Asian elephants and elephants worldwide are in danger of extinction. Their numbers are dwindling with only about 35,000 Asian elephants left. They are being poached for their valuable ivory. Wildlife trafficking is the fourth largest international crime carried out by global criminal syndicates. The trade is almost as lucrative as drugs and there’s even evidence that poaching now fuels terrorist activities.
I was fortunate enough to get invited to learn about these fascinating, gentle giants at the Ringling Brothers and Barnum & Bailey Elephant Conservation Center outside of Orlando, Florida. I couldn’t help but think of it as an oasis for the large elephant family that I met. Teams of professionals ensure the health and welfare of the elephants by providing nutritious meals and a clean and safe environment. There are elephants that have retired from circus life, elephants that prefer not to be performing under the big top, and there are babies being born and growing up at the Center. Because these elephants trust humans, they can be studied and allow us to learn more about them and how we can help them. The Ringling Brothers organization has been actively aiding in conservation by allocating financial resources to conservation programs, working on elephant vaccine programs and establishing a fund that provides the means for matching private donations.
During my visit to the conservation center, Angelica and her calf, Mike (born in 2013) came up to me to eat their favorite treats – carrots and animal crackers! Though just a baby, he weighed several hundred pounds and his mom, Angelica weighed several tons! Mike let me pet the coarse hairs on his head and was very interested in sniffing my shoes with his trunk! I came to learn that elephant identify people by where they have walked. Another young elephant, Piper, loved getting a shower from the hose and parading in front of me. I’ve only seen elephants once before – at the Bronx Zoo, but I was so thrilled to be able to get so close and really observe these amazing animals.
After this experience, it really saddens me to know that the worldwide population of elephants is dwindling. They are gentle and loving and we have been interacting with them for thousands of years. It saddens to me to think it could be possible that the survival of their species is in danger. The work of the Conservation Center is amazing in their efforts to help the Asian elephant. I can only hope that generations to come will be able to know the majesty and wonder of the elephant.