Monthly Archives: April 2013

A Little Ele-Fun for your Tuesday

In this short 3-minute clip, Joyce Poole explores how elephants communicate through play. Here are few quotes from the full article from National Geographic (read more about the nine overarching vategories that Joyce Poole and Petter Granli have categorized to decode elephant gestures HERE)

Elephants may use a variety of subtle movements and gestures to communicate with one another, according to researchers who have studied the big mammals in the wild for decades. To the casual human observer, a curl of the trunk, a step backward, or a fold of the ear may not have meaning. But to an elephant—and scientists like Joyce Poole—these are signals that convey vital information to individual elephants and the overall herd….

Sense of Humor

Poole recalls how elephants at play used to charge her car, appearing to trip and fall while tusking the ground (tusk-ground gesture) in front of her vehicle. “I used to think that they really did trip—no longer!” Poole said. “I have seen it enough times to know that pretending to fall over in front of the car is all part of the fun. It is one of the behaviors that led me to say that elephants have a sense of self and a sense of humor. They know that they are funny.”


Poachers with the aid of “rangers” have killed all rhinos in Limpopo National Park in Mozambique, part of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park.

“Mozambique’s game rangers have helped poachers kill every single rhino in the Mozambique section of the Great Limpopo Transfrontier Park according to the International Fund for Wildlife Management….According to South Africa’s Department of Environmental Affairs 180 out of 249 rhinos in the Kruger National Park have been poached since January 2013.”

“Consumer nations – China, Vietnam and Indonesia – have to make a concerted effort to reduce the demand for these products in their own backyards because otherwise the battle will be lost.”

Above quotes shared from Times Live in South Africa and News24 :

(Photo copyright Elizabeth Chitwood)

(Photo copyright Elizabeth Chitwood)

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Happy Weekend: Meet Baby Mai

 Happy weekend! Baby Mai from the Elephant Nature Park in Thailand.

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Q&A for Earth Day: Earth Week

We received some emails with various questions about elephants. Maybe you have some too. We are going to begin to answer these questions every Thursday. Send us a note with yours and you can be featured here too!
QUESTION: A reader on our Facebook Page asked what do we mean, “creating a harmonious future for elephants and humans.”
ANSWER: We love elephants! But the largest living mammals on planet earth are in trouble. Human-elephant conflict over space and the greed for ivory is destroying the elephant populations in the wild (in Africa, extinction is possible as early as 2020!) And in captivity, elephants are abused and tortured for human entertainment in circuses and in some poorly run zoos. Elephantopia’s mission is to create a future where elephants AND humans co-exist in harmony together. We understand how important it is to save the elephants - they are a keystone species to the environment and have much to teach us. There are a number of great organizations dedicating time, research and money into creating: safer habitats for elephants, raising up rangers and elephant advocates from among local people in Africa,  strengthening local and national governments to protect elephants, creating harsher penalties for ivory poachers, petitioning circuses and zoos, and creating sanctuaries for abused elephants. Our aim is to share this relevant information in one localized place in hopes that the education people receive from our posts will transform into action. We do this by sharing facts about elephants every MWF. We also share quotes from prominent conservationists, photographs of elephants so people who don’t usually see them become more aware of these majestic animals, and every saturday we share a Happy Weekend video clip. Finally, we share the latest news of elephants and write our own responses to what’s happening globally and locally, with opportunities for personal involvement. We are hopeful that there is a future for elephants to live in peace and harmony with humans. It’s just a matter of creative conservation innovations, which is what this project is all about discovering.531688_230697027067924_727791847_n-1
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Earth Day: Earth Week

As we come to the close of our Earth Day: Earth Week celebration, we want to leave you with this thought:


Elephants Grazing
Lake Amboseli, Kenya
Photo © 2007 George Steinmetz

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Earth Day: Earth Week An Apology to Elephants Review

imagesI’m Elizabeth Chitwood, and I love elephants. This past week, HBO shared a wonderful documentary, An Apology to Elephants, narrated by Lilly Tomlin (who starts the program off, “I’m Lilly Tomlin, and I love elephants” - such a great way to introduce oneself!) In 40 minutes, the documentary was able to share basic elephant facts about how elephants live in the wild, explain the dangers of circuses, challenge zoos to reform their elephant habitats and practices, and show the destruction of the ivory trade. I would like to visit each of these in more detail below.

1. Basic Elephant Facts. The first five minutes were filled with amazing video of elephants in Africa being elephants: touching one another, playing, grazing, drinking, feeding…or as the film stated, “Elephants doing what they are supposed to do.” This section was summed up by Joyce Poole who shared, “When the student is ready, the teacher will appear…Elephants have appeared to teach us. The elephants need our help.” Help from what? That led into the second point of the film.

