Latin America’s first elephant sanctuary is a welcome development in global animal rights awareness
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Latin America’s first elephant sanctuary is a welcome development in global animal rights awareness

The global plight of elephants is dire, to say the least. CITES, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, lists the African elephant as “vulnerable” and the Asian elephant as “endangered.” While an international ban prohibits the trade of commercial ivory, it allows certain exceptions, such as sport-hunted trophies.

By far the largest killer of elephants, however, is illegal poaching, which is devastating the elephant populations of Asia and Africa.

Some disturbing statistics about elephants

  • In 2012 and 2013, poachers killed 10 percent of the global population of forest elephants.
  • Between 2010 and 2012, 100,000 African elephants were killed for their tusks.
  • According to the Wildlife Conservation Society, 96 elephants are illegally killed each day.
  • The iWorry campaign — launched in 2012 by the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust after it determined that 36,000 elephants were slaughtered that year — states that one elephant is killed every 15 minutes for its ivory.

How can we prevent elephants from becoming extinct?

The illegal mass slaughter of elephants for their ivory is a global problem. It is driven by global causes and therefore needs global solutions.

The principal driver of elephant poaching is the rising demand for ivory in Asia, though the online ivory trade has also grown significantly in the United States. Other threats to elephant survival include human incursions into the animals’ traditional habitats. This “competition” for land has brought people into conflict with elephants in both India and Sri Lanka.

How can sanctuaries help?

Increasingly, elephants are not safe in their natural habitats. Nor are they safe in circuses, some zoos or animal parks.

While elephant sanctuaries in Europe and the United States are not intended for the purposes of conservation or breeding, they do play a role in the protection of the species. By offering a secure and healthy environment for former circus animals to live out the remainder of their lives, these sanctuaries promote the idea that elephants are intelligent creatures with rights rather than beasts that we can simply treat cruelly or use for entertainment.

The Santuário de Elefantes Brasil (SEB), which is set to open in 2016, will be the first such facility in all of Latin America.

Located near the Chapada dos Guimarães national park in Mato Grosso State and authorized by the state’s environmental agency, the 1,100-hectare sanctuary, run by a Brazilian NGO, will be home to more than 50 elephants. Its first residents will be retired 40- to 50-year-old circus elephants that were previously forced to work in Brazil, Argentina and Chile.

The property contains native forest, river sources and pastures for the elephants to roam — something never possible during their harsh lives as circus animals.

From Folha de São Paulo:

Brazil was chosen for three main reasons: its location in the center of Latin America, its mild weather, and the maintenance costs, relatively low compared to those of the US.

The sanctuary will not function like a zoo or safari park and therefore will not be open to the public. Instead, it aims to provide its residents with safety, care and the companionship of other elephants, while raising awareness about the cruel plight of both captive elephants as well as their endangered cousins in the wild.

The establishment of Santuário de Elefantes Brasil is a welcome development in how humans around the world are beginning to view elephants: as creatures that deserve our compassion and respect.

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