Elephants mourn. Dogs love. Why do we deny the feelings of other species?

Carl Safina in The Guardian October, 2017

Last week footage of five young elephants being captured in Zimbabwe to sell to zoos travelled round the world. Parks officials used helicopters to find the elephant families, shot sedatives into the young ones, then hazed away family members who came to the aid of the drugged young ones as they fell.

The film, shared exclusively with the Guardian, showed the young captives being trussed up and dragged on to trucks. In the final moments of footage, two men repeatedly kick a small dazed elephant in the head.

Removing young elephants from their parents and sending them into captivity is largely justified on the basis that they do not feel and suffer as we do. For decades we have been admonished against anthropomorphism – imbuing animals with human-type emotions such as sadness or love.

Scientists have watched rats’ brains as they dream, and dogs’ brains showing love. In fact, sperm whales’ family structure is nearly identical to that of elephants. Animals living in stable social groups – apes and monkeys, wolves and wild dogs, hyenas and cats, various birds, some dolphins and others, know who they are and whom they are with.

Mammals and birds, likely all vertebrates, experience pleasure, pain, and fear that guide them within the boundaries of survival. Octopuses are molluscs but they recognise human faces and use tools as well as most apes. Pet dogs recognise photos of people they know. Orcas frequently live into their 50s (rarely to 100), but sons and daughters never leave their mothers. Similar revelations and new discoveries appear with increasing frequency. Ours are not the only hearts and minds on this planet. We are not alone. We have company.

I have spent decades amassing insights into animal cognition, emotion, and family lives. For that, elephants provide a perfect trifecta. Elephants actually have superhuman senses, so life for elephants is likely superhumanly vivid. Their hearing is far better than ours, and while we hear their pealing trumpeting, they communicate largely with sounds too low for humans to detect. Often when you are near elephants you can feel vibrations in your chest from their loud rumbling calls that you cannot hear. Using special sensory receptors in their feet – unlike anything we possess – they can detect these rumbles from many miles away. This is probably why elephants often seem to know when distant elephants are being killed, and why they have been spotted running uphill before humans when a tsunami is on its way.

Elephants are most touching with the care they devote to their young and siblings. Several years ago in Kenya’s Amboseli national park, Dr Vicki Fishlockand I watched elephant families on their daily commute. Some of the elephants bathed in a spring-fed pool, but when they emerged shiny and wet, one stay-behind adult had not yet entered the water. Her baby was hesitant. The mother was patient, tapping the water with her trunk as if to indicate her intention. We watched the patient mother enter the water with her baby. The baby got alongside, wrapping her trunk around her mother’s right tusk for support. Soon the water floated the baby, and the mother, with her own trunk, guided her child to the farther shore.

Mothers and aunties help newborns stand; babies spend their first several years within two paces of their mother; family members rush to help any baby who tangles in tall grass, or trips, or announces need of help. (Babies sometimes exploit their power for getting attention; in humans we call this being spoilt.) Elephant mothers and daughters stay together longer than any land animal – often 40 to 60 years. Elephants know and keep track of hundreds of individuals and dozens of families. Some families are particularly good friends and often visit and spend time together. If unfamiliar elephants show up, they immediately notice. They know who they are, whom they are with, who their enemies are, and where they are. They don’t just exist – they have lives.

Breaking these extraordinary care-bonds triggers intense emotional suffering for elephants, explains Cynthia Moss, who has studied elephants for more than 40 years. Dr Gay Bradshaw, in Elephants on the Edge, argues persuasively that elephants’ brain chemistry makes them experience post-traumatic stress identically to humans. Dame Daphne Sheldrick, who has half a century’s experience with traumatised orphans, told me matter of factly: “An elephant can die of grief.” She has seen it.

The fact is that elephants are acutely conscious. The neuroscientist Christof Koch defines consciousness simply as “the thing that feels like something”. When we are given total anaesthesia, or are “knocked unconscious”, we lose the experience of all sensory input. We cease to feel, hear, see. Regaining consciousness simply means we again experience our sensory input, quite as if our senses had been unplugged from our brain and then reconnected.

Why do we deny and ignore the feelings of other species against everything science and our own senses show us? Two reasons: our favourite story is that humans are absolutely unique and special in every way. Acknowledging that other animals have mental and emotional experiences spoils our conceit. The other reason: denying that other animals feel allows us to do to them whatever we want.

In 1789, Jeremy Bentham pointed out that only one question about what we do to animals really matters. “The question is not, can they reason?; nor, can they talk?; but, can they suffer?” Charles Darwin wryly noted: “Animals, whom we have made our slaves, we do not like to consider our equal.” He hated human slavery, too.

I have seen free-living elephants show most of the virtues and none of the avarice that we show to one another. Their major self-governing principle is not just live and let live, but live and help live. They live in better resonance with themselves and their world. I came away changed.

Carl Safina’s most recent book is Beyond Words; What Animals Think and Feel. A MacArthur fellow, he holds the Endowed Chair for Nature and Humanity at Stony Brook University and is the founder of the not-for-profit Safina Center.


‘What can I do to help elephants?’

Source: The Guardian

There is so much being done to help stop elephants being wiped out in the wild. We’ve identified more than 50 campaigns and organisations around the world, from well-known charities like the World Wide Fund for Nature to grassroots groups like Elephanatics in Canada and Laos-based ElefantAsia. If you think we’ve missed anyone or anything, let us know at elephant.conservation@theguardian.com. We’ll update the list with your suggestions.