2. Dangers of the Circus. People have always been fascinated by these magnificent creatures, so using them for entertainment is nothing new. The documentary explained how in the past, they have been revered, worshipped, used in war, used for heavy labor, and used for amusement. It appears the world’s largest land mammal cannot hide from human greed and need. The first elephant to arrive in North America for a circus was in 1796 to do fun tricks and stunts. But to get to North America, they were forcefully taken from the wild (often as babies), tortured and abused to perform, even killed in horrific ways (Thomas Edison used electricity to kill Topsy a circus elephant in 1903).


Circus performance with elephants in unnatural positions

Just as circuses are not a thing of the past, neither are the “training methods.” Today, millions of people attend the circus around the world. When they see the elephants in costume balancing on one leg atop a small bench, they wonder “how do they learn to do that?” Through the use of weapons called bullhook (an object with a sharp point used on sensitive pressure points on the elephant’s ears, eyes and anus). Elephants live in constant fear of pain. A trainer on the documentary states that bullhooks in the hands of someone uncaring or unthinking can create a significant amount of damage (physically and mentally). A vet for circus elephants also described the screams he would often hear from the elephant training sessions. How else, but through blunt force, could a human train a 12,000 lbs animal to balance on one leg?! And why do millions support this each and every year? Joyce Poole hopes it is because the majority of the public does not know the horrors and animal abuse the elephants are subjected to. These millions of people, children to aged adults, could not be that cruel, could they? Many circuses claim that they are simply having the elephant re-enact things they do naturally in the wild. However, as Joyce Poole states, when she sees an elephant in a circus, “it looks like and elephant, but it is not behaving like an elephant.” They may be agile, but never has she or Cynthia Moss, seen an elephant in the wild sit on their heads, or walk on their hind legs. That is purely for human entertainment. After this portion of the documentary, it is evident that there is an elephant in the room. The problem is, that the elephant is in a room. This is a call to get elephants out of the room. To get elephants out of circuses. But where would they go?

3. Zoo reform. This section of the film starts with a look at PAWS, a sanctuary in California for retired circus elephants. They are hoping their sanctuary will raise the bar for all elephants in captivity. In CA, it is still legal for elephants to be chained for up to 18 hours a day. With their natural need to graze and walk, many elephants develop ticks like swaying back and forth while chained so that the endorphins can be released allowing them to feel like they have been moving. However, PAWS is confident that reform is possible: “You can fix a zoo…You can’t fix a circus.”

And the Oakland Zoo is highlighted as an exemplary zoo fixing itself. Trainers there recognize it is not ideal for elephants to live in captivity, but the truth of the matter is, they do. So it’s time to make the best of it, and treat them with the respect they deserve. In the past, zoos used a method of elephant training called “free contact” allowing the trainers to be in the same enclosure with the elephants using bullhooks to control them, which often led serious problems including trainer deaths. However, today the Oakland Zoo uses a non-contact method and target poles which allows the elephant to be in control of itself and the human to be safe, not entering the elephant enclosure. Although there are many mixed feelings about zoos from scientists who work with elephants in the wild, it is widely accepted that as long as there are zoos, it is imperative to provide the best possible environment for elephants. This means real grass, larger areas for grazing, multiple elephants for socialization and no human contact in the yard. The Oakland Zoo hopes that more zoos follow their lead in elephant care, so that the elephants can continue to provide opportunities to teach future generations about this magnificent animal and create future advocates for elephants. And advocates are something elephants desperately need. According to Dr. Ross MacPhee, elephants have been around for 50,000 years, inhabiting every continent in the world except Australia and Antarctica. How is it that in the past 10,000 years their survival has collapsed to where it is today? Leading us into the final point of the film.


WorldNews NBC 1500 elephant tusks seized enroute to China

4. The Ivory Trade. Currently it is estimated that 38,000 elephants are killed each year for their ivory. That gives us about 10 more years before the elephant will be extinct. And when the elephant is extinct, this will affect the entire ecosystem. There are 38 trees in the forest of central Africa that rely solely on the elephant for propagation. Many species of birds and small mammals rely on elephants ofr water and food. And humans aren’t exempt. As stated in the film, “It’s a fallacy to think that human beings are separate from the rest of life.” Not caring for the elephant, not caring for the ecosystem, simply shortens the time of survival left for us here on earth. And if we can’t learn this lesson from the elephants, the world’s largests living land mammal, who can teach us?

Elephants are the last great majestic animals. It’s time for creative solutions to be found for elephants, the world’s largest land mammal, to continue to live in harmony with humans, the world’s most dominant land mammal.

The question remains, will the solution be found before it’s too late?


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Earth Day: Earth Week

Enjoy this peaceful “elephant zen” from Wildlife Conservation Society!

