Category Archives: Elephants

The Village of the Elephants Violated by Rebels

Dzanga-Ndoki National Park located in the Central African Republic is a United Nations backed World Heritage Site.  The park is known for both forest elephants and low-land gorillas.  A large clearing with a mineral water lake called Dzanga Bai, or Village of Elephants, drew between 50 and 200 elephants per day.

Dzanga Bai has been a particularly wonderful place to study these elephants since they come there regularly to drink and play in the water.  Andrea Turkalo, a member of the Elephant Listening Program, has studied the elephant that come to Dzanga Bai for 18 years.  She has identified 3,000 individuals and many family groups.

Photo by Coke Smith

Photo by Coke Smith

Photo Courtesy of Coke Smith

Photo Courtesy of Coke Smith

It is not certain whether or not the forest elephant is a subspecies of the African elephant or a separate species.  There are some significant differences.  For instance, the forest elephant has a longer, narrower jaw, straight tusks, and more toes on its front (5 vs. 4) and back (4 vs. 3) feet.  Forest elephants come in different colors.  Yes, not just grey, but also red, brown, calico, and most impressive a magnificent shade of bright gold.  Unfortunately for forest elephants, their straight, pink tinged tusks are harder than that of other elephants; and so are in greater demand by poachers.

The Central African Republic has been in turmoil since December 2012.  In March of this year, the Seleka Rebel Coalition overthrew the government and took control, but has made no effort to do any sort of peacekeeping.  More than 37,000 people have fled to the Democratic Republic of Congo, others to Chad and Cameroon.

The offices of the World Wildlife Fund have been looted so often since March of this that they have removed their personnel from the park.  South Africa has withdrawn 200 of the 600 soldiers it had supplied for protecting the park.  The defense minister indicated that the troops were not prepared to face poachers armed with mortars and state of the art Kalashnikov assault rifles.  There is grave concern for the 3,400 forest elephants that live in the park, since poaching has become rampant.  The number of elephants found in the park has declined 62% in the last ten years.

Heavily armed gunmen, who claimed to be members of the Seleka Rebel Coalition, entered the park and on May 9, 2013, and used scientific observation platforms to kill at least 26 elephants including four calves.  They then hacked off the tusks and left the park.  People from nearby villages salvaged the meat from the carcasses and it is being sold openly in local markets.  No elephants have returned to the site since the massacre.

The demand for ivory in Thailand and China, where trading of ivory is legal, is thought to be among the reasons for the increased poaching that has occurred since March, but the lack of security in the park also provides the poachers with unique opportunities to slaughter the animals.  The Prime Minister of Thailand, Yingluck Shinawatra, has promised to change the laws concerning the trade of ivory within her country; China has also committed to banning the sale of ivory.  Neither country has yet done so.

Today there are no elephants in the Elephant Village.  No elephants come for water.  There are no elephants to study.  Dzanga-Ndoki National Park, World Heritage Site, has been desecrated.




Filed under Elephants, endangered species, Environment, Massacre, Natural Resources

Asian Elephant Conservation

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

elephantof 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.

Photo courtesy of



Filed under Conservation, Elephants, Natural Resources