Sunday, March 13, 2011

Happy Elephant Day!

Today, March 13, is Thai Elephant Day. The elephant is the national animal of Thailand, and in 1998 the holiday was approved to raise awareness of the importance of elephants.

The Asian elephant is an endangered species. A century ago there were more than 100,000 elephants in Thailand. Now there are maybe 3,000 to 4,000, half of which are domesticated.

Ownership of elephants is a long standing tradition in Thailand. Families have owned elephants and passed them down from father to son for generations. It is a point of pride to own an elephant, but it takes long hours of hard work by both man and animal to support them. It is a hard life for both mahout and elephant.

Habitat for wild elephants has been fractured and eliminated through development. Add in climate change and the demand for ivory, and you see why the population of elephants is diminishing. There is a real chance that we may be seeing the last generations of elephants.

Elephant Day is a time to celebrate the past and look to the future of this magnificent animal. Some lucky elephants will be treated to buffets of fruits and vegetables. Some may be working as taxis, taking tourists on treks in the forest or performing tricks to entertain tourists. A lucky few will spend the day in retirement at sanctuaries.

The future of the Asian elephant is uncertain. It depends on whether we value them and our world enough to protect them. It depends on what we think is the proper role for them to play in our world. It depends on whether families who own elephants can move away from private ownership, whether they can have other opportunities for education and their future.

We can help the elephants by not supporting programs that misuse elephants. Please don't buy ivory or things made from other elephant parts. Please don't ride elephants or pay to feed an elephant or take a picture with one on the street. These only continue the cycle of pain.

We can help elephants even more by supporting organizations that are making an effort to improve the lives of captive elephants. I've listed a few below.

And keep good thoughts for all elephants every day, not just once a year.

Elephant Nature Park
Twitter: @ElephantNatureP
Sanctuary for rescued elephants who were previously abused & neglected

Twitter: @elehelp
Providing a save haven for elephants and employment for their mahouts

Twitter: @BLESELE
Devoted to creating a safe & natural environment for Asian elephants

Twitter: founder @SoraidaSalwala
The world's first elephant hospital, founded by Soraida Salwala

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