If you have a fondness for elephants and would like to know how to help ensure they will survive and maybe even thrive, these are some organizations involved in elephant care and research.

  • David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust – This organization gets the most press (National Geographic, BBC) for their Nairobi nursery where they take in baby elephant orphans and hand rear them. Around the age of three years, the orphans and transported to sites in Tsavo National Park where staff will continue to hand rear them and lead them daily to socialize with former orphans and wild elephants. There are satellite projects like mobile veterinarians, anti-poaching patrols, community outreach, and land conservation. From the Orphans Project area, you can view a list of Orphan Elephant Profiles and select elephants to foster for $50/year.
  • Amboseli Trust for Elephants – This is a research organization for elephant conservation. The program director is Cynthia Poole, who has been following the Amboseli elephants since 1968.
  • Save the Elephants – This is a research and conservation organization for elephants. It is headed by Iain Douglas-Hamilton, who was one of the earliest African elephant field researchers. One of their projects includes tracking elephant migration by GSM to ensure the conservation of important migratory paths and reduction of human-elephant conflicts. Douglas-Hamilton has been actively lobbying CITIES to ban the ivory sales that have led to increased elephant poaching.
  • Elephant Voices – This organization is headed by Joyce Poole and her husband, Petter. Poole’s elephant research became focused on communication (vocalization and hearing). She continues to do research and educational work sharing information about elephants for conservation.
  • Elephants Without Borders – This organization does research for the conservation of African elephants near the borders of Namibia, Botswana, Zambia, and Zimbabwe. It follows elephant migrations using radio collaring and satellite tracking. This organization partners with the San Diego Zoo’s Institute for Conservation Research.
  • The Elephant Sanctuary – This is a 2,700 acre wooded land in Tennessee which is like a retirement home for former circus elephants. It is not a zoo and does not allow visitors but many of its residents became injured or sick and unable to continue working. Both Asian and African elephants live in the sanctuary. This is the home of the elephant and dog who were best friends.

I fell in love with elephants some time before starting on this project. As a result, it’s hard to follow some of their stories and then hear of individuals passing (like Mumbushi, Sasab, Loisaba, Umoya). It’s difficult to understand why nature takes some seemingly before it’s their right time. There is limited comfort knowing that some orphans were spared harsh deaths by either starvation or being eaten by wilder animals, and at least spent days or years in the care of loving keepers and their own kind (other orphaned elephants). For Umoya, at least she was spared from death by shooting, and lived some peaceful years. But since for the par, elephants seem relatively gentle creatures (except for the males largely), it seems they ought to be granted the civility of dying peacefully and naturally.

These are trends causing stress on elephant populations, making some species endangered:

  1. Poaching
  2. Global warming/drought
  3. Human population growth; overlapping land use

These are a few recent stories about the effects of poaching and human encroachment on migration paths:

Apologies for a long hiatus. The BBC website has a terrific series of African Elephant videos available.

Today I was pleased to find a couple videos are newly accessible from the Planet Earth series – Desert elephants and Diving elephants. They are the last 2 videos from the video list, if you hover and scroll from the far right side of the video navigator.

(A number of the videos are free for all but a limited group are only viewable from England)

Umngani from the San Diego Safari Park has had a new baby Mon. (9.26). Umngani and all three of her calves are in a smaller enclosure for observation. The baby followed the mother around on shaky legs. In the day, the baby appeared for quite a while to be too short to reach Umngani’s teat for milk, or it had not discovered its location. But the baby appears to be nursing regularly during the night.

Khosi (5 year-old daughter of Umngani) appears ansy. Usually she hangs around close to Umngani with her little brother but the family has been frequently kept in the smaller enclosure (for part of the day) to await the baby’s delivery.

Ingadze (2 1/2 year-old son of Umngani) seems not quite ready to leave the side of his mom, but he also does not appear to be pushing the new baby away from the mother or competing for breast milk. Usually a calf would take breast milk until around 3 years of age (sometimes longer).

The other elephants are in the 2 larger enclosures and seem to be going about business as usual, but some are watching the mother and baby from the separating gate. Even Mabu (the father) was watching for a time, whereas in the wild, the male is not involved with the child’s development and lives mostly separate from females he has mated. I wonder if the elephants had a celebratory trumpeting riot when the baby was born.

