Commentary: the plight of the elephant: it's not only poaching that is bringing pachyderm populations to their knees.

Author:Grasso, Samantha
Position:COMMENTARY - International Elephant Foundation
 
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The International Elephant Foundation, a nonprofit corporation working to support the long-term survival of elephants, has announced a slew of new conservation initiatives. The IEF uses its resources to fund a variety of national and international research and conservation projects. Each year, through its grant program, the foundation allocates resources to 10 additional projects, chosen from a pool of proposals. This year, 15 projects will be aimed at habitat protection, anti-poaching, ecotourism, environmental education, veterinary medicine and the reduction of human-elephant conflict.

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The IEF was founded in 1998 to aid troubled Asian and African Elephant populations. Under designation from the World Conservation Union, the African Elephant is listed as vulnerable and the Asian elephant as endangered, signifying high and very-high risk of extinction in the wild. While the primary focus of the foundation is "on-site conservation," protecting wild habitats naturally occupied by elephants, the foundation also works with captive populations in managed facilities throughout North America.

"Working with these populations has a positive effect on conservation, and the information gathered is relevant to helping and understanding wild populations," explains IEF executive director Deborah Olson. There is potential to use captive animals to study behavior as well as educate the public about the species.

While many people complain that captive animals fall prey to sickness, disease and psychological degradation, the reality is that these problems occur in the wild as well, the group says. Increasingly, many wild elephants are managed by humans in some way; often for transportation or labor. Management in zoos aims to provide a scientific understanding of the species, which can then be used to enforce positive stewardship of these animals in their native habitats.

According to Jackie Marks, program assistant for the Association of Zoos and Aquariums, "Elephants in captivity are ambassadors to their counterparts in the wild." The AZA is one of the IEF's largest supporters, and at present 284 elephants are housed at 79 AZA accredited zoos throughout North America. In addition to research, "Allowing individuals to see these creatures first hand and connect with them provides an experience that would otherwise be out of many people's reach," says Marks.

Most people who have never seen them view elephants as walking cartoons...

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