Did you know Asian elephants are endangered?
Asian elephants are classified as ‘Endangered’ on the IUCN Red List, the official list of species facing extinction. This is one grade worse than African elephants, currently listed as ‘Vulnerable’. The endangered status means over the last three generations, the population has declined by more than 70%. And, in the next three generations, the population is projected to decline by at least another 50%.
Habitat loss, Human-elephant conflict (HEC), and poaching have reduced wild Asian elephant numbers to around 30,000 individuals. In the 1900’s, there may have been as many as one million wild Asian elephants. By comparison, today’s numbers are grim.
Asian elephants are losing their habitat to human encroachment. Large scale industries and government concessions for plantations such as palm oil and rubber, dams, industrial parks, and mining are destroying and fragmenting elephant forests. The shrinking and fragmentation of elephant land cuts off ancient migratory routes and isolates wild elephant herds, making it difficult for them to mingle and breed.
Preservation of elephant habitat is essential. Elephants are a keystone species, meaning preserving and protecting their habitat will also save many other species too.
Unlike Africa, where tens of thousands of elephants are killed every year for their ivory, poachers in Asia seek to capture elephants alive. Most of these elephants are babies and are sold to the tourism industry. Many of these babies are trafficked across international borders before reaching their final tourist destination. Some illegally caught wild babies become prisoners of temples and rich private owners, who show off their smuggled elephants as status symbols.