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CALL FOR ENTRY: International Elephant Film Festival
Entry is free: Deadline: 15 January 2016
The Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival is currently inviting applications for its International Elephant Film Festival 2016. IEFF is presented by Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival & United Nations/CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Flora and Fauna). The Festival is a component of worldwide public engagement efforts to empower action and inspire a sense of personal responsibility and stewardship for elephant conservation and in creating an equitable and sustainable future. Participants are asked to submit media into one or more of the following categories:
The call for entries will close January 15, 2016 and finalists will be announced in February. Winners will be celebrated at a high level event to coincide with global launch of World Wildlife Day at UN Headquarters in NYC, on March 3, 2016.
Winning/Finalist Films will be subsequently showcased extensively throughout the world, with specifically targeted areas to include African nations, China, the United States, Vietnam and Thailand, through screening events and local broadcast stations. Subtitled DVDs will be distributed free to schools and libraries, free screenings for local NGOs and elephant stakeholders to incorporate into their own programming.
Visit www.internationalelephantfilmfestival.org to enter.
Written by Tana Hoffman
As video marketing becomes increasingly popular, it can be difficult to determine which content marketing tactics are helping filmmakers and television networks cut through the noise. Consumers are being inundated with video content on a variety of platforms, with subjects ranging from stunts to celebrities, and they are looking for stories that will entertain them, teach them, or make them feel good.
Wildlife networks and filmmakers face the same challenges. As BBC Earth’s director Jo Sermon so eloquently stated in her panel at the Jackson Hole Conservation Summit this week, “People are sleepwalking through nature. It’s our responsibility to wake them up.”
I sat down with Jo and BBC’s Creative Director Neil Nightingale to find out what marketing strategies are working for one of the world’s leading producers of highly acclaimed, award-winning natural history documentaries, and what other wildlife film professionals can learn from these successes:
What should content producers be focusing on right now to increase their reach?
Jo: Fish where the fish are. If the consumers aren’t coming to you naturally, you have to go and help them out. That’s what we’ve really learned with the social media that we’ve done. That’s the point of using collaborators. If we want to speak to a particularly younger consumer than we would typically speak to, we collaborate with someone like Ze Frank. He brings our age reach right down because he’s so cool. He speaks to the type of people that we yearn to speak to.
BBC Earth’s collaboration with Ze Frank helped the network reach a younger audience they could not speak to before.
What campaigns have been the most successful for BBC Earth?
Jo: Social media is wonderful and shortform video is wonderful for invading popular culture. You are fishing where the fish are. Half of our effort (not literally) is aimed at building viewership of our long form content. One example is the pufferfish sequence which got 69 million hits on Facebook—a sequence of this lovely pufferfish building this amazing sand structure on the base of the ocean floor to attract a partner. The intention was that it would drive traffic to the Life Story series. The call to action was to tune in and experience the full series.
This sequence from BBC’s series Life Story went viral on Facebook and helped drive viewers to watch the full series on the network.
The other reason we like short form video so much is because it enables us to reach different group of people.
Neil: Exactly. A lot of people have seen that pufferfish on YouTube who wouldn’t have necessarily come to the 60 minute documentary so we get to reach a different audience. We’re partly marketing content but also marketing ourselves and reaching different audiences. Often we’ll also drive people to our website rather than asking them to tune in. Our website has new stories every day and our shortform video is also bringing people to that.
What are the key performance indicators that your team focuses on?
Jo: People more important than me look at the views and the reach, whereas what matters to us is the shares because then you’re really engaging your consumer.
Neil: Another thing: when we started a YouTube channel with Google, they couldn’t believe the length of time people watched our videos because it was several times the average (I think the average was 7 seconds). That was a metric we didn’t really understand when we got into short form video and it was a metric we scored really really high on. So that’s something that we look at now to see what really engages people.
Is it better to post your content everywhere or develop a marketing strategy that keeps all of your content exclusively in one place?
