The International Elephant Foundation (IEF) is a non-profit organization formed in 1998 to promote the conservation of African and Asian elephants through habitat protection, scientific investigation, education and improvements in zoo elephant care. Since its inception, IEF and its contributing supporters have contributed over 2 million dollars to elephant conservation around the world. This paper will highlight the critical support that the international zoo community is providing to in situ and ex situ elephant conservation, with specific reference to its ongoing conservation partnerships in Sumatra and Kenya and its supported research programs related to Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpesvirus.
Every day someone sees or perhaps touches an elephant and gains a greater understanding of the animal he or she has known only from picture books and video. Every day young and old alike marvel at an elephant’s strength and agility, its intelligence and personality, and its ability to make you gasp and laugh. Every day the work to save elephant habitat helps in conserving many other kinds of wildlife. The popular appeal of elephants is so great that attention and efforts garnered to save this flagship species benefits many endangered animals.
The International Elephant Foundation (IEF) is dedicated to saving African and Asian Elephants by providing funds and scientific expertise to support elephant research and conservation programs worldwide. IEF is a non-profit organization formed in 1998 to promote the conservation of African and Asian elephants through habitat protection, scientific investigation, education and improvements in zoo elephant care. Its mission is to support and operate elephant conservation and education programs both in managed facilities and in the wild, with emphasis on management, protection and scientific research.
Since its inception in 1998, IEF and its contributing supporters have generated more than 2 million dollars to different in situ and ex situ elephant research and conservation projects and programs around the world. More than 91% of funds raised by IEF go directly into elephant conservation and research programs. IEF’s Board of Directors are all affiliated with elephant programs at a variety of international organizations. The Directors contribute their time, expertise and funds and receive no compensation for time spent on IEF business.
In September of 2004, IEF and the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA) signed a Memorandum of Understanding to work together to conserve elephants. This memorandum means that individual AZA zoos no longer have to develop conservation projects from “scratch” but can join into partnerships with other zoos and elephant care organizations and support established and ongoing projects. Institutions that provide general funds to IEF are considered as supporters of all of IEF’s projects and programs. This partnership between IEF and AZA has made it possible for zoos to pool
their resources together to support significant conservation projects in Africa and Asia.
IEF is working around the world to conserve elephants. Below are some of the key projects and activities supported by IEF:
Conservation Response Units, Sumatra
The long-term conservation of the elephant in Sumatra requires that elephants and people co-exist with minimal conflict, otherwise demands for the removal of elephants will be politically difficult to ignore, resulting ultimately in the depletion of elephant populations on the island.
The Conservation Response Unit (CRU) concept is founded on the belief that diversity is only secure when diverse conservation strategies are employed. The CRU model utilizes once neglected captive elephants and their mahouts for direct field based conservation interventions to support the conservation of wild elephants and their habitat, and achieve positive outcomes for both elephants and people.
By creating this link, and ensuring that these elephants are seen as an important resource and doing positive deeds, it is expected that local communities, decision-makers and other stakeholders will recognize their contribution and hopefully focus greater attention on protecting Sumatran elephants, in the wild and in captivity.
The CRU teams are composed of 14 captive elephants from two ECCs (Aceh and Seblat) and 14 of their mahouts, 14 government forest rangers, and 3 FFI conservation officers spread over three CRU posts placed in targeted working areas. The CRU project has four main objectives:
- mitigating human-elephant conflict;
- reducing wildlife crime activities in the important elephant habitat through forest patrol and monitoring;
- raising awareness among local people of the importance of conserving elephants and their habitat;
- establishing community-based ecotourism to ensure long-term CRU financial sustainability.
Captive elephants play an important role by providing transportation during forest monitoring patrol activities, as a tool for gaining local community interest during awareness events, and driving away crop raiding wild elephants should conflict incidents arise.
Mahouts, as part of the CRU team, not only take care of the elephants but are involved in all CRU activities and have gained training in wildlife observation techniques and basic use of navigation devices and mapping. Most of the CRU team members have little educational background, yet through a series of capacity building activities have been trained in assessing and selecting priority areas forCRU activities and field patrols, operating hand held GPS units, filling in standardized data-sheets for forest patrolling and conducting HEC assessments.
Anti-Poaching Team, Kenya
In Kenya, the majority of the wildlife exists outside of the country’s government protected areas and wildlife numbers continue to decline. If this trend continues unchecked the result will be fragmented, isolated remnant populations in only a handful of protected national parks and reserves, and the potential for extinction of some species in the wild.
The African elephant (Loxodonta africana) is one such threatened species that is at risk of further decline outside of protected areas. The long-term survival of elephants in Kenya is thus inextricably linked to the support of local communities that share the land with this species. Involving local communities in the ongoing work to protect and monitor elephants and raising awareness of the benefits of elephant conservation are critical prerequisites for success.
