Posts Tagged ‘poaching’

Stepping Through ZAM: Day 7, Savannah Module

by | April 5th, 2012

Franette Armstrong is taking us with her on her adventures in Zoo Ambassador Training.

 

 

 

Elephantasia…. The condition of being delirious with love for Elephants after tonight’s two-hour lecture on the world’s largest land mammals. Colleen Kinzley, Director of Animal Care, Conservation, and Research has been working with Elephants for over 25 years and played a major role in changing the way zoos take care of them today…and in the near future. We’ll be seeing the results of that on Saturday.

Colleen Kinzley, a recognized expert in humane Elephant care.

But first, let me introduce you to some things you might not know about these massive walking wonders and see if I can make you fall under their spell the way Colleen did for us.

 

 

Major Bigness

Elephants have huge heads, as we can see, but their skulls are light because they are honeycombed with open sinuses. The lower jaw is very dense, however, to support their heavy trunks.

Inside that skull is the largest brain of all mammals. It weighs about eleven pounds but is only about one-third developed at birth, so it has enormous learning potential, like humans do. Most animals are born with all the brain connections they will have their entire lives, while Elephants and humans learn as they go, create memories, and act on those memories. It might not be true that an Elephant never forgets, but we know for sure they are capable of creating vast memory banks over their 60-70 year lifespan.

An Elephant head is a major marvel. Photo credit Steve Goodall

The heart of an Elephant weighs up to 40 pounds. Their huge kidneys make about 13 gallons of urine daily! One hundred feet of intestines only absorb 40-60% of the nutrients they eat, which is one reason they eat constantly. In the wild, Elephants forage up to 17 hours a day. Here at the Zoo our Keepers feed them hourly from dawn ‘til nearly midnight and then put them to bed with snacks.

Major Specialization

We have already learned that Elephants are Keystone animals in their environments: If they disappear, the entire ecosystem around them is likely to collapse. One reason for this is that they bulldoze everything in sight, clearing young trees from the Savannah so that grasses can grow and grazing hoofstock will have food.

But eating branches all day long requires special chewing molars and Elephants get six sets of four over a lifetime. A single tooth can weigh about five pounds. Go lift a 5-lb barbell and imagine having a bunch of those in your head. Each oblong tooth starts in the back of the mouth and gradually moves forward until it breaks off and gets pushed out by another. This “teething” goes on for about 50 years!

This Elephant lower jawbone shows two molars. Photo credit Honolulu Zoo

 

Elephants also have huge ivory tusks, as we know. The tusks are extended incisor teeth made up of calcium phosphate soft enough to be carved, and that is the root of all their troubles. As useful as they are for breaking branches, fighting and digging, these tusks have led to more elephant deaths from poaching than any natural cause.

We only see 2/3 of the tusks as the rest is embedded in the skull. They can grow about 7 inches a year and weigh 130 pounds each, but if they break, the broken end doesn’t grow back and a break can lead to a jaw infection because the tusk is full of nerves and veins like our teeth.

Since Elephants don’t have chainsaws or shovels, their highly evolved trunks take the place of tools for reaching, digging, and clever manipulation of anything they want to turn into food, or tools. Their trunks are an extension of their nose and upper lip and contain over 150,000 muscle parts.

Elephants are either right- or left-tusked the way most people have a dominant hand. You can tell which is the dominant tusk because it will be shorter and smoother from the extra use. Photo credit Steve Goodall

 

 

 

Elephants can breathe underwater, using their trunks as a snorkel, and the trunks become showers, shovels and gentle hands to care for their calves, themselves and each other.

African Elephants have a “two-fingered” trunk unlike Asian Elephants which only have one finger. Photo credit Steve Goodall

 

 

 

 

 

These giants tred lightly on feet that walk like cats and dogs—on the balls of their toes—which are protected by a spongey pad and thick nails. When they step down their feet expand and when they lift them they get smaller, so this is why, as heavy as they are, they don’t get stuck in their mudbaths. Those feet, capable of holding up a 9000-pound animal, are very  important and our Keepers take foot care very seriously, giving each of our Elephants a pedicure every single day.