Please note, however: presence on this list does not constitute an endorsement. Organisations take differing approaches to elephant conservation, and even the most secure-looking can run into financial difficulties. As a conscientious giver it is your responsibility to make sure your contribution will be used wisely.

Illustration: Sarah Tanat-Jones

Set up petitions, organise marches, lobby politicians or just spread the word: there are a number of ways in which you can campaign and really make an impact. There are many inspiring grassroots groups that do amazing work; why not join one of these, or set up your own if there’s none in your country? 

  • Petitioning can be a useful way to impress on politicians that there is widespread support for an issue. In the UK a petition to end the domestic ivory trade got over 100,000 signatures and forced a debate in parliament.
  • Lobbying politicians sounds like a big job; in fact politicians in many countries are very willing to listen to voters. In Canada Elephanatics has been working with MP Mike Farnworth, who has now introduced a private member’s bill calling for a ban on the sale of ivory and rhino horn. Search out sympathetic politicians and then support them with petitions and letters to other MPs.
  • Marches and demonstrations can show support for policy that will protect elephants. Groups in over 130 countries including Kenya, New Zealand and the US organised local demonstrations as part of the annual Global March for Elephants and Rhinos last year.
  • Educating people about the situation for elephants can be very effective. Youth 4 African Wildlife in South Africa offers a conservation internship for young adults and also runs a great community outreach programme.
  • Get creative A group of photographers and writers published a book (called 32 Souls, because Laotians believe that elephants and humans have 32 life spirits that guard us from misfortune and ill health) to raise money for the Elephant Conservation Centre in Laos.

Action for Elephants

Bloody Ivory

Even though 179 countries have signed up to Cites, the UN’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, the illegal trade in wild animals remains a multibillion-dollar industry. The Bloody Ivory campaign aims to put pressure on Cites to do more to prevent poaching and ivory trafficking. Its online petition to tackle the black market in ivory has 56,000 signatures (and counting) and will be presented at the next Cites meeting in 2019.


Based in Vancouver, Canada, Elephanatics aims to raise awareness of the poaching crisis and ensure the long-term survival of elephants through education, conservation and fun activities like the annual global march for elephants and rhinos.


Inspired by her childhood in Africa, Joyce Poole has been studying elephant behaviour and communication for more than 30 years. She has a particular interest in how poaching and habitat destruction affects herds’ social dynamics. Through ElephantVoices, which she founded in 2002, Poole campaigns for elephants and promotes research and conservation projects, while providing others with the resources they need to do the same.

Elephant Parade

The social enterprise based in Thailand runs the world’s largest art exhibition of decorated elephant statues. Created by artists and celebrities, the artworks are exhibited in cities across the world to raise awareness for elephant conservation. Limited edition, handcrafted replicas are on sale and 20% of Elephant Parade net profits are donated to elephant welfare and conservation projects.

In 2014, Tanzania, Gabon, Botswana, Chad and Ethiopia established the EPI to encourage elephant range states, NGOs and the private sector to work together to protect elephants, and end both the demand for ivory and the illegal ivory trade. Fifteen African countries are now members of the EPI, all committed to securing a sustainable future for Africa’s elephants. The initiative is supported by Stop Ivory and Conservation International.

Great Elephant Census

Conducting the first pan-African aerial survey of elephant populations in 40 years and covering 345,000 square miles across 18 countries, this ambitious project set out to count and map Africa’s savannah elephants. The final report, published last year, showed a 30% fall in numbers over the last seven years. While the census itself is complete, the organisation is now using its database to help governments, scientists and NGOs manage and protect elephant populations.

International Fund for Animal Welfare

Committed to bringing an end to animal poaching and trafficking, IFAW campaigns for the bolstering of wildlife trade policy with supranational organisations such as the UN and the EU, while helping to train customs agents and wildlife rangers. It also investigates online crime.

Join the Herd

This offshoot of WildAid – one of the largest conservation groups working to eliminate demand for wildlife products such as elephant ivory and rhino horn – is responsible for the #JoinTheHerd campaign. Showing your support is as easy as uploading a photo of yourself – which the website then stitches to one of an elephant – and sharing the resultant image on social media, with the #JoinTheHerd hashtag.

The KOTA Foundation

The advocacy organisation based in Oregon is dedicated to educating and raising awareness to people in the US about everything to do with the African elephant. It partnered with several organisations to get ivory banned in Oregon, and is now working with other states to do the same.

The Nature Conservancy

This non-profit aims to fight ivory trafficking on every front, training rangers, supplying sniffer dogs, working to make ivory less prestigious … Responsible for the #SaveElephants social media campaign, it also provides plenty of highly shareable pictures for your own activities.

Ninety-Six Elephants

Named after the 96 animals killed for their ivory every day in Africa, this offshoot of the Wildlife Conservation Society works to highlight the plight of elephants and supports organisations caring for them around the world. Campaigns include Origami for Elephants (“create your own customised digital origami elephant”) and the #ElephantYogaChallenge (“You can help save elephants with yoga”).

Save the Asian Elephants

Scotland for Elephants and Rhinos

A grassroots organisation dedicated to raising awareness about the ivory trade and the fate of elephants across Africa. It offers a space to share knowledge, lobby government and join marches.

