European, African and AsianElephant Populations

6. October 2021

After a few months without entries, we have decided to introduce a simplified blog based on our revised ABOUT section. Consequently we think that some key numbers on world elephant populations might be an appropriate introduction to most subsequent entries:

It would appear that there are currently still about 849 captive elephants forced to live in Europe. 514 of them are of the Asian species and 335 are African elephants. 330 Asian elephants live in 109 zoos and 184 of them still perform in 57 circuses. The corresponding number for African elephants are 230 elephants held in 64 zoos and 105 in 40 circuses. Even to retire 289 European circus elephants is a daunting task, as it is next to impossible to re-introduce them to their original habitats. If one adds to this the zoo elephants that need to be transferred into more natural environments, it is obvious that ending European captivity of elephants requires substantial dose of public and political good will.*

In 1930 as many as 10 million wild elephants lived on the African continent. Today there are only 415,000  elephants left in Africa. Pressure on wild elephant populations is due to ever increasing human populations, economic development, legal culling, selling live elephants to zoos and circuses the world over, trophy hunting and poaching for ivory and meat. Unless Africa, and indeed most of us begin to see that self preservation of the human species is closely tied to the survival of wild elephants, elephants could be extinct within a decade.**

Asian elephants raiding a tea plantation

Estimates of Asian elephants vary from 20,000 to 40,000. The IUCN ( International Union for the Conversation of Nature) has identified the Asian elephant as an endangered species. 15,000, almost one in three Asian elephants, live in captivity. Reasons for the decline of the number of wild Asian elephants are loss of habitat, habitat degradation, fragmentation and poaching. A large portion of the human population now lives in or near an Asian elephant habitat, which has shrunk to just 15% of its historic range. The large number of Asian  captive elephants as a proportion of their wild cousins, is the result of more  than a thousand years of taming elephants to be exploited to perform heavy duty work now largely executed by machines. Many attempts to find work for un-employed elephants in the tourist industry have resulted in even more brutal exploitation of elephants and serious social problems for their mahouts. All of this makes programs to avoid the extinction of Asian elephants different, and perhaps, even more difficult than saving their African cousins.**

We will cover captive American elephants in our next entry .

Statistical sources: * A Review of the Welfare of Zoo elephants in Europe commissioned by the RSPCA / ** WWF, World Wildlife Fund