World Elephant Day 2020 – Championing the survival and sustainability of elephant populations
“We admire elephants in part because they demonstrate what we consider the finest human traits: Empathy, self-awareness, and social intelligence. But the way we treat them puts on display the very worst of human behaviour.”
The 12th August – World Elephant Day – may be the day to champion the survival and sustainability of elephant populations, but for many organisations it is a continuous task to ensure that these magnificent creatures are protected. Physically the largest animal and the closest mammal to dinosaurs, these lumbering animals are minutely sensitive with a highly developed brain and indelible memories.
Elephants are among the most intelligent creatures that share our planet. They are known as a keystone species, playing an important role in maintaining the biodiversity of the ecosystems in which they live. Here’s how:
- Their dung is full of seeds from the many plants they eat. These seeds are sown into new grasses bushes and trees, boosting the health of the ecosystem
- Their dung is also an important and plentiful source of food for a host of different dung beetles
- They use their feet, trunks and tusks to create holes deep enough to tap into underground water sources. These elephant-made watering holes are then available for other animals to drink from
- In forests, elephants create clearings by trampling vegetation. These clearings allow more light to reach the forest floor, giving lower-lying plants a better chance to grow. And, because different types of animals reply of different types of plants, this promotes species biodiversity.
But their numbers are declining as a result of poaching (for their ivory), ongoing habitat loss and degradation and conflict with humans.
Elephant conservation programmes are not just about looking after the elephants but also for the plants and animals that depend on them.
This is why the Elephant Conservation and Human Elephant Conflict Mitigation Programme, a collaborative project between CCFA and Tusk, is so important. It’s an initiative to help create harmony between communities and wildlife – predominantly elephant – in the Kunene region of Namibia.
The project is located in Ombonde People’s Park, home to desert-adapted elephant, black rhino, giraffe, lion and cheetah – all vulnerable or threatened in Africa. Through the Integrated Rural Development and Nature Conservation’s (IRDNC) this project aims to prevent poaching in the area, while enhancing and building on community ownership of wildlife and natural resources. This is an authentic partnership between community conservancies and the government.
Drought is a constant threat that affects basic living standards and survival. It creates social strains such as unemployment, hunger and an increase in human-wildlife conflict scenarios which has been exacerbated by the impact of COVID-19. Many predators have moved closer to the homesteads, preying on livestock and destroying gardens because they are struggling to source water and food in their own habitats. Similarly, some farmers are encroaching on core wildlife zones in search of better grazing opportunities for their livestock.
We recently donated U$25 000 towards erecting an electric fence around the community’s 14 hectare food garden. In addition to the fence, we have also secured a commitment from the local council to provide water to the conservancy, to ensure the farming project is sustainable and improves the lives of the community.
The easy to assemble and maintain system is being installed by the community and overseen by the IRDNC Human Wildlife Support team. There will be community ownership regarding the upkeep of the property.
Although this practical intervention has addressed one of the major problems faced by the community, ongoing strategic interaction between the IRDNC and surrounding communities will continue in the form of:
- Identifying community concerns around the encroaching elephant population, to formulate effective actions towards a more peaceful co-existence
- Creating and maintaining awareness about the negative impact of elephant poaching as well as the economic and environmental benefits of cohabiting peacefully with the elephants
- Monitoring elephant populations and their movements
- Gathering data around elephant conflict and determining the cost of any damage to properties and farming livestock to find creative solutions to mitigate these situations
- Incentivising communities by adding value through tourism, offering training that will enable them to find jobs in the wildlife tourism industry.
A trunkful of memories
In honour of these majestic icons and World Elephant Day let us introduce you to some of our beautifully designed and handcrafted ellie mascots. All named after the herd saved by the late Lawrence Anthony, an international conservationist, environmentalist, explorer and bestselling author.
ET – Enfant Terrible (terrible child)
This 14 year old female elephant was offered a safe sanctuary by Thula Thula at the request of the Elephant Managers and Owners Association after her entire family had been either shot or sold to the hunting trade. ET had also been promised to a trophy hunter…
ET was deeply traumatised and terrified when she first arrived at Thula Thula and hid in the thick bush for some time. Lawrence kept ET closely under his watch and tried many tricks and psychology techniques to try coax back her confidence. She was extremely sad and withdrawn and so he gave her the name ‘Enfant Terrible’. Eventually, after not making a sound or trumpet since her arrival, an effect of the trauma she had experienced, ET was taken in by the resident herd.
Lawrence watched in admiration as the local herd of elephants followed him towards the lone elephant and ET come running out to meet them. Soon she fell into line, second from the back and linked her trunk around the tail of the elephant in front of her. The elephant behind her ‘…was resting his trunk on her back as they moved along. Comforting her. Walt Disney himself could not have scripted a better ending,’ said Lawrence.
Frankie’s protective instincts helped draw little orphan ET out of her depression and to this day, the two of them have a very special bond. Known as the ‘feisty aunt’, Frankie is the herd’s self-appointed guardian. Lawrence recalls witnessing her delight in breaking away from the rest of the herd and storming past them at full speed, “head held high and glaring fiercely just for the hell of it.”
Pronounced nom-zahn meaning “sir” in Zulu. At age 15 & 3 ½ tons he arrived at Thula Thula in a “rage” having witnessed his mother (the herd’s previous matriarch) and baby sister being shot. Despite his youth he instinctively knew that he must protect his herd but Mnumzane had been demoted from crown prince to pariah after his mother’s demise.
And as is the eons old elephant way (as elephant herds are fiercely feminized) once a male approaches puberty he is evicted, cast away from the ‘inner circle’. From that moment on he would spend the majority of his time either alone or on the periphery of the group. In the wild, evicted males would form loosely knit ‘askari‘ bachelor herds under the guidance of a wise old bull. Unfortunately there was no father figure for Mnumzane but he could stand up for himself and both humans and animals alike knew not to mess with him.
Mandla translates to ‘power’ in Zulu and was the name bestowed upon this 23 year old elephant bull following his break-out from the boma with his herd, soon after their initial arrival at Thula Thula Reserve. ‘Mandla’ honours his endurance and tenacity in keeping up with the rest of the herd, despite his young age.
“If elephants didn’t exist, you couldn’t invent one. They belong to a small group of living things so unlikely they challenge credulity and common sense.”
― Lyall Watson
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