Stand Up for Nature

Founded by two zoology students from the University of Exeter, this little organisation focuses on producing short films that target a wildlife crime or human-wildlife conflict issue. These are then shown to affected communities through a bicycle-powered cinema. In Malawi, Stop Wildlife Crime, Protect Malawi’s Wildlife, about elephants and the illegal ivory trade, was shown to more than 14,000 people.

Voice for Asian Elephants Society

The society aims to better connect humans and Asian elephants by sharing knowledge and personal experiences with elephants through documentaries and public speaking. The first documentary, Gods in Shackles, exposes the darker side of Kerala’s cultural festivities and rituals that exploit captive elephants for profit under the guise of culture and religion.

Wildlife Trade Campaign

This World Wide Fund for Nature initiative is focused on ending Thailand’s ivory trade – once the world’s second largest – and has already enjoyed much success. In 2015, its efforts helped the Thai government to pass new regulations, while last year’s Ivory-Free Thailand campaign enlisted the help of local celebrities to discourage consumers from buying or accepting gifts of ivory.

World Elephant Day

Launched by the World Elephant Society, which creates and distributes educational information about elephant conservation, World Elephant Day (12 August) asks elephant-lovers the world over to share their appreciation of these endangered animals.

Youth 4 African Wildlife

Youth 4 African Wildlife works with young people in the hope that they’ll become global conservation ambassadors. It offers conservation internships for people from all over the world, and also raises awareness through community outreach in the greater Kruger National Park area in South Africa.

Illustration: Sarah Tanat-Jones

If you want to help elephants and have time to spare, these organisations want to hear from you. Some offer hybrid travel and volunteering experiences that will let you interact with elephants in their own habitat. Others need assistance with campaigns or administration. As always, make sure you understand their aims and approaches before signing up.


Burm and Emily’s Elephant Sanctuary

Set in the lush countryside of Thailand’s northern Mae Chaem district, this sanctuary serves as a retirement community for some of the country’s 4,000-plus registered captive elephants, which have endured long lives of hard graft and exploitation, predominantly within the tourism and logging industries. Tasks for volunteers range from feeding and bathing the animals to teaching English to local children.

Cambodia Elephant Sanctuary, Globalteer

With stays at the charity’s Cambodian elephant sanctuary lasting anywhere between one and four weeks, a good level of fitness is a must, as volunteers are expected to spend much of their time hiking through the Mondulkiri province’s mountainous terrain. Activities include observing the elephants in their natural habitat and planting seedlings to counteract deforestation.

Elephant Conservation Center

Elephants in Lagos are traditionally used in logging and worked to the point of exhaustion. The Conservation Center is home to the country’s first elephant hospital dedicated to victims of logging accidents, and has an elephant breeding programme. Reliant on donations and fees from volunteers, the centre invites visitors to learn about elephants and the importance of conservation in their natural environment.

Go Overseas (various projects)

A useful starting point for any well-intentioned volunteer who doesn’t quite know where to start. There are dozens of opportunities across Africa and Asia to choose from, including data collection and research projects in Thailand, community outreach and wildlife education programmes in South Africa, and hands-on caretaking roles in a Sri Lankan elephant sanctuary.

The Great Projects (various projects)

Human-animal conflict is one of the greatest threats to some of the world’s most at-risk elephant populations. The Great Projects links volunteers to conservation efforts in Asia and Africa; these include protecting the Namibian desert elephants – whose slowly recovering numbers were as low as 300 in the 1990s – by working with the local farmers, who frequently come into violent contact with the animals.

Kindred Spirit Elephant Sanctuary

The sanctuary for captive elephants in Thailand works with local communities to provide both a haven for the elephants, and an alternative livelihood for their mahouts and owners. Volunteers can help the sanctuary carry out research on its elephants’ natural behaviours, perform health checks on them and teach English to the community.

Save Elephant Foundation

Dedicated to protecting the Asian elephant, Save Elephant Foundation provides a safe home for rescued elephants in its Elephant Nature Park in Chang Mai, Thailand. It invites volunteers and visitors to spend time with the animals, feeding, bathing and giving them care and affection in their natural habitat.

Saving Elephants by Helping People, Worldwide Experiences 

One of the largest human-elephant conflict resolution projects in the world, this scheme run by the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society sees volunteers muck in across a wide variety of tasks. Daily activities might include observing elephant herds, identifying game trails, developing a dialogue with local communities, or maintaining the scenically situated base camp in north-western Sri Lanka.

Giving money may seem the easiest way to help a cause you believe in. But deciding which organisation to donate to can be a daunting task. Some will use the money across their programmes, while others will let you back specific projects.

Be sure to check that the organisation is legitimate and fits your objectives. Study its website, check its credentials and search the web to learn about its reputation and status. In addition to government regulators, these organisations provide advice for charitable giving: Charity NavigatorGuideStarCharity Watch and GreatNonprofits.


The rangers who risk their lives to prevent wildlife poaching and trafficking make little money and often spend months at a time away from their families. A guaranteed 100% of donations to this WWF-run initiative fund the equipment and infrastructure they need to do their jobs effectively and safely.

Born Free Foundation

For more than 30 years Born Free has been working to keep wildlife in the wild. You can support its work by (symbolically) adopting either orphaned Asian elephant calf Jubilee, or African elephant Emily Kate, who now has a calf of her own. The welcome pack includes a cuddly toy and personalised adoption certificate.