In 2004 the Northern Rangelands Trust (NRT) was established by communities and other stakeholders who recognized a need for an umbrella organization that would assist communities to use biodiversity conservation and improved environmental management as a means of improving and diversifying livelihoods. The role of NRT is to develop the capacity and self-sufficiency of its constituent community organizations in biodiversity conservation, natural resource management and natural resource-based enterprises. As neighboring communities partner together in NRT and as the total land devoted to biodiversity conservation in northern Kenya is expanded, migratory corridors are being re-
established and migratory species, such as the elephant, are greatly benefiting.
The issue of instability remains the single biggest pressure on conservation efforts in this region. In the last six years, poaching and other security-related incidents in northern Kenya have decreased largely as a result of the development of NRT and its conservancies, as well as the strong collaboration between NRT communities. However, poaching still remains a threat in this region, due to the large number of illegal firearms in the hands of local people, and relative proximity to instable countries on the northern and eastern borders of Kenya. There is an urgent need to increase capacity for the current anti-poaching and wildlife monitoring network in order to maintain and further reduce poaching and other related issues for the people and for elephants and other wildlife in this vast area.
IEF and NRT, with support from the United States Fish and Wildlife Service, have partnered to develop a Joint Conservancy Anti-Poaching Team that will most certainly greatly enhance the wildlife protection and monitoring in the region, first and foremost, by deterring incidents of poaching from occurring and, when unfortunate incidents of poaching do arise within NRT communities, by providing a dedicated team of skilled anti-poaching officers immediately available to respond to and resolve these issues.
Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpes Virus Research
Juvenile elephants may be affected by many conditions that can impact overall health and survivability, including Elephant Endotheliotropic Herpes Virus (EEHV). IEF is supporting EEHV research through annual core support of operations of the National Elephant Herpes Lab based at the Smithsonian’s National Zoo, as well as through support of various EEHV research projects seeking to increase the knowledge about EEHV and further develop treatment of it. IEF hosts an EEHV workshop annually to convene EEHV and human herpes researchers together with elephant veterinarians and managers to further the knowledge and treatment of EEHV.
In addition to its focal field programs and research projects described above, IEF manages a small granting program that receives proposals from elephant conservationists and researchers once per year.
Through this program, projects and programs are funded around the world and since its inception in 1998, IEF and its contributing supporters have generated more than 2 million dollars to different in situ and ex situ elephant research and conservation projects and programs.
Husbandry Resource Guide
IEF has taken a lead role in advancing the quality of care of elephants in human care by compiling and publishing the Elephant Husbandry Resource Guide which reflects the best practices and accepted industry standards across a wide spectrum of management styles and facilities. This Guide was compiled by a broad and diverse team of elephant experts including keepers, veterinarians, researchers, reproductive specialists and behaviorists, and has been made available to every known elephant care facility in the world. To further its goal of building capacity for elephant care worldwide, IEF provides a scholarship annually to one elephant professional to support his/her participation in the AZA Principles of Elephant Management course.
Of course, none of this would be possible without the generous support of people like you that have a concern for the future of elephants. We deeply appreciate the exceptional commitment to elephant conservation by the following zoos and zoo organizations that supported the International Elephant Foundation from January 2009 until December 2010:
Africam Safari; African lion Safari; Albuquerque Biological Park; Audubon Zoo; Blank Park Zoo; Brec’s Baton Rouge Zoo; Baton Rouge AAZK; Brookfield Zoo; Busch Gardens – Tampa Bay; Calgary Zoo; Cameron Park Zoo; Central Florida Zoo; Cheyenne Mountain Zoo; Cincinnati Zoo; Cleveland Metroparks Zoo; Columbus Zoo; Dallas Zoo; Denver Zoo; Dickerson Park Zoo; Disney’s Animal Kingdom; Elephant Managers Association; Fort Worth Zoo; Greenville Zoo; Have Trunk Will Travel; Houston Zoo; Indianapolis Zoo; Jacksonville Zoo; Lee Richardson Zoo; Lion Country Safari; Little
Rock Zoo; Louisville Zoo; Maryland Zoo in Baltimore; Memphis Zoo; Miami Metrozoo; Milwaukee County Zoo; Nashville Zoo; Niabi Zoo; North Carolina Zoo; Oklahoma City Zoo AAZK Chapter; Omaha’s Henry Doorly Zoo; Oregon Zoo; Philadelphia Zoo; Pittsburgh Zoo; Point Defiance Zoo & Aquarium; Riverbanks Zoo; Roger Williams Park Zoo; Rosamond Gifford Zoo at Burnet Park; Saint Louis Zoo; San Antonio Zoo; San Diego Zoo and Safari Park; Santa Ana Zoo; Santa Barbara Zoo; Sedgwick County Zoo; Seneca Park AAZK Chapter; Seneca Park Zoo; Six Flags Discovery Kingdom;
Toledo Zoo; Toronto Zoo; Tulsa Zoo; Utah’s Hogle Zoo; Wildlife Safari; Woodland Park Zoo; Zoo Atlanta; Zoo de Granby; Valley Zoo