Jo: We’ve been indoctrinated to be generous. The way to get your content out there is to promote it. Share it. There are certain instances where we won’t do that. For example, there is a particular newspaper in the UK that will ask to feature stories that they want claim as their own and include links. So we won’t share that. We protect the ones that we really need to dial and we’re more generous with the bulk of what we produce.
Somebody once said to me that what we’re doing in this new media word is ruthlessly working with all the people who can further our ends but also keep our brands absolutely sacrosanct. It’s an incredible balancing act. Sometimes you make the right decisions and sometimes you don’t. We’re all learning all the time.
Where is content marketing and short form video headed?
Jo: For me, content=marketing=PR. It’s all exactly the same thing now. Neil runs our production crew and I’m a marketeer. Our worlds just completely converged and now we are one in the same. I think it’s a brilliant thing. A good idea can come from anywhere: marketing, production, or it could be from a consumer.
Advice for the up and comers trying to get eyes on their content?
Neil: Major on your strengths and your passions. Don’t try to do everything. Do what you do well.
Jo: And be prolific. Keep getting stuff out there. That’s the only way you’ll learn what works and what doesn’t.
By: Lizzie Stallings
This week at the Film Festival, I had the pleasure of talking to Dr. Winnie Kiiru, the founder of ConservationKenya and contributor to the Conservation Summit panel, “Empowering Community.” Born in central Kenya, Dr. Kiiru has spent her life as a biologist, conservationist, advocate for human development and contributor to the Elephant Protection Initiative in Africa. She is a research associate of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants and she runs a human-elephant conflict project outside of Amboseli National Park.
Dr. Kiiru is incredibly well spoken while simultaneously impassioned. However, she never failed to sprinkle that directed energy with humor. Below I’ve transcribed our conversation.
How old were you when you knew this was what you wanted to do?
“When I was a young girl, I always wanted to be a vet, not because of loving animals, but because when the vet came to my grandmother’s, everything stopped. My grandmother would dress really beautifully, like a VIP was coming. The vet always wore in a white coat with a bag for looking after the cattle. The whole atmosphere around him was so grand and I thought, that’s who I want to be. Then I went to university and studied botany and zoology.
What I didn’t know is that I soon after University, I would get a job with the Kenya Wildlife Service and then straight away, I was research assistant to Joyce Poole. My first job was to count elephants in forests, where you literally had to walk through the forest, count piles of dung then use a formula to convert these numbers into elephant population. I counted a lot of poo in my first years.”
Sounds delightful! What made you interested in conservation and human development, then?
“I did my masters at the University of Zimbabwe, which meant I had to do a whole number of units on social development, ecology, and community. They deliberately bring social thinking into the mind of a scientist. At that time, human-elephant conflict was becoming such a big issue, but none of us biologists knew how to measure the impact, deal with politics, or solve the problem. So many biologists spent all of their time studying animals and natural systems and forgetting human beings impacted those systems.
Initially, I didn’t really care what was going on with people either, but then these problems started – every day we would get serious calls, elephants with spear wounds, demonstrating on the street; I went to a number of these meetings and Joyce [Poole] thought I was a natural because I could communicate easily with these individuals. The Maasai people and I really connected.
The Maasai people had always been tolerant of the elephants, so these spear wounds and demonstrations were new. No one had really spent time trying to understand how the people were changing or what they saw as their future with wildlife. No one was studying the strategies elephants adopted to survive in this changing landscape.”
So at this point, it seems you had a new understanding for the importance of collaboration between environmental protection and the humans living in those areas. How did you proceed?
As soon as I finished my Ph.D. (in Biodiversity Management with a focus on human-elephant conflict), I knew I needed a vehicle to help me communicate my passion for human development.
Note: Dr. Kiiru’s foundation, ConservationKenya, became this vehicle.
