“Compassion for animals is intimately connected with goodness of character; and it may be confidently asserted that he who is cruel to animals cannot be a good man”
Everyday, more elephants are captured for illegal logging operations. Forced to aid the destruction of their own natural habitat, they move around in chains hauling away huge trees, clearing the way for more palm oil plantations. With their habitat gone, the free herds are compelled to move towards human settlements in search of food and shelter. They have nowhere else to go. They have no choice other than to leave behind the remnants of their forests and head towards the villages. Those that do flee are often on the point of starvation. Unfortunately, on the move, they are inclined to do a great deal of damage. This has brought humans and elephants to the point of war in Asia.
Villagers are laying traps for elephants, tormenting and torturing them, and even killing them. But, it is hard to blame them sometimes. A moving elephant can, and does, trample crops, demolish homes and kill people. And it is happening a lot. But, that doesn’t mean the fault lies with the elephant either.
The blame for this appalling situation falls squarely on the shoulders of the greedy, callous and criminal plantation owners. Those who see little other than a cash crop. The West cannot get enough of palm oil, and there are few products that do not contain it. And, these insatiable pillagers of the forests intend to meet the demand regardless of the absolute devastation they are causing to the irreplaceable and magnificent rainforests and the dependent inhabitants.
As most of us are aware, elephants are not small. The average Asian adult male comes in at about five and a half tons. They grow up to nine feet at the shoulder and can be as long as twenty-one feet from trunk to tail (the tail being just under five feet long). Females tend to be smaller. The ears of the Asian elephant are much smaller than those of the African elephant and coincidentally resemble the shape of the India subcontinent.
In Asian elephants, unlike their African cousins, only the males have tusks. If any are found in females, they (the ‘tushes’) are barely visible. Tusks are, in fact, elongated incisors which continue to grow throughout the elephant’s life. They are used for eating, digging for water, debarking trees, social interactions and as weapons.
Elephants usually mate during the rainy season. After a gestation period of twenty-two months, a single calf will be born (twins are very rare). The calf will weigh about two hundred and fifty pounds at birth. When born, calves suckle through the mouth. At this point the trunk does not have enough developed muscle to be of any use. Several months will need to pass before it is able to gain full use of it. The bond between mother and calf is known to be strong, but others in the herd will help out with the infant’s care. Once males have reached adolescence, they will be pushed away from the group. Most will become part of bachelor groups until they reach full maturity and go it alone.
A wide variety of forests, grasslands and scrublands.
Asian elephants occur in isolated populations in thirteen range States in parts of India and South-east Asia, including Sumatra and Borneo.
What they eat
Grasses, roots, fruit, and bark – and in enormous quantities. One adult alone can get through up to 300 pounds of food in a day. They are also known to eat cultivated crops such as sugar cane and bananas.
Capture for domestic use; this has become a major problem for some populations and numbers have been reduced significantly. Habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation are also huge threats. Poaching and conflict with humans is on the rise.
The Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) is listed on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species as Endangered. It is also protected under Cites Appendix 1. Estimates put the population, across all range States, as being between thirty-nine and fifty thousand in the wild, with a further thirteen thousand kept as working or former-working elephants. There are obvious difficulties in collecting this sort of data, so exact figures have never been published. What is certain, is that over half the elephants occur in India.
Various agencies and organisations are working towards reducing conflict between local communities and the elephants. This includes approaches to crop protection, community-based guarding methods to safely repel the onslaught of elephants and education and promotion of elephant conservation throughout Asia.