Elephants – World Wildlife Day (03.03.16)
3rd March, is World Wildlife Day. This year’s theme is ‘The future of wildlife is in our hands”, with a particular focus on African and Asian elephants.
This is good news as elephants, like rhinos, continue to stand on the edge of oblivion, largely because of the dramatic escalation in organised crime’s interest in their ivory/horns, but also because of human land encroachment.
What impact does tourism have on elephant protection?
I believe it has a good one. Growing at 4% annually, tourism is an often underappreciated force for good. When managed well, tourism can provide an essential buffer between existence and extinction. Making an often vital contribution to the local economy, social welfare and all round education process, tourism in some cases not only improves the livelihoods of local people but has been directly linked to the development of elephant conservation. Indeed the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) list ‘Supporting the development of ecotourism’ as a top priority.
Further to my previous ‘Elephants – En Route to Extinction’ blog posting two years ago, some of the statistics on African and Asian elephant numbers remain alarming. For example, the recent Great Elephant Census highlighted some bad news: 53% of Tanzanian elephants have disappeared, with numbers dropping from 109,000 to 51,000 between 2009 and 2015. Equally Mozambique has seen a 48% decrease in just five years.
The good news however, is that tourism can take direct credit for successes in other regions. For example, in Botswana the elephant population has remained stable, with particular successes in some of our Nomadic Thoughts’ favourite destinations – Chobe, Savuti and Okavango. Equally, Uganda, which has seen a significant upturn in tourism numbers, has also witnessed an increase from 1,000 during the troubled 1970/80s, to over 5,000 today.
In Asia, the welfare of elephants continues to be as thorny an issue as survival. As millions of international tourists visit the 13 countries with over 40,000 elephants, the huge opportunity to highlight elephant issues increases year on year. Thailand, for example, is very much a mainstream tourist destination with up to 30 million annual visitors. In recent years tourists, along with tour operators, have been instrumental in highlighting the plight of not only the 3,000-4,000 domestic elephants, but also those 2,500-3,200 in the wild.
Good practice animal husbandry has a long way to go, but the Thai government has at least banned the use of elephants in commercial logging, thereby releasing huge numbers of working elephants. It is also now slowly becoming unacceptable to attract tourists by using elephants for entertainment. Thailand is gradually coming into line with worldwide concerns over the use of performing circus animals.
So as this year’s World Wildlife Day highlights the plight of these magnificent animals, the hope is that tourism can continue to trumpet responsible, sustainable and long-term elephant protection.