I kind of thought of calling it Conservation-and-Human-Development-Kenya but it was too long. Still, I knew that the name had to define me, the conservationist, but really, really I wanted to spend a lot of time just working on individual community issues.
Is ConservationKenya consulting? Do the communities come to you or you to them?
“I don’t know the answer. It’s organic. It’s just grown on me. It’s a passion project. Another thing that bothers me a lot is that many young Kenyans don’t see Conservation as something that is authentic for them. They are clouded by the tourism industry. People who are non-Kenyans—Europeans and white conservationists—they have been so involved. If you show a conservation film, people will say, ‘Why are you watching things for white people?’
I know that’s not true. Protecting the forests, parks, etc, lies in the young people appreciating the need to preserve it.”
And how do you make that happen?
“I have developed a study center to bring kids for a weekend where they can tromp around. Where I live, if you take a walk in the morning, you will walk into a head of giraffe, and Mt Kilamanjaro is about 70 km away. A Kenyan child could finish a degree in wildlife ecology without ever having been in a national park without being controlled by teachers. This program allows them basically to do whatever they like. Some might do a vegetation survey, anything. I don’t care what they do, and I don’t care about the results. I just want them to experience the wild.
After that, they go to the Maasai, where they live so close to the land on so little but with such a passion for their cattle and goats. These kids get a total education, learning that you can live a pretty good life next to the land without destroying it. I’ve done this for the last two years, done about 500 kids just coming through and they can come for free – I don’t charge them anything. All they have to do is come with food and cook it themselves.
I would like to grow that some more because every child I have brought for that trip just is different when I meet them later on in a later course.”
So it seems this wildlife exposure program is very oriented around understanding simplicity as a way of life. How then, do you define development?
“I’m convinced that the Maasai way of life is great, and I’m also convinced that certain aspects of their culture cannot respond to life as it is. For instance, keeping 50% of the population off the table in terms of discussing what goes on with their lives. Why aren’t the women participating, excluded from any formal trading, they don’t go to the market, excluded from meetings, but they are the ones who are interacting first hand with the land and the children.
Investing in the women and giving them basic skills and education is not counter to a simple way of life. My view of development is not so much stuff, but it’s how much you’re represented in the decisions that affect you. Is it fair to be voiceless just to preserve a culture? So if I give you a voice, and having that voice somehow makes you start to desire a bicycle so you can move faster, that’s a story for another day. I just want you to have a voice.”
What is your proudest accomplishment to date?
“I think what makes me proud is that I have remained an authentic African woman. I’ve had great privileges, a great education – not very many people in Africa have a Ph.D., and not enough people in Africa really spend enough time looking at the outdoors. I have done this, and still, I have two children that I love dearly and are very successful. I have a home, and I interact very comfortably with my family and with the world.
I feel very happy that I can go home and visit the village and be welcome. I can go to the Clinton Global Initiative and sit at the round table with Hilary Clinton, or I can sit on the ground and drink tea with the Maasai women. I don’t feel small with Hilary and I don’t feel large with the Maasai women. So I’m here in Jackson Hole talking about conservation, interacting with the best in the world and really watching cutting edge technology and its far from home and my reality, and yet I don’t feel lost.”
What is the hardest aspect of your work in conservation?
“It’s very male dominated in my country. I have to always walk the fine line between when I’m trying to change something to not be relegated to having “empty female passion.” I’m a very intelligent woman and I cannot have my views trashed on the basis of being emotional.
You think you have a problem, just try and come to my part of the world. What I wear, how I say things, how I choose to arrive, all of those things are judged each one and they will be used against me to make me look small.
I literally have to revise the script as home and take out anything that might be reinvented as just pure raw emotion. I need to not bring on attention to myself that will have me just put down as female, hormonal, estrogen oriented.”
Do you think that will ever change?
“[With] my son, maybe. Maybe the next generation. It’s changing slowly, but… there’s hope. [It starts with] the generation of boys brought up by strong mothers. My son dates a woman that went to Yale. He just lets her do whatever. Who asked him?