Elephant Crisis Fund

Since its creation three years ago, this joint initiative between Save the Elephants and the Wildlife Conservation Network has channelled donations to the areas where elephant populations are collapsing the quickest, and the projects on the ground best placed to do something about it. Its celebrity-backed anti-ivory campaign in China played a vital role in changing policy in the country.

Elephants Action League

With donations funding information-gathering operations and deep-cover field investigations, the EAL adopts an intelligence-led approach to uncovering and disrupting the criminal networks behind poaching and ivory trafficking.

The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee

The sanctuary in Tennessee, US provides cares for captive elephants and provides them with the companionship of a herd. Its currently home to 11 elephants retired from zoos and circuses, many of which suffer health and behavioural issues. To protect the animals, visitors are not allowed at the sanctuary.

Environmental Investigation Agency

As well as using specialist investigators to infiltrate the criminal organisations profiting from the exploitation of wildlife, the EIA runs evidence-backed campaigns to advocate for meaningful policy change at a governmental level. Investigations typically cost between £10,000 and £20,000 and rely on donations from the public.

International Elephant Foundation

Rather than paying into a pot that the charity will redistribute as it sees fit, this foundation allows donors to choose a specific programme and guarantees that 100% of their donation will reach their intended recipients. There are more than 20 research and conservation projects to choose from, including the Mounted Horse Patrol Anti-Poaching Unit for Mount Kenya.

International Fund for Animal Welfare

As well as its own investigative and policy work, the IFAW partners with media organisations around the world to raise awareness of the illegal ivory trade and the destruction it causes. Donations help to fund future media campaigns and awareness-raising projects.

From elephants and tigers to chameleons and carnivorous plants, this research project run by the International Union for Conservation of Nature is aiming to gauge the health of the world’s biodiversity by assessing 160,000 species by 2020. It’s almost halfway there. Donations will support this ongoing research as well as supporting on-the-ground conservation projects.

Japan Tiger and Elephant Fund

Elephants and tigers play vital roles in the ecosystem, and JTEF aims to raise awareness of their importance. It has several programmes to support conservation work, and reduce Japanese demand for wildlife products.

The Thin Green Line

It’s not just elephants and other wildlife that are at the mercy of the poachers’ weapons: more than 1,000 park rangers are estimated to have been killed in the past decade simply for standing in their way. This Australian-run foundation seeks to “protect nature’s protectors” by providing training and vital anti-poaching equipment, while also offering financial support to the families of those killed in the line of duty.

Utopia Scientific

The science-based NGO raises money to research the relationship between humans and elephants. It works towards promoting the importance of conservation and science through education and community outreach.

Wild Philanthropy

Wild Philanthropy supports at-risk ecosystems and communities in Africa through grants to NGOs that are involved in managing protected areas. It also provides secured loans to local eco-tourist businesses..

World Animal Foundation

As an all-volunteer organisation, the WAF uses every penny donated to help secure the longevity of animals and the delicate ecosystems that they inhabit. To show your support for elephants specifically – rather than the plethora of protected species ranging from fireflies to fish – you can symbolically adopt onefor $35 (£28) a year.

World Animal Protection

When elephants come into contact with farmland, they can wreak havoc and destroy livelihoods by eating or crushing crops. Many farmers respond by setting out poison or taking other extreme measures. World Animal Protection works with communities to come up with simple and sustainable solutions that allow humans and elephants to coexist, such as the introduction of chilli fences in Mikumi National Park in Tanzania.

Focus on African elephants

Air Shepherd

African Parks

Stepping in where local governments are unwilling or unable to act, African Parks manages 10 national parks in seven countries, taking complete responsibility for the day-to-day management and preservation of 6 million hectares of protected land. Already employing 600 rangers – the largest counter-poaching force on the continent – it aims to increase its conservation operation by 2020 to 20 parks and more than 10m hectares.

African Wildlife Foundation

The communities who share their land with elephants are best placed to conserve their natural heritage, but they often lack the means to do so. The African Wildlife Foundation recruits, trains and equips wildlife scouts from these areas, providing employment opportunities to local people and creating a large and effective poaching deterrent in the process.

Amboseli Trust for Elephants

Renowned wildlife researcher and conservationist Cynthia Moss has been studying elephants in the Amboseli National Park, straddling the Kenya-Tanzania border, since the early 1970s. She founded the Amboseli Trust for Elephants after seeing elephant populations in Kenya plummet by an estimated 85%. As well as groundbreaking scientific research, the trust conducts extensive community outreach programmes with the local Maasai community. One such scheme compensates anyone who has lost livestock to elephants, which has more than halved the number of animals speared and killed in retribution.

Big Life Ranger Club

Policing the 2m acres of elephant habitat in the Amboseli-Tsavo-Kilimanjaro region of east Africa takes courage and dedication, with wildlife rangers spending weeks in remote outposts, putting their lives at risk every day. The Big Life Foundation employs hundreds of Maasai rangers, providing them with field units, vehicles, tracker dogs and aerial surveillance. You can support their efforts by joining the Ranger Club with a one-off or monthly donation.

