Giants Club: Often hidden from view, the Asian elephant population is hanging by a thread

We must not forget that it is not only the African elephant that is in crisis


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The Independent Online

The Giants Club is more than just a brilliant name – it is an ambitious roadmap for the conservation of a species literally under the gun. As any seasoned conservationist will tell you, it is only with political will and the glare of the media spotlight that the course of history can be bent in the opposite direction for an animal.

But we must not forget that it is not only the African elephant that is in crisis. Indeed the situation for the Asian elephant is even more acute. Numbers have dwindled to as few as 40,000, a 90 per cent decrease in the past 100 years. 

Vietnam is down to just 70 elephants, Nepal around 100, Bhutan perhaps 250 and in Laos – whose name ironically means “land of a million elephants” – the population has dwindled to around 500. Elephant populations are hanging by a thread.

The plight of Asia’s wild elephants, however, is often hidden. The death toll is racking up in dark jungles, on railway tracks and remote plantations rather than open savannah, under the media’s glare. 

It is a story of colossal and haphazard habitat loss, of human population expansion, economic booms, palm oil plantations, mining, logging, expanding train networks, electrocution from low power lines and an illegal trade in wild elephant babies to supply tourist camps. Here at Elephant Family our focus is the Asian elephant, so we see their demise on a daily basis. While the causes vary, the result is the same – the steady annihilation of a species.

At present there is no internationally ratified action plan for Asian elephants, no co-ordinated effort between governments and no moral outrage to this tragedy. The solutions are out there. But the political clout and money to back change is not.

This is why Elephant Family is mapping out a vast network of “elephant corridors” to reconnect the forest fragments and reassert migratory routes without the risk of human conflict or railways and motorways to mow them down. This big-picture solution is what is required for the Asian elephant, just as the Giants Club is doing for its African cousins.

That is why, to trumpet a common voice in this global cause, we are delighted to not only champion but be working with the Giants Club. None of these problems will be solved by NGOs operating as islands.  This autumn the African and Asian elephant will be linking trunks to host Elephants Forever, a magnificent art event in New York on 27 October, which will be hosted by the actor Owen Wilson. 

The funds raised will be split between the Elephant Family and the Giants Club to help secure war chests for both species. Then we can hopefully have a world where elephants are no longer being killed, wherever they are, and whatever their continent.

Ruth Powys is CEO of Elephant Family

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