TheTeach has inspired me to post a few reflections based on our post Elephant welfare – how much do we care?, and her comments afterwards. What each and one of us have to do is to decide what we believe in – which values we want to stand and fight for – which attitudes we want to show towards other creatures like elephants. But we in the industrialized world can afford to think like this. In many poor countries millions of people have a different reality in their everyday life – they’re struggling to survive. Human-elephant conflicts and destruction of habitat often symbolizes that we’re not able to accept certain limitations in terms of resources and land – and that local politicians and the global community not have been able to find the balance between the needs of people and other animals. Bad governance, corruption and lack of land use planning and/or it’s implementation are often strongly contributing factors, but let me not go into that. It’s “unpolitical” to talk about the lack of political drive worldwide to discuss and deal with the human population growth, but from my perspective this topic will have to come higher on the agenda if we want to keep elephants (and other wildlife) for future generations. Poverty reduction is another key, closely connected to population growth. Elephants are certainly also about tourism and revenue, and thereby work places and economical growth, so in principle we would all gain on conserving them.
OK – let me stay out of more politics for now – and go back to some of TheTeach’s comments. Since Thailand introduced anti-logging laws in 1988/89 many elephants have ended up on the streets with their mahouts. I do agree that many mahouts have a close and compassionate relationship with their elephants, but it is also a fact that the methods used to “break” the elephant to get them to do what’s expected in the first place is brutal and unacceptable from an elephant welfare perspective. Some projects are working on getting street-elephants or abused elephants back to semi wild conditions – we visited one of these projects a couple of years ago. One very interesting aspect with this particular project is that they employ and retrain the mahouts as field staff, to secure them a job and also make the transition for the elephants more easy. Another remark: Thailand probably have around 3,000 captive (so called domesticated) elephants today, and less than 2,000 wild, compared to respectively 11,000 and 30,000 fifty years ago. But such figures and percentages are symbolic for the destiny of the elephant also elsewhere.
Asian elephant with hair style like me…
We do agree with TheTeach that there should be more efforts going into elephant protection and conservation in Asia, which is one reason why we are in the process of expanding our scope to include both African and Asian elephants. And we will for sure expand our WD blog to include our new project – so TheTeach and others can follow it.
Male elephant flirting with several females in Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka.
Keep up your efforts TheTeach and others fighting for elephants – they need our help!
Best wishes, Petter
Mr. Nick, or M86 (Male 86), was so-named for the enormous number of nicks and tears in his ears. He has what we call ”ragged” ears. In fact, his ears are just about as ragged as they get. I named Mr Nick back in 1976, when he and I were both 20 years old – young, for both of us. I was fully grown, still in college, and just starting to study musth in male elephants. He had left his family a few years earlier and though bigger than all of the adult females, he was a pipsqueak compared to the oldest males. We have grown older together, though Mr. Nick, at age 52, could still be said to be in his reproductive prime, while I cannot.
Amboseli is one of the few places where you can still see old males and Mr. Nick has been fortunate to live as long as he has. Male elephants reach their reproductive prime between 45 and 50 years old, but few males live long enough to reproduce, let along to reach their prime. Life expectancy for male elephants in Amboseli is only 24 years. If you discount death inflicted by people, life expectancy increases to 39 years. You may be surprised to learn that in safe Amboseli people have such an influence on the survival of elephants.
Elsewhere the impact on elephant mortality is even greater, especially in areas where human-elephant conflict is intense, where there is poaching for ivory, or where trophy hunting is permitted. The tusks of a 50-year old male are seven times as heavy as those of a female of the same age, so sport hunters and poachers, alike, target older males. Trophy hunters used to argue that older males were”reproductively senile,” and, therefore, expendable, but my early work on musth and male mating success debunked that argument. And in a recent genetic paternity study we showed that fully 80% of calves are fathered by older musth males.
Long-term scientific work, like that carried out in Amboseli, is important because it provides essential arguments for conserving and properly managing elephants. Older males are vital to the survival and healthy functioning of elephant populations and trophy hunting and ivory poaching can inflict harm lasting decades.
Joyce, photos Petter
We invite you to visit the elephant elephant welfare section of ElephantVoices, which has been reorganized and improved over the last couple of weeks; new expansions will be uploaded over the course of the next few months.
Some may wonder what our elephant welfare work has to do with elephant communication or with elephant conservation, for that matter. We see this part of our work as an important application of our many years of study of elephant behavior. Decades of knowledge is useful for the advancement of science, yes, but we also want to ensure a better future for elephants, as individuals and as a species. To do that we need to educate people, to translate all the reams of data into something that the public can digest, be moved by and put into action. As acknowledged experts in the field we feel a need to speak out on their behalf.
Joyce returned from a five day trip to California on Tuesday, where she was meeting with donors and discussing a range of captive and wild elephant welfare issues. Over the next few days she will be finalising her expert witness testimony for a legal case against Ringling Brothers for the mistreatment of elephants.
Further analysis of the material collected during our playback experiments in Amboseli in December/January is also high on our to-do list.
Cheers, Petter and Joyce
While the political temperature seems to be cooling down a bit, Amboseli is getting hotter and drier. Both the short and long rains failed last year, and with only a few millimeters of rainfall since we arrived on 16th December, Amboseli is quickly becoming very dusty. We can see it on the elephants, as well as on our equipment and we can certainly feel it on our bodies! The burning sun bakes our old Landcruiser and our skin is beginning to look like a lizard’s! The temperature in the car is over 35 *C, and in our tent well over 30 *C despite the makuti roof.
Elephant calves are always ready for a game and climbing on top of one another is a favorite sport. And older calf lies down inviting younger calves to clamber on top.
Our playback experiments are moving forward and we have now completed 55 of the 60 we had planned for.New shocks and some preliminary repairs on our field vehicle have kept it going without causing us additional problems, but substantial rattling and squeaks remind us about the long list of repairs needed when we are back in Nairobi. We are grateful for any contributions toward the USD 2,000 we expect will be required to get our field vehicle back into acceptable shape.
You may enjoy watching a short video clip of a young musth male approaching our car, shot by Petter. The camera used is just a small pocket type Casio Exilim, but you can see how big male elephants look even from the roof of a 4-wheel drive. Musth males can be unpredictable (or predictably aggressive!) but generally if you don’t disturb them they won’t vent their pent up testosterone on you either…….
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Greetings, Petter and Joyce