David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Fostering Programme

An elephant calf depends on its mother’s milk for the first two years of its life. So when one becomes orphaned – often because its mother has fallen foul of ivory poachers – the calf’s life hangs in the balance. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust fosters, feeds and rears these orphaned calves, eventually reintroducing them to the wild in the Tsavo East National Park. To date, 150 calves have been saved in this way.

A research-based organisation that began life as Save the Elephants – South Africa, Elephants Alive! has been monitoring one of South Africa’s largest continuous elephant populations for over 20 years. It believes that extensive knowledge of elephants’ movements and needs is vital to ensure their long-term survival.

Elephant Aware Masai Mara

An anti-poaching project in Kenya working with Maasai communities to help people and elephants.

Elephants Without Borders

On the banks of the Zambezi river, where Botswana, Namibia, Zambia and Zimbabwe share a border, lies the town of Kazungula, from where Elephants Without Borders (EWB) runs its transnational conservation operation. African elephants regularly cross these international boundaries, leaving them at the mercy of changeable policy and conservation laws. Using state-of-the-art monitoring technology, EWB tracks their movements and works with the local authorities to create safe migratory corridors through which the elephants can move freely.

Friends of Hwange

In Hwange National Park, Zimbabwe, elephant and other wildlife populations are at risk from bone-dry summers as well as from humans. In 2005, a particularly devastating drought saw scores of animals lose their lives. On the back of this disaster, Friends of Hwange was formed to pump water from underground sources, providing waterholes even in the most extreme conditions.

GRI Wildlife Crime Prevention Project

Zambia sits at the heart of southern Africa, surrounded by four countries identified by Cites as centres of ivory poaching and trafficking. The Game Rangers International Wildlife Crime Prevention Project works with conservation organisations and law enforcement to end the illegal wildlife trade in and through Zambia.

Lilongwe Wildlife Trust

Malawi is one of the poorest, and fastest-growing, countries in the world, which is putting its natural habitat under severe strain. In 2008 the Lilongwe Wildlife Trust launched its first project, the Wildlife Centre, as a sanctuary for rescued animals and an education centre. The NGO now works across the country in rescues, advocacy and conservation education.

Mali Elephant Project

Since 2007 it has been working to save an iconic elephant population just south of Timbuktu – one of two populations of desert elephants, which makes the longest elephant migration in the world. The project works with local people to develop elephant conservation schemes including reversing habitat degradation, patrols to watch over the elephants, and provides training to communities in resource management.

Based in Tanzania, PAMS Foundation works in conservation to benefit both wildlife and the community. Its initiatives include training dogs to detect ivory being smuggled at borders, and supporting the Tanzanian government to undertake anti-poaching efforts.

Samburu Trust

The trust has been working in northern Kenya for 20 years to build projects that work within the cultural boundaries of the Samburu people. Together they have built a small team of warrior-scouts, which is supported by the Kenya Wildlife Service and provides a link between the community and the elephants.

Save the Elephants

The elephants of northern Kenya’s Samburu National Reserve are some of the best studied in the world, thanks to the work of Save the Elephants. The charity’s main research centre is located in Samburu, from where it once pioneered the GPS tracking of elephant populations, and continues to try to understand ecosystems from an elephant’s perspective. Donations go towards various research and protection projects, from anti-poaching aerial surveillance to better understanding the herds’ migratory movements.

Southern Tanzania Elephant Programme

STEP is a Tanzanian elephant conservation and research organisation working in Ruaha-Rungwa and Udzungwa-Selous in southern Tanzania, areas that have been the hardest hit by poaching. The project works with wildlife authorities and rangers to increase protection for elephants, and with communities to enhance human-elephant coexistence through its beehive fence project.

Space for Giants

Poaching is the immediate threat. But there is another, perhaps even more serious threat to Africa’s elephants: the loss of their habitat as economies grow and land competition surges. Space for Giants is pioneering efforts in Kenya, Gabon, and Uganda to lessen human-elephant conflict with specially-designed electrified fences, and spends a lot of time working with local communities explaining why fences help.

Stop Ivory

By implementing the Elephant Protection Initiative, Stop Ivory provides over 15 African countries with financial and technical support to keep ivory from economic use, close domestic ivory markets, and develop national elephant action plans. The NGO raises funds to deliver these plans, and offers grants to ensure long-term conservation.

Tears of the African Elephant

This Japanese-Kenyan NGO is best known for its “No Ivory Generation” campaign, aimed at changing Japanese consumers’ attitudes to ivory.


Tusk has invested about £30m in 60 conservation projects across Africa since its founding in 1990. Education and sustainable development are at the heart of its approach to conservation, working with local schools and rural communities to promote happy cohabitation between at-risk wildlife and the ever-expanding human population.

Tsavo Trust

Based in Tsavo, Kenya, the trust works in a variety of conservation areas: monitoring and data collection, community education and the Tsavo animal rescue centre.

Water for Elephants Trust

Based in north-east Botswana, the Trust is an initiative to rebuild water holes for Africa’s largest herd of elephants. The aim is to re-open 12 boreholes, formerly maintained by commercial hunting operators. A pumping plan has been drafted alongside the Botswana government’s department of wildlife and national parks. One bore hole will supply water to approximately 800 elephants per day during the dry season.

The Water Man

Patrick Kilonzo Mwalua is the founder of Tsavo Volunteers. He’s known as the water man as he aims to provide water to elephants and other animals in times of drought. The money raised goes towards renting the trucks he uses to deliver the water.

