephant rides

Almost anywhere in South Asia, chances are you’ll find urban vendors offering rides on malnourished animals, including elephants. They’re often the highlight of “forest tours” or unethical zoos. These are exploitative and subject them to inhumane conditions. Avoid supporting these activities. Choose ethical alternatives such as observing elephants in their natural habitat or visiting reputable wildlife parks.

Want to interact with elephants? Visit an ethical elephant sanctuary

If you’re looking for a more up-close and personal experience with elephants, consider visiting an ethical elephant sanctuary. These sanctuaries prioritize the well-being of the elephants and provide them with a safe environment where they can thrive. There are ethical sanctuaries across Asia. The South Asian ones listed below are wonderful to visit and deserve your support.

Stay away from the circus

Circuses are horrendous places for animals involved; often subjecting them to cruel training practices and confinement in too-small spaces. The amount of stress these wild animals, including elephants, are subjected to, is inhumane. By not going to circuses that exploit animals, you send a strong message to the industry that you do not support this form of entertainment.

Volunteer

No matter who you are or what you do, there’s a need for caring people in elephant conservation and welfare. You don’t have to be any kind of veterinarian or even be from the conservation space. There are opportunities for coders, writers, marketing and fundraising experts. If you want to be more hands on, you can physically participate in the feeding, bathing and caring for elephants.

Donate

Non governmental organizations rely heavily on philanthropy. No amount is too small. Donate to reputable organizations that work to protect and conserve elephants. Your financial support can help fund critical conservation efforts, anti-poaching initiatives, and community outreach programs that raise awareness about the importance of elephant conservation. Some places also allow you to “adopt” an elephant and take care of its expenses for a time.

Elephant Conservation Organizations to Donate To

Wildlife SOS, India

Wildlife SOS is committed to fostering harmony between humans and wildlife (including elephants) by implementing welfare and conservation strategies.

Several projects under Wildlife SOS are focused on elephants. These include the Elephant Conservation and Care Centre (ECCC) in Mathura, a refuge for abused, captive, and exploited elephants. The Elephant Rehabilitation Centre (ERC) in Haryana. And India’s first Elephant Hospital in Uttar Pradesh, where veterinarians and skilled staff care for injured, socially isolated, malnourished, and emotionally distressed elephants.

Wildlife SOS also engages in various advocacy campaigns. Visitors and volunteers can learn how to end cruel practices such as riding, animal abuse, and the skin trade.

Click here to donate.

Tiger Tops Elephant Camp, Nepal

Launched in 1964, Tiger Tops wasn’t always an ethical sanctuary, but transformed itself in 2016, ceasing all elephant safaris. It became the first sanctuary of its kind in the country. With a focus on elephant well-being and responsible, sustainable tourism, the camp aims to foster educational interactions between humans and elephants in their natural habitat.

Tiger Tops provides spacious enclosures for elephants, allowing them to exhibit natural behaviors, socialize, and roam freely. It has two locations: in Chitwan’s Tharu Lodge and Bardiya National Park’s Karnali Lodge in southern Nepal. These allow visitors to explore preserved jungles and observe elephants, tigers, rhinos, crocodiles, leopards, and deer.

Book a stay here.

The Elephant Freedom Project

The Elephant Freedom Project is an ethical sanctuary in Kegalle, between Kandy and Colombo and two hours from the airport. The project’s primary aim is to provide a safe, nurturing environment for elephants rescued from captivity or abusive situations. It also promotes responsible tourism and raises awareness about the importance of elephant welfare.

They have two elephants rescued from the riding and logging industry, and hope to increase that number to three soon. They allow a limited number of visitors to interact with the elephants by feeding and bathing them. There is absolutely no elephant riding.

Click here to donate.