Asian elephants are an endangered species. In the past elephants ranged from Iran to China. Now they are only found is pockets in 13 Asian countries. Their numbers have dwindled substantially in the past 30 years due to loss
of habitat, poaching, and conflicts with humans.
Dozens of organizations have been established to find a solution to the issues that contribute to the decline of the wonderful animals. Loss of their ability to move freely over their traditional territory is part of the problem. Human populations have grown and people have modernized. Fences, villages, and farmland block their way. Elephants ranged through a large variety of habitats – grasslands, forests, and scrublands. They lived in areas from sea level to over 9,000 feet. In the eastern Himalaya elephants still make their ways to these heights in summer.
Being herbivores, an elephant’s diet includes leaves, stems, and bark of trees, fruits, and grasses. They are quite willing to eat a farmer’s crop or the flowers in a garden. This causes conflicts between humans and elephants. These conflicts are often deadly. Roughly 400 people are killed each year by elephants in India alone. An unknown number of elephants are killed and maimed.
Frustrated farmers are increasingly willing to cooperate with poachers to cut down the elephant population and preserve their crops. Although selling or importing Asian elephant ivory has been banned since 1976, demand is still high. In July 2011, an antique dealer in Philadelphia was arrested for importing nearly 2,000 pounds of Asian elephant ivory between 2003 and 2009.
Conservation efforts exist not only in Asia, but here in North America as well. In 1985, a plan was developed to foster the growth of a genetically diverse population of elephants in zoos, making it unnecessary to obtain them from wild groups. The zoo in Portland, Oregon has been a leader in this effort. Twenty-seven elephants have been born at the Oregon Zoo since 1962. All but one of the current herd was born in Portland.
Chendra was involved in a conflict between humans and elephants on a palm oil plantation in Borneo when she was very young. One of her front legs was injured and her left eye was blinded. Her blindness and her age meant that she could not be relocated into the wild. She came to the Oregon Zoo in 1999.
There has been a lot of excitement in the Portland area recently, ever since Rose-Tu’s hormone levels dropped and we knew she was about to deliver her calf. A healthy active female elephant was added to the family on November 30, 2012. She weighed in at 300 ponds, whereas a calf born in the wild weighs about 220 pounds at birth. She will live a long full life and will never encounter irate farmers, poachers, or lack of food. Hopefully someday she will become a mother herself.
It is estimated that there are less than 44,000 Asia elephants in the Asian countries where they still exist, including wild and domesticated. There are approximately 20,000 Asian elephants in zoos around the world. Conservation efforts are slowing the decline in their numbers, but Asian elephants remain in danger of extinction.