For 30 years we have supported elephant conservation, both by helping to pass AB96, a law which closes loopholes on the ivory trade, and by also donating and raising over $1.3 million to the cause.
The world’s largest land mammal, the elephant, is in trouble. African elephants are going extinct due to loss of habitat, human-wildlife conflict, and the most significant threat: poaching. Poachers kill 55 elephants daily for their tusks. Oakland Zoo envisions a future for elephants free from poaching, with long-term survival and coexistence with humans. Oakland Zoo is committed to protecting elephants in the wild by supporting partners who combat and prevent poaching and address other elephant conservation issues with creative and inclusive solutions.
Over the next decade, poachers will kill one fifth of the wild African elephant population to remove their tusks (ivory). The ivory is illegally trafficked throughout the world for jewelry, souvenirs, and traditional medicine. The illegal wildlife trade is a $19 billion industry run by criminal organizations and has funded genocides, wars, and acts of terrorism in Africa. Elephants are incredibly intelligent and empathetic. It has been documented that the violent act of poachers butchering an individual from the herd leads to post-traumatic stress disorder in surviving individuals and orphaned babies.
Habitat loss and fragmentation are a significant threat to the continuing survival of elephants. The roads, infrastructure, and human sprawl that break up or fragment animal habitats are having a negative impact on wild elephant populations. Smaller elephant herds make it difficult for them to survive, leading to inbreeding, which negatively impacts birth rates. Ultimately, the clearance of land use has resulted in lost habitat that will eventually lead to a diminishment of elephants worldwide.
As humans and elephants increase their fight for space, the human-elephant conflict has started to rise. As human populations grow and move further out from cities, forest and savanna habitats are disappearing to loggers and farmers. The loss of wild habitat means depleted food sources for elephants. This results in elephants seeking out ranches for food, trampling crops, damaging properties, and becoming a dangerous nuisance to humans. Farmers have retaliated against the elephants to protect their livelihood, and in some cases, they have been caught in snares that were intended to catch lions or other large predators.
Oakland Zoo is committed to protecting elephants in the wild with partners who combat and prevent poaching. The Zoo supports the mission of Amboseli Trust for Elephants and Big Life through an annual partnership grant that helps them combat ivory poaching. Big Life has a rapid response team that chases elephants out of farms, thereby reducing human-wildlife conflict.
By partnering with World Conservation Society’s 96 Elephants campaign, Oakland Zoo helped change California legislation to close the loophole of ivory sales. Additionally, the Zoo’s work to bring awareness of circuses using bullhooks on elephants helped ban bullhooks in Oakland. Other cities across the United States followed suit, resulting in Ringling Bros. to retire all of its elephants in 2016, essentially ending the use of elephants in traveling circuses.
Oakland Zoo provides yearly professional training for field conservation partners and offers a myriad of staff skills and resources to enhance elephant conservation efforts.
Oakland Zoo shares conservation issues facing elephants and empowering solutions to conserve them to the public through a variety of channels: Docents and Volunteers, Teen Wild Guides, Education programs, events, exhibits, campaigns, Keeper Talks, and media stories.
Oakland Zoo’s Eco-Travel to Kenya includes a special visit with Amboseli Trust for Elephants, which provides authentic assistance with hands-on work, engagement with the local community, and needed supplies. The eco-trip also includes visiting and supporting Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage with vital supplies and resources for elephants. Oakland Zoo offers travel participants a unique glimpse into the complexities of conservation issues and solutions to positively impact our partner projects, our travelers, and wildlife.
Oakland Zoo is home to two African elephants: Donna and Osh (beloved elephant Lisa passed in March 2023). The zoo leads the way in humane care of elephants by using a protected contact method, meaning an animal keeper and an elephant never share the same restricted space. Instead, keepers work with elephants through a protected barrier and elephants engage in their daily health care checks through a positive reinforcement training method. Because the positive reinforcement involves their favorite foods, the elephants generally cooperate; however, if they choose not to, they are never forced. Oakland Zoo is proud to offer a 6-acre habitat, with a pool, for its elephants. The elephant habitat at Oakland Zoo is the largest zoo elephant enclosure in the United States, and is approved by PETA.
The Amboseli Trust for Elephants is the longest running African elephant field research project in the world, providing integral, comprehensive long-term research to create realistic solutions to help eliminate the ivory trade.
96 Elephants brings together world citizens, partners, thought leaders, and change makers to leverage collective influence to stop the killing, stop the trafficking, and stop the demand for ivory.