The elephant is the largest land mammal, very intelligent and hyper-social. Fifty countries have wild elephant populations: 37 in Africa and 13 in Asia; although in some countries the populations have declined significantly and only handfuls of individual animals are believed to still exist in the wild.
There are two species of African elephants: the forest elephant of Central and West Africa (Loxodonta cyclotis) and the bush or savannah elephant (Loxodonta africana). In Asia, there is one species (Elephas maximus) but at least four sub-species are recognised: Mainland, Sri Lankan, Sumatran and the Bornean sub-species, sometimes called pygmy elephants. Both
Elephants in nature live in a complex, multi-layered, matriarchal society comprised of family units of related females and offspring; a parallel hierarchy of males compete for the attention of receptive females. Elephants live for up to 70 years and reach sexual maturity in their teens, which means social groups often consist of three or more generations. Grandparents can pass their knowledge on to generations. For instance, while a mother can teach the location of day-to-day foraging, drinking and bathing sites to their young, if there is a once-in-50-year’s drought, it is the oldest members of the herd who will remember how to survive.
In Asia, captive elephants are still widely used in cultural and religious settings whose origins date back thousands of years. Historically, elephants have been regarded as a status symbol and a prestigious gift as well as being used for transport and physical labour. Elephants also have a special role in religion, being kept at some temples and used in ceremonial and religious events.
The H-ELP Foundation’s work centres on training mahouts and elephant owners as well as veterinarians and health care professionals to train and manage the elephants in their care in the most humane and effective way. However COVID-19 has created severe economic restrictions to the elephant camp owners, and so the elephants in many cases are starving. The pictures we have seen are really horrendous. The recent drought in South East Asia has made things even worse in that respect and so more expense is needed to transport food to the elephant camps. As a result, the H-ELP Foundation has broadened its vision to include raising money to keep elephants alive and to provide veterinary care as well.