The shrinking giant: Time is running out for the Asian Elephant

Image: Courtesy Elephant Nature Park

Elephants may be the largest land mammal, but their presence is shrinking. We investigate the plight of Asian elephants on the world’s busiest continent.

The Asian elephant is a keystone species, a critically important part of the forest and savannah regions of Asia, where the few remaining wild populations make their home. These herds are fragmented and scattered, cut off from ancient migratory routes by ever-expanding human development. Ivory trafficking, though a more common fate for their African cousins, is a risk only for the tusked male of the species, leaving a disproportionate number of adult females. The long-term effects of this imbalance are still unknown.

Today, around 30,000 undomesticated elephants are estimated to live across Asia in a band that stretches from the eastern tip of India and the southern regions of China to Indonesia, crossing through Laos, Thailand, Burma and Cambodia. This now endangered species needs vast tracts of land to survive, but where? Elephant conservation efforts may be the last hope for these predominantly gentle plant-eating giants.

Thailand’s logging legacy
Elephants were put to work as beasts of burden in Thailand’s logging industry for decades, until a blanket ban was put in place by the government in 1989. The slow, steady creatures were used to pull felled timber through forests to generate income for their human owners. Though illegal, chains, whipping and stimulant drugs were common practices used to encourage obedience and higher productivity.

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