The women, it’s in our hands. You have to bring up boys who are so secure in themselves that they don’t feel they have to look so good they have to be tough on women. If you bring them up to realize it’s just fine, then they can let us be.”
Below, you’ll find one of Dr. Kiiru’s favorite songs, “African Girl” by Naomi Wachira, a Kenyan singer-songwriter based in Seattle. Certain parts of many of her songs are sung in Kikuyu, the native Kenyan language shared by Dr. Kiiru herself!
Post courtesy of JHWFF intern Lizzie Stallings
1. Define your ‘story’: What’s your subject? Why is it interesting?
This does not mean that you have to know the end to your story yet; you could just have an interesting lead worth exploring. Let the story tell its own conclusion. After all, the beginning stages are just that: the beginning.
2. What’s your chosen format?
How will you tell your story? Think of what you’re trying to communicate: would it work best as a long-form film? Short-form? Should it be episodic? Photographic? A novel? An app? This will help clarify what information you should and should not include, and stylistically, how to include it.
3. What’s your angle?
Is your story about Big Foot? The Great Pyramids? A lemur who can spell? Great! Now clarify why your take is original. It’s alright if aspects of your story have been told before—with Big Foot, they have been—but originality is key in developing your narrative. Always keep in mind: am I answering a compelling question?
4. Who is your talent?
Regardless of format, your audience will only connect with your story if your character or characters render some sort of emotion, inspiration, or intrigue. Humanize them, make the relatable; your talent is part of your ‘hook’, and will hold the attention of potential sponsors, producers, publishers, viewers and readers alike.
5. Who is your audience?
Are you trying to educate or dazzle them, or both? Are you trying to advocate a cause? (Of course you can have other purposes, but consider your purpose with regard to who will be viewing or reading your content.) What age? This consideration could help inform steps 2-4 as well!
6. Who are YOU to your audience?
Remember, your position as author, director, or builder (etc) will be relevant to the audience if you want it to be. For instance, an actress advocating for an end to elephant poaching can make her point as an actress. If you are a scientist, data might validate your claims. Certain details about you as creator might come across in your story. If that helps move the story along, allow them to!
7. What would you like to see as the end result?
Again, this is intertwined with steps 1-6, but once you’ve defined your quest and purpose, having a clear vision for the future of your story could help you in pursuing “the next step”!
8. What’s your outlet?
This is not the same question as “what’s your chosen format”; your outlet is the platform through which your story will be published, promoted or viewed. For instance, by posting episodes or films online, you have an opportunity to include an interactive component. This could be great for projects with “education” in mind.
A few good reminders:
Should you wish to broadcast or publish your piece, remember you’ll have to pitch it! Answering these questions for yourself will help you in developing a theme or proposal surrounding your story.
As Jared Lipworth of National Geographic reminded us, “Treat your story (or pitch) like a funny joke or a gift to your audience. Think, ‘I have to set up a punch line and once you see that punch line, you’ll be hooked.’”
Also remember, “Don’t pitch in the bathroom!”
This advice comes from the information shared at our Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival panels, “Crafting the Perfect Pitch” and “The Art and Science of Effective Storytelling.” A Special Thank-You to our speakers on those panels:
Lucinda Axelsson, BBC
Sabine Holzer, Head of TV at Terra Mater Factual Studios
Jared Lipworth, V.P. of Specials at National Geographic Studios
Carole Fleisher, President of Fleisherfilm
Emre Izat, Executive Producer of Off the Fence Productions
Katie Carpenter, Everwild Media & Yale University
Dan Kahan, Professor of Law and Psychology at Yale University
Laurie David, Producer of An Inconvenient Truth
Carl Safina, Carl Safina Institute
Jody Gottlieb, Vulcan Productions
Post courtesy of JHWFF Intern Lizzie Stallings
“Do you see that? Those fallen trees over there? A ‘Diptosillius Rex’ did that. Running probably. At 150 miles per hour.”
