Helping Elephants in the Wild
The Saint Louis Zoo is committed to helping save the Asian elephant in the wild.
The species is in trouble. Asian elephants once numbered in the hundreds of thousands throughout most of Asia. As few as 35,000 remain in the wild. The animals have seen their jungles, scrub forests and grasslands transformed into farms and villages. Adding to the problem is the increasing commercial demand for forest-derived products such as coffee, tea, rubber, and hardwoods.
Nearly everywhere that wild elephants roam they come into conflict with people who live or farm on the borders of their habitat. The animals are often perceived as destructive giants that raid farmers’ crops, damage property and occasionally even threaten villagers’ lives. So when elephants "trespass" onto human settlements, they put themselves in jeopardy.
Protecting Elephants in Sumatra
"Wandering" elephants have become a growing problem in Sumatra, the northern-most island of Indonesia. The island has seen a significant reduction in its forest habitat, as well as a threefold increase in the human population over the last two decades. This has caused a marked escalation in conflicts between elephants and humans.
Elephants that wander into Sumatran human settlements are often relocated to conservation centers. In fact, more than 700 elephants have been relocated to these centers. But many have succumbed to poor conditions in many of the camps. Not only are the elephants often severely overcrowded, but the staff is usually underpaid and poorly trained, and there is inadequate food and veterinary care for the elephants.
What Our Zoo is Doing
The Saint Louis Zoo decided to fund a multi-year project undertaken by the International Elephant Foundation that aims to improve conditions at Seblat, one Sumatran elephant camp. Not only is IEF working to make Seblat a model elephant conservation center, but also the nucleus of more far-reaching wildlife conservation efforts.
This project will provide useful work for the people and elephants, improve health care and training, and provide the surrounding human communities education materials on the conservation of elephants and habitat. It will also use some of the elephants (and their pawangs, or trainers) to patrol and protect the area's forest resources, to conduct biological surveys, and to respond to incidents of elephant-human conflicts. The hope is that the multi-year effort at this conservation center will be successful enough that it can expanded to other elephant camps in the future.