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It’s Earth Day: Earth Week and here are some stories to inspire you to be an elephant advocate!
1. Shared from iWorry: A letter from Aspen Elementary School, Colorado, USA calling on world leaders to stop elephant poaching and the illegal ivory trade in China. The next generation is calling on governments around the world to take action for elephants! If you haven’t done so already, you can also write your own letter to Chinese Ambassadors. Find out more at

Letter from school children shared from iWorry

2. Elaine Ross wrote, and played, all instruments and vocals on the single “Where Will It End”, with a little bit of help from her 7 year old niece who sings a part as well as a lot of the artwork for the video. The song and video are about conservation issues and ALL profits from the sale go directly to Elephant Nature Park who are fully aware of the fundraising. Elaine hopes to not only raise funds but also make people aware of how critical the conservation of species and protection of habitat and ocean are right now. (Read her story and listen to her song in the The Huffington Post article “Can Sharks And iTunes Rescue Elephants“)

3. YOU - children in a school have written a letter to various governmental leaders. A woman and her niece wrote a powerful song with proceeds going towards elephant care. How can you be an innovative conservationist? (for more inspiring stories click here) The possibilities are endless.

“Creativity is contagious - pass it on!

~Albert Einstein

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Earth Day: Earth Week

Earth Day: Earth Week

EARTH DAY & EVERY DAY WISDOM from Daphne Sheldrick:

“We share our earth with Elephants; we care, feel and love just as they do. As highly intelligent animals who have walked this earth longer than mankind we owe it to them to protect them and speak up for them, while there is still time. All life has just one home – the earth – and we as the dominant species must take care of it.”

(Photograph “Walk With Me” from National Geographic, Photo by Doug Croft)

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Earth Day, Elephants and YOU

screenshot_60Happy Earth Day, Happy Earth Week. This is a chance to think about the world we live in and see where we all fit in. An opportunity for reflection and action. Take a moment today, or sometime this week, to go sit outside. Close your eyes and just listen. What do you hear? Birds? Wind in the trees? Traffic? People? Now open your eyes. What do you see? A lizard? Plants? Concrete sidewalks? Buildings? No matter if it’s man-made or natural, there is one thing that unites us all: the earth.

Indeed as Wendell Berry put it, “the earth is what we all have in common.”

Regardless of your political & religious views, your economic standing or the color of your hair, skin and eyes, humanity, animals, plants and water all share the earth. And what we do with our time and resources does make a difference.

For instance, when elephants walk through high grass, they provide food for the birds by disrupting insects, bugs and reptiles in their path. Or when elephants dig water holes in dry riverbeds using their tusks, the depressions created by their footprints trap rainfall providing water for other species. Or when elephants eat, they act as seed dispensers through their fecal matter. Often, dung beetles and termites carry their feces below ground, causing the soil to become more aerated and further distributing the nutrients. And these are just a few examples of how the actions of elephants impacts the environment and species around them, in a positive manner.

This challenged me to examine what I do and how it affects the world around me. First off, how do I use what I have to improve the lives of others around me? How often do I walk to the store (it’s a block away from where I live) vs. driving? When I am using my water, am I being wasteful or am I conserving so that there is more to be used by others? Do I buy only the amount of food I need, or do I buy excess and end up wasting food that I could have shared with others?

Secondly, how do I use my resources to make positive impacts on the wildlife around me? Do I feed the birds my old breadcrumbs? Do I plant my own herbs and small vegetables? Do I use cleaners that are good for the environment? Do I create places of sanctuary for birds, bees, insects, etc? Do I pick up trash I see in my neighborhood?

I want the actions of my life to leave a positive trail behind me. Elephants are a keystone species to their surroundings. Other plants and animals depend on the elephant for survival. Humans are no different. We too are keystone species and many plants and animals, especially in our concrete jungles, depend on us to help them survive.

This week is earth week. It’s a great time to reflect. But let’s make sure that it doesn’t just end in thinking. As Walt Disney said, “the way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing.”

Looking for some practical ways to help the world’s largest land mammal? Here are few things I am doing that you might find helpful as well.

1. Foster an orphaned elephant. I sponsor Naipoki through the David Sheldrick Wildlife Foundation

2. Volunteer at your local zoo (be sure to check if it’s an accredited AZA one) or animal shelter

3. Sign petitions and write letters to local and international governments letting them know how important elephants are and how we must stop the ivory trade (begin by signing Elephantopia’s petition today - then visit iWorry and KillTheTrade to find more ways for your voice to be heard).

4. Share facts about elephants with your family and friends. It’s surprising how many people do not know about the impending extinction of these great creatures (every M/W/F Elephantopia posts elephant facts on Facebook. Easy way to share with your family and friends too!)

5. Subscribe to this blog, LIKE it on Facebook & FOLLOW on twitter to keep up with the latest information on elephants around the world.

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