“If we dig far enough down, we’ll definitely find gold on this hill!”
“Did you hear that? That was a Diptosillius too. Chasing us.”
“Are you a mom?”
These are just a few of the choice lines I’ve heard over the past few weeks while joining the students of Jackson Middle School and Colter Elementary for their summer school participation in the Wildlife Film Festival’s SummerQuest.
We’ve hiked up to Crystal Butte, around the Craig Thomas Visitor center in Moose, down to Taggart Lake in the national park, and to various destinations around town.
In each of these places, the students took pictures.
Below are just a few examples, but all of the photos were great. So great, in fact, that many of the students won prizes in the Teton County Fair photography contest.
The images that the students chose and edited themselves exhibit their impressive eye for nature documentation. However, these are the polished, finish product; they don’t capture the behind-the-scenes conversations and general activity that went on while getting their “final shots”.
I was fortunate enough to be present for this “behind-the-scenes”, watching as the kids knelt to the ground to secure a good angle or ran 50 feet away to get the frame they desired. I watched as they photographed flowers, gravel, grass, fence posts, the school bus, and the Tetons. Whether they saw ants on a log or a bald eagle in a tree, they approached these photography sessions with ample enthusiasm, raw skill, and, of course, hilarity.
The comments like the ‘diptosillius rex’ one mentioned above were endless.
Not once, but twice, a student tried to convince me that a monster was living beneath the surface of Swan Lake. Another boy spent upwards of 20 minutes teaching me about holes in the ground, espousing ceaseless knowledge of snakes and other burrowing animals all the while. Sticks were repurposed as swords, rocks became homes for “humans” only 1 inch tall, and rustling in the bushes was the product of migrating wildebeasts.
While these remarks were, of course, amusing, it was also heartening to see their imaginations at work. They were learning about the nature of the area in the traditional sense, but at the same time, producing images that literally showcased their perspective. At the Film Festival, we aim to showcase the films that blend both conservation and art; with the students, they exhibited an eagerness to take part in this blend too.
Of course, none of these outings would have been possible without the help of dedicated Bridger Teton National Forest Rangers, Melissa Early, Jess Shaw, and Lauren Sullivan. Along with Stephanie Thompson, Jeannie Keefe, David Farren and their first grade class, Jess and Lauren led us up Crystal Butte, teaching the students (and me) all about the very definition of a natural habit along the way.
(Above: The rangers had us build a tower, consisting of “nature blocks”, including everything from “education” to “spiritual inspiration.”)
Then there was Megan Kohli, the Education Director at the Craig Thomas Visitor Center in the Grand Teton National Park. Two days in a row, she led 25 first graders on hikes, along with teachers Kelly Keefe, Neida Mendoza, Mike Schaefer, Emmy Farrow, and Jim Sandstead. We ventured along the Snake River and down toward Taggart Lake. Megan kept the students engaged and excited about their surroundings, often stopping to explain the importance of “leave no trace” or to point out the remnants of a wildfire that occurred 25 years ago.
It was really exceptional to be present as some of these classes saw the Tetons for the first time. Likewise, watching the students’ faces light up at the sight of a bug or fox or mushroom reminded me of the true majesty of the nature that surrounds us, on all scales.
From what I saw, these young students appreciate the environment in the same way we do: as something worth preserving and worth celebrating.
We would also like to thank Hannah Horigan and Bill Wiley at Jackson Middle School; Hannah orchestrated more than 70 students’ entries into the County Fair photography contest this year, integrating SummerQuest’s mission into her classroom for the entire month of July.
Finally, thank you to Penny Maldonado for presenting to the 6th and 8th graders of Jackson Middle on all that CougarFund does.
SummerQuest 2015 was both successful and rewarding. We can’t wait until 2016!