Wildlife Conservation Society

The group behind the Ninety-Six Elephants campaign (see the campaign, lobby and educate section above) has a presence in 15 of the 37 African elephant range sites, from the savannahs of east Africa to the Gulf of Guinea. Donations help WCS’ efforts to stop the degradation of elephant habitats and prevent wildlife crime by providing rangers with essential technological and intelligence-gathering resources.

Wings for Conservation

The foundation aims to help with the long-term management of protected areas in Africa. It is currently raising money to buy a plane for an aerial surveillance programme in Chad, and will partner with local wildlife rangers to track elephant herds and monitor illegal activities.

Focus on Asian elephants

Asian Elephant Conservation Fund

US Fish and Wildlife Service initiative financed by a mixture of government contributions and public donations, the fund awards grants to a variety of conservation and animal welfare projects. Recent beneficiaries include a scheme to mitigate human-elephant conflict in Nepal; counter-poaching operations in Thailand; and veterinary training to improve the care of captive elephants in Indonesia.

Asian Elephant Support

As an all-volunteer organisation, the AES uses 100% of donations to fund numerous and diverse programmes everywhere from India to Vietnam. These range from English as a Second Language classes so that mahouts can develop their careers, to meeting the veterinary and housing needs of retired working elephants.


ElefantAsia promotes alternative, cruelty-free careers for the elephants and mahouts that have traditionally served the logging industry in Laos and other parts of south-east Asia. The Laos-based non-profit also providing veterinary care in the form of mobile clinics and an elephant hospital in Sayaboury province.

Elephant Conservation Center

By making a one-off donation or sponsoring an elephant – generally a pregnant female, a mother with a baby, or an elderly or injured animal – donors can support the ECC’s efforts to rescue elephants from the Lao logging industry and re-home them in 106 hectares of protected forest.

Elephant Family

Rather than impose western ideas of how to run conservation projects, Elephant Family empowers local experts to develop their own solutions to protect Asian elephants in India, Thailand, Indonesia, Myanmar, Cambodia and Malaysia.

Friends of the Asian Elephant

Soraida Salwala founded Friends of the Asian Elephant’s first elephant hospital in Thailand in 1993. Since then, more than 4,000 elephants have received medical treatment in her facility.

Shola Trust

In their spare time, a group of young people based in Gudalur work in nature conservation in the Nilgiri region of south India. Part of their work involves research into how people and elephants can coexist peacefully.

Think Elephants International

The next generation of conservationists could be the key to ensuring elephants’ long-term survival. Through its educational programmes, Think Elephants International is keeping the subject alive in classrooms both at home in the US and in Thailand, with ambitions to spread the word far beyond.

Wildlife Trust of India

Formed almost 20 years ago in response to the threats to wildlife in India. With 150 employees, the group is dedicated to nature conservation through a wide range of projects. For example, it has supported anti-poaching training for more than 15,000 people working with wildlife.

Illustration: Sarah Tanat-Jones

You can make a real difference to conservation efforts by becoming a citizen scientist. You don’t need a PhD to help track elephant populations.


Run by the University of Cape Town, the MammalMAP project asks travellers and citizen scientists to share their photos of African wildlife, along with information about the date and location that the photograph was taken. In so doing, you will be helping to build a valuable picture of the mammal population and how it is changing.

Mara EleApp

This Android app, created by ElephantVoices, allows users to upload sightings and observations of Mara elephants to help the conservation charity with its research and campaign work. A must-download for locals and visitors to Maasai Mara.

Snapshot Serengeti

A fun, simple and interactive way to conduct valuable scientific research from anywhere in the world. Snapshot Serengeti asks citizen scientists to help classify the animals caught on some of the hundreds of camera traps dotted throughout the Serengeti National Park in Tanzania. You will be shown a photo and provided with a user-friendly and searchable list of native animals. Get clicking to help researchers better understand the park’s animal populations.

Two Million Tusks

Based in southern England, this independent investigative research group is working to end the UK ivory trade. So far they have found that the British legal trade is covering a sizeable illegal market. You can join the investigation by communicating with ivory sellers and finding out information on the origins and age of the items on sale. The information fed back to Two Million Tusks will be included in their forthcoming report for a government consultation.

WildCam Gorongosa

You don’t have to travel all the way to Mozambique to be part of the Gorongosa National Park’s conservation team. Simply review webcam and camera trap footage to help identify the movements of the park’s animal populations.


Whether you would rather bake cakes or trek across Kenya, your hard work can raise money (and awareness) for elephant conservation. Just make sure you obey local regulations.

100 Miles for Elephants

Described by National Geographic as one of the “most authentic, most innovative … and most sustainable tours” out there, this annual nine-day expedition involves trekking across the Kenyan countryside, encountering wildlife and the people responsible for its conservation along the way. Participants are asked to raise upwards of $1,000 (£800), which goes towards preventing the slaughter of the region’s elephants.


Simply select an elephant-focused charity or conservation project from the website’s vast database, and within a couple of minutes you can set up your own fundraising page. Crowdrise promises that at least 97% of the proceeds will go to your chosen cause. Alternatively (or additionally), you can sponsor and support others in their fundraising efforts.

Illustration: Sarah Tanat-Jones


Functioning in much the same way as its crowd-funding cousin Crowdrise, JustGiving provides users with a simple way to share news of their fundraising campaigns with friends and family and to collect sponsorship.


