Souza: Elephants safe from poachers, but not zoos

World Elephant Day, an organization dedicated to raising awareness of the dramatically decreasing population of elephants, explains, “The escalation of poaching, habitat loss, human-elephant conflict and mistreatment in captivity are just some of the threats to both African and Asian elephants.”

Elephants of the wild and those in captivity, such as at the Oregon Zoo, are suffering at the hands of human greed for money and entertainment.

African and Asian elephants alike are in danger in their natural habitats due to a not so natural predator. Poachers slaughtering elephants for their valuable tusks are putting elephants closer and closer to extinction. As a result, in 1979 there was an estimated 1.3 million elephants, while in 2016 the population plummeted to only 352,271.

It is not only the elephant population that is affected by the decline but the entire ecosystem. World Elephant Day explains, “Elephants are a keystone species. It means they create and maintain the ecosystems in which they live and make it possible for a myriad of plant and animal species to live in those environments as well.”

In reaction to the plunge of elephant numbers, organizations and countries are taking action to protect these sacred animals.

For instance, according to CNN, “Botswana Defense Force (BDF) has deployed an infantry battalion of specially-trained soldiers; more than 700 are stationed across 40 bases in the far north,” where soldiers are told to “shoot-to-kill” the poachers. Likewise, the global ivory trade has been banned since 1989, according to National Geographic.

However, not all governments are willing to stop the profitable business of domestic ivory trade. China has the largest illegal ivory trade, which is due to the limited legal trade of ivory within the country.  According to World Elephant Day, “Between 2010 and 2014, the price of ivory in China tripled,” and thus, “As of 2016, there are still more African elephants being killed for ivory than are being born…”

In late December 2016, China announced that they will be banning ivory trade throughout 2017. According to The New York Times, with the United States having banned ivory trade earlier in 2016, and now, with the initiatives of China, the future of the elephant population looks a lot brighter.

Elephants are more valuable alive than dead  poachers get paid a few hundred dollars for tusks, while communities get millions of dollars in tourism money.

This “eco-tourism” leads animals to be kept in small spaces away from their natural territories.  Thus, despite zoos being a main source of entertainment and an educational opportunity for humans, it is not luxurious for the captive animals—as many zoos convey it to be. Many animals, including elephants, are mistreated during their lives in captivity.

Moreover, many zoos do not have the ability to care for elder elephants and do not retire aging or sick elephants because they are a spectacle that makes money.

For example, the Oregon Zoo does not take the necessary action for elephants suffering from aging health issues. Back in December 2015, the Oregon Zoo had to euthanize an elder elephant, Tusko, after suffering from a leg injury that affected him for decades. The reason for the euthanization? According to the Washington Times, “… staff determined that they could no longer provide treatment for him.” Tusko was the second elephant to be euthanized in 2015, the first being a similarly injured elephant called Rama.

This raises the question of why the zoo didn’t retire these suffering elephants to refuges or sanctuarieswhich would be able to provide the attention and space the elephants needed.

Unfortunately, this issue didn’t stop in 2015. Free the Oregon Zoo Elephants is an advocate organization fighting for the retirement of the current elder elephant, Packy. Packy, like the previous elephants, needs heightened medical attention. However, despite the signs of his deteriorating health, the Oregon Zoo still does not show any interest in retiring him to one of the two (soon to be three) elephant sanctuaries in the United States. This organization is fighting for the happiness of these elder elephants that shouldn’t have to spend their late years dying in captivity, or as a money scheme.

The dangers the human world imposes onto elephants infect communities beyond those of the elephants’ natural habitat. Anyone who attends a zoo is contributing to the cruelty of animal captivity.

Giant, gentle wonders of the world, elephants deserve to live in their natural world without the danger of being slaughtered due to monetary greed or being captured for the pure enjoyment of humans.


Katie Souza

Katie Souza