Post courtesy of JHWFF Intern Lizzie Stallings
Congratulations to our 2015 Finalists and thank you to all who entered!
This year’s submissions included nearly 1,000 category entries, a record number, competing for 23 special awards. The 2015 award winners are selected by a distinguished panel of international judges, who donate their expertise and thousands of hours to judge entries.
For the full list of finalists head to http://www.jhfestival.org/2015-film-competition.html
This sassy baby owl has gone viral, watch for a Monday morning pick-me-up!
Southeast Asia: The Threat in the Trek
This past semester, I was fortunate enough to travel around Southeast Asia. In Laos, Vietnam, and Thailand, particularly, ‘elephant trekking’ is advertised to tourists nearly everywhere. The opportunity to ride and/or feed and/or interact with these grandiose creatures is easily realized for a small price of about $25 for a day-long excursion.
Admittedly, I, too, visited one of these camps.
I had been warned “not to ride the elephants”, just as I had been warned “not to go to Tiger Sanctuaries”, and while I knew that one shouldn’t, I chalked the reasoning up to vague terms like ‘maltreatment’ and ‘captivity’. Call me naïve, and you wouldn’t be wrong.
So when I went to ‘trek’, it was with an unsettling hesitance in my stomach, but not an absolute conviction to avoid this activity at all costs. I had friends that wanted to go, and it seemed fitting to do so in Thailand, ‘The Land of White Elephants’. (Laos, Thailand’s neighbor, is ‘The Land of a Million Elephants’. Similar connotation). We went to Nosey Parker’s Elephant Camp in Krabi, a place with a good reputation that allowed us to ride the elephants through the jungle. The sun was blazing over the mountains in the distance while the baby elephants walked alongside their mothers; in all, it was quite picturesque.
Then, we got back to the base camp. The discomfort I had felt earlier escalated to mild nausea as the baby elephants “performed”, twirling hula hoops around their trunks, dancing, and walking in sync. It was entertaining but unnatural, cute but unnerving. They were chained and trained. And while I am in no way accusing Nosey Parker’s of the same maltreatment pictured in books like Water for Elephants, I wish I’d known that when people said “don’t ride the elephants”, it was not because every sanctuary or camp mistreated their animals.
“Don’t ride the elephants” should be expanded to “Don’t ride the elephants because it feeds into an industry of corruption and illegality. Don’t ride the elephants because not all places are bad, but some are, and it’s hard to tell the difference. Don’t ride the elephants because they should be left in the wild. Captivity, human expansion, and poaching encroach on the survival of the largest land mammals on earth, and riding the elephants only feeds this dangerous fire. Don’t ride the elephants, but know why.”
N.B.: Before I make the sweeping declaration, “don’t ride the elephants”, let me acknowledge that there are some places that serve as a rehabilitation center and sanctuary for rescued elephants. They treat their elephants well and provide a home for previously domesticated animals no longer needed for land labor. I have listed a few such places at the end of this post. Visiting such reserves is part of a friendlier vein of ecotourism, but oftentimes, it is difficult to obtain completely reliable information about the nature of the elephant caretakers. Despite the amiable claims of many camps, there can be dark histories behind their ownership and maintenance of domestic elephants.
Calf Capture; Before You Ride The Elephants
As I have already mentioned, there is a shadow cast over, under and beyond the seeming merriment of saddling an elephant whilst travelling through Asia. The illegal capture of baby elephants occurs in Africa as well, but transport across the Burma-Thailand border proves highest in frequency.
The calves are taken from the wild, violating government imposed wildlife protection laws to feed the growing demand for elephant camps amongst tourists. Capturing the calves is a treacherous process, and more often than not, the mothers and other surrounding adults are killed protecting their young.
Not for the faint of heart, here is a video of an instance of smuggling. Much like the unfortunate reality of the ivory trade, the economic benefit of illegally capturing and domesticating elephants motivates these poachers and smugglers to break the law. They mercilessly beat and kill these animals, incentivized by the growing demand of the industry.
