The plight of elephants in Africa is widely recognised. But far less is known of the even more desperate threats facing Asian (or Asiatic) elephants, whose surviving population is barely 5% that of African elephants. Official statistics are mostly estimates based on data of varying quality, and so can be unreliable. But the picture is bleak: numbers of Asian elephants have declined from estimates of a million or more in the late 19th Century to scarcely 40,000 today. Around 30,000 of these exist in the wild (of which about 60% in India) and around 10,000 are captive. The majority inhabit the Indian subcontinent (India and Sri Lanka). Although their range has diminished drastically, elephants are also still found, in dwindling numbers, in parts of Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, Indonesia, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and China. In some places, such as Java, the indigenous elephant population is now completely lost. The Asian elephant has been classified as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since 1986, the population having declined by over 50% in its past three generations, estimated at 60 to 75 years.
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The dramatic collapse in Asian elephant numbers (of all four subspecies – Indian, Sri Lankan, Bornean and Sumatran) is chiefly attributable to the degradation and loss of their natural habitat, to their live capture for brutal commercial exploitation for human entertainment and to ivory poaching. Their natural forest habitat is increasingly encroached upon and fragmented by burgeoning human habitation and cultivation, forcing the elephants into contact with man, when they are shot or poisoned. Many more die from electrocution from power cables and collisions with trains. Surviving herds are smaller and cut off from other groups as their ancient migratory routes (‘corridors’) are obstructed by human activity. This impedes gene flow and genetic strength, increasing their vulnerability to disease and illness. Few concessions are made for the wellbeing of captive elephants. The treatment they receive – babies and adults alike – is often brutal, as our Gallery of photographs shows.
After millions of years, Asian elephants face extinction in our lifetime and by our hands.
Save The Asian Elephants is a not for profit association of prominent professionals, experts and campaigners that informs public opinion on the brutal capture, beating, poaching and abuse for festivals and tourism of these wondrous but beleaguered creatures and the plunder of their habitat; and exerts influence on governments, politicians and the tourist industry to adopt solutions it advances.
Save The Asian Elephants works to end the terrible cruelty and brutal conditions suffered by this wondrous and ancient species. Intense though our feelings may be, STAE is respectful of the culture and traditions of the countries with whom it engages. It dissociates itself from any abuse as unworthy as well as counterproductive. Indeed devising proposals and implementing solutions for the elephants is a collective responsibility not of India or the other range states alone, but of all mankind: the explosion in the commercial exploitation of Asian elephants in recent decades through unethical tourism that occasions so much brutality has been fuelled chiefly by businesses and their customers from outside India and South East Asia.