Today we Celebrate #WorldElephantDay: a day dedicated to the preservation and protection of elephants around the world!
There are 2 families of elephants: African (African bush elephant and African forest elephant) and Asian (Bornean elephant, Sri Lankan elephant, Sumatran elephant and Indian elephant). In Asia, all 4 of the sub-species are classified as Endangered or Critically Endangered, the Indian elephant (Elephas maximus indicus) is the species you find on mainland Asia, and here in Thailand.
In the early 1900’s, there were an estimated 100,000 captive elephants in Thailand and around the same in the wild. Now in 2017 there are an estimated 3,500 captive elephants and roughly a 3,000-3,500 wild elephants. In Thailand the primary habitat of Asian elephants is mountainous forest but throughout their range they also inhabitant grassland and scrubland habitats. Elephants are essential to a healthy functioning ecosystem. They spend most of their time (about 15 hours a day) foraging and grazing, and travelling around 9km each day. The seeds dispersed by elephant’s movements are vital to the health and survival of their forest home.
In Thailand, as almost everywhere in Asia, the main threat is the loss of habitat. As human populations expand, wild elephants are condemned to live closer to cities and human habitations. They are also victims in world of animal exploitation, most of the captive elephants in Thailand are confined to cruel inhumane elephant camps, where they are forced to give back breaking ride to tourists until the day they drop. The ivory trade is the biggest threat to the African bush elephant and the African forest elephant and is still a major threat to the Asian Elephant. The international trade in Ivory was banned by CITES in the late 1980’s but these laws have been relaxed on a number of occasions, flooding the market with newly imported African elephant ivory. This makes it even harder to monitor the illegal ivory trade. The trade of ivory and body parts from domestic Asian elephants in Thailand is legal as they still fall under the Draught Animal Act 1939.
Sadly, habitat loss and the ivory trade are not the only threats elephants have to face. Even if elephants have been revered cultural icons throughout Asia for centuries, they are increasingly exploited for tourism purposes. They are used for rides and are trained to perform tricks. A wild elephant would never let a person jump on him and would never play football, or paint. To get this kind of result, men resort to a very violent process. Everything starts with separating the wild baby from its mother. Then comes the Phajaan, which translates as ‘separate extremely’, a process which leads to breaking the soul of the animal. It is a very harsh treatment involving starvation, sleeping deprivation, bull-hook use and beating. It has been a tradition for centuries in Asia. Initially, elephants were used by the military or for logging. Now they just entertain tourists who, for the most part, are not aware of what those wild animals went through: torture!
Riding elephants causes terrible long term harm to their spine, legs, and hips. A whole life spent carrying people and acting in a circus is a cruel existence for highly intelligent, majestic and sociable wild animal. This is why WFFT has rescued and nurtured back to health many mistreated elephants from all over Thailand: to give them a beautiful retreat. And today is a perfect day to pay an homage to one of them who is no longer with us: the very special Namfon.