Breaking the Calf
Once captured, these calves are then “domesticated”. In order to train the elephants for performances and “safe” trekking—aka safe for the human riders—the animals must be ‘broken’ from a young age. Captors use fear and aversion techniques called bajaan (‘breaking of the calf’) to prepare the elephants for domestication, but they must begin training at a young age, as older elephants are far more reactionary and dangerous when captured. The process of bajaan adheres to its translation; the elephants are beaten, caged, and cruelly ‘disciplined’ to ready them for their futures as tourist attractions.
Again, this video is difficult to watch; this is just one instance of the common training process that occurs in Thailand. In many countries, bajaan is known not only as a training technique. It is acknowledged as a destruction of the spirit.
If You Still Want to Ride
It’s only natural to want to engage with these majestic creatures. They are beautiful, smart, and impressive, so the appeal is not difficult to comprehend. There are, too, some reputable sites across Southeast Asia, India, and Africa, in which elephants are taken in, post-torture, and rehabilitated. Elephant Nature Park, Thai Elephant Conservation Center and Boon Lott’s Elephant Sanctuary are all respectable locations in Thailand that put the elephants’ priorities first. Tourists can interact with elephants, but in a safe, moderated environment with the knowledge that the animals are treated kindly and appropriately behind the scenes.
As we stated in our last post, it is important to remain informed. Next week, we will post about elephant-human conflict, an increasing problem in Southeast Asian and African farm territory especially.
Hopefully by the end of this series, you’ll be as WILD about Elephant conservation as we are!
Post courtesy of JHWFF Intern Lizzie Stallings
In our passionate effort to spread awareness about a variety of conservation issues through documentary film, the Jackson Hole Wildlife Film Festival has supported and advocated preservation causes geared towards Great Apes, Cougars, the Grand Teton National Park and Yellowstone in the past 3 years alone. This year, our focus is Elephants. The biannual Conservation Summit of 2015 will bring some of the worlds most renowned and knowledgeable elephant advocates together to discuss and examine the range of factors threatening the elephant population, but in the meantime, we want to continue spreading awareness. So who and what are killing Asia and Africa’s wild elephants? Why should we care? And how can we contribute to the end of this cycle?
We will post our “Herd” blog brief on the myriad issues facing the African and Asian elephant populations in installments. This is our first, a mere introduction of the many threats and potential solutions to this problem of elephantine proportions.
Elephants Endangered: The [Trunk]ated Truth
Today, there are only about 400,000 African elephants left in existence. The Asian elephant population is even smaller, having dwindled to nearly 40,000 in the past 2 decades. These numbers decrease annually due to illegal poaching and the fatal ongoing conflict between elephants and humans as a product of agricultural expansion. The notion of the imminent extinction of this majestic species is not only a sad one; both types of elephants are keystone species, meaning their presence in the wild is pivotal in maintaining the balance of forest and savannah ecosystems. They provide nutrients, create water access, and help to sustain biodiversity in their given habitats, meaning that the fewer there are in the wild, the greater the impact on all other species in the region.
However, it is important to note that there is a definitive difference between African elephants and the Asian species. In African elephants, both males and females grow tusks. At no point in their lives do they “shed” or “re-grow” their tusks, meaning tusk removal is synonymous with elephant death. Only Asian males grow tusks, so the proportion of poaching fatalities is smaller amongst this species. However, the casualties are still alarming.
Beyond the illicit ivory market and the consequent poaching, the factors greatest affecting Asian v. African elephant-survival are the following: 1) Human-elephant environmental conflict and 2) the illegal capture of calves from the wild and deaths of their mothers or other adults in the process.
Our next post will follow the calf-capture, beginning with an anecdotal look into the elephant-tourism industry in Asia.
Until then, read, research, and remain aware.
Post courtesy of JHWFF Intern Lizzie Stallings