Elephants can stand up all day long without getting tired because they can lock their leg joints so their muscles stay relaxed. Though they can’t run, hop, or gallop, they can move nearly 25 miles mph in a gait that takes three of their feet off the ground at one time.

 

Elephant feet, capable of holding up a 9000-pound animal, are very important. Our Keepers give each of our Elephants a complete pedicure every single day. Photo credit Steve Goodall

 

Elephants communicate with infrasound— calls and rumbles that are so low in  frequency we can only “hear” them with electronics. These calls can travel several miles and Elephants use them to warn each other of danger (like bees and lions) and let each other know where they are.

 

Major Mating

Musth. That’s Hindu for “intoxication” and a male Elephant in musth is pretty much out of his mind with a sudden testosterone surge that can last two months or more. He’ll stop eating, rip through forests yanking out trees, fight any male that crosses his path, and concentrate only on getting every female to himself. He can lose 2000 pounds from all this excess energy.

And females actually consider these crazed musth males desirable—as mates, and as protection from the other suitors who would just as soon bug them night and day. All this works out because only the most fit males go into musth and the healthiest females get them for their mates, producing calves with the best chance of survival.

Elephant herds are nearly always made up of females and their young because males are pushed out to fend for themselves when they hit puberty and start playing too roughly with younger calves. While the females are cooperatively caring for the kids, the males battle each other for dominance and the rights to mate females from other herds. What else is new?

Major Problems

African and Asian Elephants are all that are left of their 600 now-extinct ancestors, including the Wooly Mammoth which actually lived right here in the Oakland Hills an Ice Age or two ago. Asian Elephants are highly threatened at this time and, if we don’t watch out, we could someday lose our African Elephants too.

These Elephants can live free without fear of culling in the Amboseli National Reserve in Kenya.

Ivory poachers continue to take more Elephants than any natural or accidental causes of death: Even the strongest Elephant is no match for automatic weapons, high-speed vehicles and new laws that allow much more killing.

On top of this, culling (killing) has become the solution of choice in areas where Elephants and people have different ideas about how the land is to be used.

Traditionally, Africans were nomadic people who lived harmoniously with their wild animals, but ranching and farming changed all that. Now you have a situation where 800 million people are trying to survive on land that is not that hospitable to start with. In fifty years that population will more than double and what will become of Elephants then?

This situation is similar to the near-extinction of millions of American Bison in the 1800s when barbed wire cut up their territories and gunpowder did the rest of the work. Human/animal conflicts occur everywhere, so no society can point fingers of blame. What we can do is help find alternatives before it’s too late. Projects like beehive fences are proving it doesn’t have to be an us/them proposition.

Major Efforts

Colleen, and our Zoo’s President & CEO, Dr. Joel Parrott, have led efforts here to raise over $100,000 since 1988 for the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in Kenya. Next time you are at the Zoo, you can use your Conservation Quarter to “vote” for this research project that is helping to protect the amazing wild Elephants of Africa.

On Saturday our class is getting an incredible treat: a visit to the Elephant barns to see our groundbreaking methods of getting Elephants to participate in their own care. More about this later.

Of Tusks and Terror: The Truth about Ivory

by | March 14th, 2012

The cross section of a tusk. If you look closely, you can see the diamond shaped pattern, also known as the Lines of Retzius, one reason why ivory is so desired.

What you might think you know about the ivory trade on African Elephants may be information of the past if you haven’t done your current research. Did you know that there are currently 40,000 African Elephants killed every year for their tusks? These incredibly high numbers are estimating that in fifteen years, African Elephants could be close to, if not extinct. Did you know that in the past decade the price of ivory has been driven from a measly twenty dollars to over fifteen hundred dollars per kilogram? The bau fa hu, or “suddenly wealthy” rapidly growing middle class in China has driven this price to skyrocket. Did you know that after China, the USA is the second biggest importer of illicit ivory in the world? Shame, shame. And for what? Greed? Wealth? Vanity?

