Friday, April 04, 2008

A Morning at Elephant Junction

Although my recent elephant safari was entirely unsuccessful, I was able to spend a morning with several Asian Elephants at the Elephant Junction sanctuary in Kumily.

Throughout the three hour visit I vacillated through a range of emotions. A quiet grief for the confinement and captivity of these intelligent and sensitive creatures gave way to both exhilaration at being in such close quarters with them and optimism for the gentleness with which they were treated by their mahouts, all before feeling my heart spin back again towards remorse.

By all indications the elephants were well treated and looked after. Verbal commands alone were being used to instruct them, and this even applied to the completely unruly 11 month old infant Kanan, who required all the will his mahout could muster just to stop him from eating the thatched shed within a trunk's reach of his enclosure.

The enclosures themselves were immaculately clean. Dung was cleared out regularly, and all of them were layered with thick blankets of maize stalks and palm fronds, which acted as both bedding and a continuous source of food for the elephants' ceaseless appetites.

Some elephants were quite constrained, but in fairness this varied according the manageability of the individual. Some were kept on short chains, particularly the mother of Kanan who could be understandably intolerant of human contact with her infant, but others were left completely free and stood calmly among the visitors and staff. Most importantly, all harnesses are removed each day at 5pm after the tourist hours are through.

However, despite the quality of this particular sanctuary others fail miserably in looking after the needs of their inhabitants. Small pens, lack of contact with the natural world and abusive mahouts are all common. That greater context left me concerned for the future of the species.

The population of wild Asian elephants stands at just 30,000 with about half of those in India. Meanwhile, it's much publicized African cousin boasts a population in excess of 600,000. Meanwhile, while the African Elephants compete for land and resources with about 900,000,000 people across the world's third largest continent, India's 15,000 remaining elephants face the inconceivable population pressure of more than a billion people.

This is the mathematical fact of wildlife conservation in the world's second most populous nation, and until environmentalists address the overwhelming human need of a billion individuals within their calls for conservation, the Asian elephant, tiger and a host of less prominent species won't last the upcoming decades.

I don't have an answer for this one, other than to say that it's my gut belief that there must be a place for elephants in their wild habitats along side our own, for the simple reason that we both come out of, and depend on, the natural world for our survival.

Ultimately, our mutual survival will depend on the preservation of the same natural environment.


Chervil said...

I did not know the Asian elephant was in such decline. But at least you got to see some after that rather unpleasant elephant safari you describe so vividly in your previous entry. Thanks for sharing your experiences and impressions.

E. R. Dunhill said...

In the last picture, the elephant is clearly listening for signs of Who-ville.

Wolfgirl said...

I share your feelings on the subject of penned-up animals in very well maintained cages. I guess if I were to be caged, I would want to be in a clean cage.

Yet in my heart of hearts it still make me sad - how can a small clean space make up for thousands of acres of rolling landscape that allows you do to what thousands of years of evolution have programmed you to do?

It doesn't. :(

João Soares said...

Impressive.And also how we can be so "short-view" in understanding inteligence and suffer from non-human animals.
In Alan Wiesman book says that fastly (in one or two centuries) all breeding animals for human feed will be vanished by predation of more competitive species in wild...hope elephant never be this case and all animals.

Baht At said...

I'm not entirely convinced that it is an environmentally sound position to address the needs of one billion humans - far better to have fewer humans and more environment.

Unfortunately it seems that is something most greens are unwilling to address.

Odiyya said...

I'm not sure i want to even venture a guess as to where you are coming from. If you are talking about curbing population growth in order to stabilize it at as a low a number as possible, anyone with an once of common sense would agree.

If you are implying that the current population needs to be reduced, then you'll need to step up an share whatever fascist solution you're proposing.

In the meantime, we will have to prioritize the basic human needs of our fellow people in the most balanced way possible.

Baht At said...

and there we have it - the height of ambition is to "stabilise" population at some number even more horrific than the current one.

I wouldn't go for a fascist solution, merely a communist one - a strict one child per family policy until the world population reverts to around 500 million.

Odiyya said...

good luck with that.

Personalized Pens said...

settlement, has led to a dramatic decline in elephant populations in the last few decades. In 1930, there were between 5 and 10 million African elephants. By 1979, there were 1.3 million. In 1989, when they were added to the international list of the most endangered species, there were about 600,000 remaining, less than one percent of their original number.

Asian elephants were never as abundant as their African cousins, and today they are even more endangered than African elephants. At the turn of the century, there were an estimated 200,000 Asian elephants. Today there are probably no more than 35,000 to 40,000 left in the wild.


Promotional Pens said...

Have you ever seen the elephants that paint pictures with their trunks? Amazing!