A newborn elephant’s average weight is 250 lbs and Umngani is about 6,250 lbs. Umngani weighs over 24 times the newborn’s weight. It is a marvel that a baby can be 2.5 times an adult human’s weight. Kudos to Umngani for what appears a wondrous feat (about 21 months pregnancy) and hope that the baby’s siblings can adjust well to the little one. Hopefully they will get to sleep this night.

To appreciate the complex muscle coordination of a mature elephant, you need to watch it in action. I get mesmerized watching the San Diego Safari Park elephant adults pick up the last bits of hay from the ground. With the two finger-like tips, they sweep the thinly strewn hay into a small pile. Then they coil the end of their trunk around the pile and lift it off the ground. While curling the trunk up towards the mouth, the elephant seems to shift the hay closer towards the trunk tip so that it can more carefully place the hay into the mouth.

Also it is endearing to watch the ways in which the trunk is used to communicate between elephants. Some researchers or keepers describe the placing of the trunk tip into another elephant’s mouth as a greeting or kiss. The calves appear to get comfort from standing under their mother’s chin, with the long trunk sometimes draped over the calf’s side like a curtain. The trunk touch sometimes appears affectionate and other times more like a warning or dominance display.

My apologies for tardiness with the T post. I have been intimidated by the prospect of creating an infographic about elephant tusks. But I also think it is the kind of information that might be most helpful towards future elephant conservation. Also I realized I was not challenging myself with the visual content because the drawings felt repetitive.

Little Sundzu challenging an older elephant

Little Sundzu challenging an older elephant

Sundzu is the nickname of the youngest male calf at the San Diego Safari Park. His full name is Tsandzkile. Based on my observations of the park’s day cam, Sundzu can be self-possessed for his age of 9 months. Although he can often be found by the side of his mother (Litsemba) or nursing, he does explore independently and looks very intent when looking for food. He is very sociable and likes to hang out with the young male calves.

Although I feared he might develop insecurity due to being the smallest elephant and possibly losing majority of the pushing games the males engage in to measure their strength, Sundzu can hold his own. He initiates pushing matches and might even start one with a loud head butt. After watching a couple of the older calves pushing each other, Sundzu wanted to join in the play and tried pushing one of them (over twice his weight) against its trunk. The older elephant simply nodded its head a few times and humored Sundzu.

When most elephants are wrestling in the large pool, Sundzu can be seen usually watching and drinking from the sidelines. Maybe there is concern that he could get lost underneath the melee. But on dry land, when an older calf is laying on the ground (napping or resting), Sundzu will energetically run up to clamber on top of the other elephant. Sundzu is a scrappy young male, making up for his small size with a bold spirit.

Since starting this series of elephant posts, I’ve watched hours of elephant video from the San Diego Safari Park cam and also studied articles about elephants in the wild. Although I think it was generous for the Safari Park to take in the group of elephants, which were scheduled to be culled (organized shooting of elephants, typically in response to large populations within a limited amount of space and vegetation), I also feel that most enclosures are not suitable for elephants to be physically, mentally, and emotionally healthy. I believe the ideal situation is where elephants are returned to the wild due to their natural migratory patterns and their intelligence. I believe that the varied interactions with geography and other elephants that provide ideal stimulation and interaction are best found in nature.

Although I very much enjoy watching the elephants at the San Diego Safari Park and have learned a significant amount about elephants through this observation, I also have concerns. With the high pregnancy rate of the cows (female elephants) in the enclosure, how long will it be until they run out of space? I’m not even clear that the current enclosure provides ample space given the distances elephants would travel in the wild. There are 6 young male calves in the group currently. In the wild, they would gradually separate from the herd at about 13 years of age. But in captivity, I imagine they would be separated abruptly by being moved to other zoos or parks. What are the plans for the male calves when there will not be enough space to keep them with their mothers and families? Will their total life be a healthy and high quality life?

I wanted to share an adorable Black Rhino video by the BBC. The rhino actually mews. Wild rhinos can be quite fierce with their charging and sharp horns. However, I’ve been following keepers’ diaries for the Elephant and Rhino Orphanage (David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust) and the rhinos’ antics are quite heart-warming and humorous (for ex. feeling proud for chasing off guinea fowl and jumping up and down with gladness).

Get information about fostering an orphan rhino or elephant.