I remember the first time I saw elephants in the wild. It was in Kruger National Park in eastern South Africa. I had been in the park for three days – and oddly enough, had yet to see an elephant. Lion, Cape buffalo, giraffe, hyena, and impala there were aplenty – but no elephants. It was my final afternoon drive, and as I was heading back to camp, I resigned myself to the fact that I might have to wait to see elephants until another, future trip. Then, about five miles out from camp, and with the end of my stay in Kruger looming, a large herd of elephants quietly emerged out of nothing. Cresting a gentle, grass-covered hill, they walked down to cool off in a partially hidden wallow. I turned my engine off and sat with them for the rest of the afternoon. It was the highlight of my first trip to Africa– and an awe inspiring moment that has stayed with me ever since.
This month’s CONNECT magazine is being themed on elephants and highlights some of the important conservation and research projects that are being carried out and supported by AZA-accredited institutions. As editor of the magazine, and someone with a long-standing interest in elephants, I thought I would share some of the highlights with you.
The Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium Rescues Three Botswana Elephants: The Zoo brought three elephants that were in Botswana to its 724-acre International Conservation Center earlier this year. The three female elephants were originally scheduled to be culled in South Africa in the early 1990s to help control elephant populations in the local area before being saved and moved to an elephant orphanage in Botswana. Theirs’ is a remarkable story of collaboration between the Zoo, Botswana Wildlife authorities, federal, state and local veterinary authorities and a wide range of other participants.
AZA Institutions’ Impact on Wild Elephants: In 2010, AZA institutions donated over $1.1 million dollars to elephant conservation projects in the wild. A few of the projects include anti-poaching and wildlife monitoring in Tarangire National Park in Kenya, conservation response units in Sumatra, assessing and developing management techniques and tools to reduce human-elephant conflict in Asia, and supporting Northern Rangeland Trust anti-poaching teams in Kenya. AZA also works closely with the International Elephant Foundation (IEF), which manages conservation projects in the field that are consistent with AZA’s Elephant Taxon Advisory Group/Species Survival Plan® (TAG/SSP) goals.
An Update on the National Elephant Center: For years, the AZA community has wanted a facility that provides short- and long-term solutions to help manage the nearly 290 elephants that live at AZA-accredited institutions. In 2004, the idea of creating a National Elephant Center evolved out of an AZA Elephant TAG strategic planning meeting. In the summer of 2012, Phase I of the project will be completed on a 225-acre site near Orlando, Fla. The site will become an important tool in elephant management, care and conservation.
Births and Exhibits News: Two elephant births are highlighted in this issue of CONNECT. The first is on the cover – Kalina a female African elephant at the Indianapolis Zoo. She was the third elephant calf born to mother Kubwa via artificial insemination. The father is Jackson from the Pittsburgh Zoo and PPG Aquarium. The other birth is a female Asian elephant named Kenzi from the Saint Louis Zoo. Two new exhibits are also featured: Trails of Africa at the Birmingham Zoo and Asian Elephant Reserve at the Rosamond Gifford Zoo.
Elephants today face increasing threats to their existence in the wild. Poaching for ivory has resurfaced in parts of Africa with devastating effects on certain populations. Habitat fragmentation and degradation are leading to increased occurrences of conflict between people and elephants in most places they range – with elephants generally on the losing side. AZA institutions play a key role in helping elephants – both by supporting important field initiatives in Africa and Asia and by carrying out important ex-situ research that will help us gain a better understanding of these gentle giants.
Not everyone will have the chance to see a herd of wild elephants crest a hill of sun-bleached grass – but accredited zoos give you the opportunity to see and learn about these wonderful animals – and while you do so, you will be supporting important elephant conservation work in range countries.