In the late seventies an estimated 1.3 million African Elephants existed. Ten years later less than half remained, an average of 600,000. The cause? Poaching, second to habitat loss due to a doubling in human population.  Major public awareness campaigns were commenced worldwide to try and halt this vicious trade. The Amboeseli Elephant Research Project were critical players in the development of these campaigns and

African Elephant Distribution Map. Numbers are thought to be less than 400,000 total.

making people aware of and care about elephants. Proudly, in October 1989 at the seventh CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) Convention of the Parties, governments banned the international trade of ivory. Other countries to the Convention, such as the United States, United Kingdom, and France also began to ban any import as well. In that same year, Kenya made a bold statement by burning a stockpile of twelve tons of ivory, bringing together a large community of people with a shared interest of the survival of the species. What happened next? Exactly what was hoped for, the demand went down and ivory lost its value from 300 dollars per kilo to three dollars a kilo. Elephants could now live in peace, populations began to regenerate. Kenya, who had lost ninety percent of its elephants, from 167,000 down to 16,000, now thrives at 37,000. Although the ban was mostly successful, small amounts of poaching continued mainly in West and Central Africa, where local markets existed as well as small amounts of exports to the Far East.

As populations began to thrive again, what happened next? At the next CITES Convention in 1997, Botswana, Namibia, and Zimbabwe began to down list their elephants to a less endangered status. This meant less protection for the elephants. A year later, 190 tusks and additional pieces weighing a total of 1.45 tons was seized by Taiwanese port police. The same three countries listed above were given permission to sell stockpile ivory to CITES-designated buyers, 50 tons were exported to Japan. Other countries wanted to follow suit, as did South Africa in 2000. In June, 2002 6.5 tons of ivory was seized by Singapore authorities, the largest shipment of illegal ivory since the 1989 ban. Regardless of the increased illegal activity and confiscations, at the 2002 CITES meeting Botswana, Namibia, and

Ivory signature carvings, known as "chops" in China, and hanko to the Japanese. A sign of wealth.

South Africa was given permission to export 60 tons of ivory. This sale occurred in 2008, and over 108 tons went to Japan and China. Now we’re starting to see a pattern forming, aren’t we?  Giving these countries permission to sell the stock-piled ivory, in hopes of boosting the economy, only boosted Japan and China’s appetite for the ivory, increasing its value, therefore increasing the illegal activity as well. The more valuable the ivory becomes, the more elephants are being slaughtered.

So what is happening today? Do you want the bad news or the even worse news? An estimated 470,000 elephants remain today, which has gone down from an estimated 600,000 in 1989. According to scientist Sam Wasser, an estimated 38,000 are being killed every year for their tusks. Dr. Wasser is a ivory DNA specialist, in where he discovered how to find where seizures of ivory originated from according to the DNA of the ivory. This is an extremely valuable tool in pinpointing where illegal activity is occurring so governments can be questioned and more policing can occur. Between 2007 and 2009 over 2,000 confiscations have occurred, a large increase from years past. The demand in China has escalated since the stockpile sales, with ivory carving factories and sales on the rise. If only a small percentage of the 1.3 billion people of China purchase ivory, elephants are in big trouble. Ivory now sells for 1500 dollars a kilo in the Far East. Although on the ground in Kenya, its value is much lower, a small pair of tusks could bring a poacher as much as 400 dollars, more than a casual worker makes in a year.

The incentive is paramount.

Kenya takes another stand against the illegal ivory trade, another burning took place in 2011.

With more breaking news, there has been a massacre of over 400 elephants in Cameroon’s Bouba N’Djida National Park, over a period of just eight weeks. Illegal activity has been known to occur in this area, but not to this degree so quickly. Poachers are believed to have entered the park from the Chad border and were heavily armed, selling the ivory for money, guns, and ammunition. The total population of Cameroon’s elephants is believed to be as little as 1,000 individuals. In the past week over one hundred Cameroonian soldiers have been sent in to secure the park.

What can we do to stop these amazing creatures from vanishing? One easy way to help is to get the word out there. In such a technologically savvy world today, telling everyone you know about what you’ve learned about the current status of African Elephants is easy. Blog about it, facebook it, tweet it. Spread the word, and help make everyone aware!

Please join the Oakland Zoo in May for our annual Celebrating Elephants Day, where we increase public awareness about elephant welfare, and raise money for the Amboeseli Trust for Elephants.