Herbivores with virtually no predators and the largest brain of any land animal, elephants have long been revered as wise and benevolent beasts. In the yoga community, the elephant-headed deity, Ganesh, is honoured as the destroyer of obstacles, said to clear away difficulties and thereby bring auspiciousness to new endeavours.

In real life, however, destroyers are rarely appreciated. When elephants trample farmers’ fields in search of food—after their natural habitats are uprooted in favour of farms and development—they are often killed.

Wild elephants face a population crisis, especially the Asian elephant, which the International Union for Conservation of Nature includes on the “red list” for endangered species, meaning that its numbers have dropped by 50 per cent or more in three generations.

The biggest threats to Asian elephants, according to the World Wildlife Fund’s Barney Long, manager of the Asian species conservation program, are the loss of habitat from human development and unsustainable forestry practices, retaliatory killings and poaching—for ivory, meat and leather.

When you buy paper and wood products, Long suggests you choose products from sustainably managed forests (look for a seal from the Forest Stewardship Council or other certification bodies). He thinks that consumer pressure may lead to better forest management. “If you start by protecting elephants,” says Long, “you end up conserving the environment they live in, which benefits the greater diversity of life, including humans.”

More Ways To Help

  • Elephant Care International www.elephantcare.org
  • World Wildlife Fund www.wwf.org
  • Save the Elephants www.savetheelephants.org
  • Elephant Conservation Network www.ecn-thailand.org