Whether you want to run the London Marathon, climb Mount Kilimanjaro or hold a bake sale in the name of elephant conservation, Tusk’s team can support your fundraising endeavours, be that by helping you get a place at an event, or by providing you with useful tips and ideas.

Veterans 4 Wildlife

An anti-poaching initiative, Veterans 4 Wildlife sends skilled veterans – and volunteers – to support rangers across Africa. Often poverty is the cause of poaching, so this organisation does a lot of community-based work, such as building schools and creating jobs.

World Wide Fund for Nature

Provides all the tools and tips you need to create a successful fundraising campaign. Download flyers, posters and pictures direct from the website, or draw inspiration from other fundraising efforts.

And lastly … what not to do

It’s easy to become so fascinated by elephants that you overlook ways in which you are harming them. Here are some of the things you should not do if you want to prevent exploitation and abuse.

  • Don’t ride elephants. Their backs are much more fragile than they seem.
  • Don’t visit “shelters” that exist only to make money from tourists.
  • Don’t go to shows where elephants are used as entertainment or made to perform tricks.
  • Don’t buy ivory products – or suspected ivory products – whether new, secondhand or antique.
  • Don’t support zoos that buy elephants from poachers or take elephants from the wild.
  • Don’t visit places where you might inadvertently encounter elephants and cause human-elephant conflict.
  • Don’t buy souvenirs, products or services that may have had a negative impact on elephants.

Illustrations: Sarah Tanat-Jones

Brutal Outlook for Healthy Wild Horses and Burros in the USA

Brutal Outlook for Healthy Wild Horses and Burros: BLM Calls for Shooting 90,000

On Thursday, the National Wild Horse and Burro Advisory Board recklessly voted to approve recommendations that call on the Bureau of Land Management to shoot tens of thousands of healthy wild horses and burros.

At its meeting in Grand Junction, Colorado, the advisory board recommended that BLM achieve its on-range population goal of 26,715 wild horses and burros while also phasing out the use of long-term holding facilities—both within three years.

If Congress allowed BLM to follow through on the independent board’s recommendations, that would mean the government shooting at least 90,000 healthy animals. The advisory board has no power to control policy.

The board also called for allowing international adoptions and sales, which have not been allowed before. During its deliberations, the board repeatedly referenced a proposal made by a private party to have American taxpayers pay to ship upwards of 20,000 wild horses to Russia—where they would serve as prey animals for big cats.

“BLM has been tasked by Congress with the responsibility of protecting wild horses. The agency has failed over and over, wasting time on think tanks, challenge concepts and meetings that go nowhere instead of directing resources toward actually managing land, water and habitat on the range and building a robust volunteer effort to help with critical projects benefiting wild horses and other wildlife.”

BLM has been close to its Appropriate Management Level before, but the agency baulked at using fertility control despite ample evidence that it was safe and effective. The number of wild horses on the range stood within 1,071 animals of BLM’s own population goal in 2007, yet even then the agency chose not to aggressively implement fertility control.

In fact, BLM has never spent as much as four percent of its Wild Horse & Burro Program budget on this safe, proven and humane solution for wild horse population control; instead, it spends upwards of 65 percent of its annual budget capturing, removing and warehousing animals.

Return to Freedom’s American Wild Horse Sanctuary was among the first of many projects to use fertility control with great success. It has used the vaccine PZP for 19 years with an efficacy rate of 91 to 98 percent.

Meanwhile, wild horses continue to be dramatically outnumbered on federal land by privately owned livestock, which graze there at a fraction of the cost that ranchers would pay on private property.

“A balance must be struck between ranching and mining interests and wild horses and other wildlife as part of a fair interpretation of BLM’s multiple-use mandate on the range,” said DeMayo. “There needs to be a fairer distribution of resources—not more biased reports and recommendations aimed at capturing, removing or killing wild horses.

“BLM and the U.S. Department of the Interior must stop catering to those who profit from public lands and manage them for all Americans. It is time to stop treating America’s wild horses and burros like an unwanted invasive species and start becoming real stewards by using the safe, proven and humane tools available, in keeping with the spirit of the Act and the will of the public.”

Polls have repeatedly shown that about 80 percent of Americans oppose horse slaughter and a similar percentage want to see wild horses protected.

A March 1 BLM estimate—made before this year’s foal crop—placed the on-range population of wild horses and burros at 72,674. As of August, the agency reported that 44,640 captured wild horses and burros were living in off-range facilities, including 32,146 on leased pastures referred to as long-term holding.

On Thursday, wild horse advocate Ginger Kathrens of the Cloud Foundation was the lone dissenting vote on recommendations that BLM achieves “Appropriate Management Level” of 26,715 in three years, close long-term holding in three years, and allow international sales and adoptions. She joined the others on the board in voting to recommend that BLM increase its funding of reversible fertility control to $3 million by the fiscal year 2019, up from about $100,000 in 2017.

Kathrens noted that BLM’s arbitrarily set Appropriate Management Level is only about 1,000 wild horses and burros more than the estimated population at the time of the Wild Free-Roaming Horses and Burros Act was signed. The law—which Congress passed unanimously—stated that wild horses and burros were “fast disappearing from the American scene.”

