IFAW column: World Elephant Day - Time to Invest in Plans for Peaceful Coexistence
While much of the media—and in fact, my own work—is focused on the elephant poaching crisis, this World Elephant Day we want to highlight that it is important for us to also remember the other critical threats facing elephants, especially the loss of open spaces.
Elephants need to roam.
How much room, and where, are the central questions. Once we have identified that critical information, we must commit ourselves to protecting land for elephants and other wildlife.
According to IUCN, African elephant home ranges vary from population to population and habitat to habitat. Individual home ranges vary from 15 to 3,700 square kilometres (24-5,958 square miles).
Confining wild elephants to even heavily fortified, fenced-in parks is not a sustainable solution. Elephants were born to move.
With an ever increasing human population in elephant range states, identifying where elephants are likely to roam is critical, so that we can plan developments that meet vital human needs and avoid sometimes deadly conflicts with elephants.
For example, each year India loses nearly 400 people and about 50 elephants to human-animal conflict due to ever shrinking elephant habitat. Asian elephants don’t get as much attention as their African cousins, but there are less than 50,000 of them left in the wild, with around half in India.
The International Fund for Animal Welfare (IFAW) and Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), in consultation with Indian forestry departments, have documented 100 elephant corridors to join up fragmented bits of land, which would help elephants migrate safely in search of food and water.
Last month in the UK, five leading conservation organisations announced the launch of the Asian Elephant Alliance, in the presence of Their Royal Highnesses the Prince of Wales and the Duchess of Cornwall and His Excellency Mr Ranjan Mathai Mathai, the High Commissioner for India.
In addition to IFAW and WTI, the alliance includes Elephant Family, IUCN Netherlands and the World Land Trust.
These organisations signed an official declaration stating that the Asian elephant is an endangered species that requires immediate conservation assistance from governmental, non-governmental and corporate bodies for its survival.
As part of the launch, the charity Elephant Family hosted a Royal Rickshaw Reception, which auctioned off 20 designer-decorated auto-rickshaws to raise money for Asian elephants, raising £700,000 towards our ultimate goal of £20 million to fund 100 new elephant corridors in India by 2025.
In Africa, IFAW is working in Amboseli National Park, Kenya, in partnership with the School for Field Studies and the Kenya Wildlife Service, where we collared 12 elephants from a geographically diverse set of family units between February 2013 and April 2014.
Our strategic collaring of those 12 elephants—monitored daily for more than two years—has yielded a detailed scatterplot chart that gives us the best view of elephant use of the Amboseli ecosystem to date.
Our research shows that the elephants use land from four different Maasai group ranches.
We have also learned that elephants migrate in very specific patterns around certain human settlements. This implies that they have very little natural habitat space, particularly in cases of prolonged drought as have been experienced recently due to delayed rainfall.
Under normal circumstances, elephants steer away from human settlements and other intrusion by humans. However, recently we have witnessed an escalation in human elephant conflict due to shifts in open space access and competition for water and pasture.
IFAW envisions a world in which animals are respected and protected.
If we are to achieve that vision for elephants, we must first understand them and their complex needs. And then we need to create sensible plans that will provide for human needs while also allowing elephants room to roam.
For more information about IFAW visit www.ifaw.org