The advisory board’s recommendation would have BLM spend the money saved on long-term holding on on-range management and increasing adoptions. Those adoptions would likely spare only a fraction of wild horses on the range or in holding from death. In 2017, BLM has adopted out only about 4,200 wild horses—its best total in years.

In September 2016, the advisory board voted to recommend destroying captive wild horses and removing all restrictions to their sale, which would allow buyers to purchase them on the cheap and transport them to Canada or Mexico for slaughter. Again, Kathrens was the lone “no” vote.

In July, the House Appropriations Committee approved an amendment to the Interior Appropriations bill that removed language that would bar BLM from killing healthy wild horses. The Senate Appropriations Committee could vote on its version of the Interior bill as soon as next week.

“It will take time, commitment and diligence—and a real plan—but we have science that clearly shows the path to a sustainable future for wild horses and burros,” DeMayo said. “It’s not going to happen overnight, but it must be done and it must start now. The American people need to rally and urge Congress to force BLM to humanely manage these iconic, federally protected animals on the range.”

Elephants Know How Dangerous We Are From How We Speak

Elephants pay attention when we speak, a new study in Kenya shows.

Author: Virginia Morell, National Geographic.


A female elephant displays an alert reaction—with ears held open and trunk extended—at the Amboseli National Park in Kenya.

When an elephant killed a Maasai woman collecting firewood near Kenya’s Amboseli National Park in 2007, a group of young Maasai men retaliated by spearing one of the animals.

“It wasn’t the one that had killed the woman, says Graeme Shannon, a behavioral ecologist at Colorado State University, in Fort Collins. “It was just the first elephant they encountered—a young bull on the edge of a swamp.”

The Maasai spiked him with spears and, their anger spent, returned home. Later, the animal died from his wounds.

Elephants experience those kinds of killings sporadically. Yet the attacks happen often enough that the tuskers have learned that the Maasai—and Maasai men in particular—are dangerous.

The elephants in the Amboseli region are so aware of this that they can even distinguish between Ma, the language of the Maasai, and other languages, says a team of researchers, who report their findings today in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences.


A Maasai herder leads his cattle to drink at the edge of a swamp in the Amboseli National Park in Kenya.


Powers of Discrimination

The results add to “our growing knowledge of the discriminatory abilities of the elephant mind, and how elephants make decisions and see their world,” says Joyce Poole, an elephant expert with ElephantVoices in Masai Mara, Kenya.

Indeed, previous studies have shown that the Amboseli elephants can tell the cattle-herding, red-robed Maasai apart from their agricultural and more blandly dressed neighbors, the Kamba people, simply by scent and the color of their dress.

The elephants know too that walking through villages on weekends is dangerous, as is crop raiding during the full moon.

They’re equally aware of their other key predator, lions, and from their roars, know how many lions are in a pride and if a male lion (the bigger threat because he can bring down an elephant calf) is present.

And they know exactly how to respond to lions roaring nearby: run them off with a charge.


A group of elephants defensively bunch together, with the matriarch of the family at the front.


Flight or Fight

Intriguingly, when the Amboseli elephants encounter a red cloth, such as those worn by the Maasai, they also react aggressively. But they employ a different tactic when they catch the scent of a Maasai man: They run away. Smelling the scent of a Kamba man, however, troubles them far less.

“They have very clear behavioral responses in all of these situations,” saysKaren McComb, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Sussex, in the United Kingdom. “We wondered if they would react differently to different human voices.”

To find out, she and her colleagues played recordings to elephant familiesof Maasai and Kamba men, as well as Maasai women and boys, speaking a simple phrase in their language: “Look, look over there, a group of elephants is coming.”

Over a two-year period, they carried out 142 such playbacks with 47 elephant families, each time playing a different human voice through a concealed speaker placed 50 meters (164 feet) from the animals. They video-recorded the elephants’ reactions to the various human voices, including a Maasai man’s voice they altered to sound like a woman’s.

Watch elephants retreat from a perceived threat:


As soon as an elephant family heard an adult Maasai man speak, the matriarch didn’t hesitate, the researchers say. “She instantly retreats,” Shannon says. “But it’s a silent retreat. They sometimes make a low rumble, and may smell for him, too, but they’re already leaving, and bunching up into a defensive formation. It’s a very different response to when they hear lions.”

In contrast, the voices of Kamba men didn’t cause nearly as strong a defensive reaction: The elephants didn’t consider the Kamba a serious threat.

“That subtle discrimination is easy for us to do, but then we speak human language,” says Richard Byrne, a cognitive biologist at the University of St. Andrews, in Scotland. “It’s interesting that elephants can also detect the characteristic differences between the languages.”

Fear Men, Not Boys (or Women)

The Amboseli elephants were also sufficiently tuned in to the Maasai language that they could tell women’s and boys’ voices from men’s, seldom turning tail in response. “Maasai women and boys don’t kill elephants,” Shannon points out. Nor were the elephants tricked by the man’s altered voice; when they heard it, they left at once.

“The elephants’ decision-making is very precise,” McComb says, “and it illustrates how they’ve adapted where they can to coexist with us. They’d rather run away than tangle with a human predator.”

Why, one wonders, don’t elephants retreat when poachers descend on them?

“Unfortunately, there are going to be things they cannot adapt to, things such as humans’ ability to come after them with automatic weapons or mass poisonings,” McComb says. “And in those situations, we have to protect them—or we will lose them, ultimately.”