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5 Unusual Ways Conservation Groups are Helping Elephants

5 Unusual Ways Conservation Groups are Helping Elephants

by Zita Polger on

“Save the elephants!” has been a conservationist battle cry for many decades now, but despite our best efforts, elephant populations are still falling. To stop this decline before it’s too late, conservation groups are coming up with some new unique approaches:

1. Fattening Cows

While poaching is the biggest threat to elephants, another major danger is habitat loss. Many communities across Africa rely on livestock farming as a source of income. Cattle, however, need massive amounts of land and water to grow to sizes that can be sold at market, which often causes farmers to lead their cows to graze in areas that are necessary for elephants.

One recent initiative called “Livestock to Markets” offers a new compromise. For those farmers who keep their herds on sustainable lands and in an elephant-friendly way, the organization will help them fatten up their cows so that they can sell for an even higher profit at market than if they would have led their cattle through elephant habitats in the first place. A real win-win!

2. Night-Vision Drones

Action against poachers generally focuses on punishment. However, a new technique has been developed that stops them even before the kill. Using “Unmanned Aerial Vehicles” or UAVs, a company called AirShepherd uses drones and advanced data analysis to stop poachers in their tracks. The UAVs, which look like seven-foot model airplanes, are equipped with infrared cameras and GPS thermal imaging, allowing them to track elephant herds and poachers throughout the night.

The drones send back location data to the command center, which then analyzes information such as roads, waterholes, weather data, and topography, to predict where the next attack is going to be. Rangers are then able to intercept the poachers before they find the elephants!

3. Nuclear Fallout

This one might sound crazy, but it’s actually very clever. In most countries the sale of ivory was banned in 1989, meaning that anyone found selling or buying ivory acquired after that date could be prosecuted. Determining the age of ivory, however, used to be pretty much impossible. People selling new ivory could just forge a pre-1989 date on the certificate, and no one would know. Not anymore.

After the Cold War, small amounts of radioactivity, known as fallout, were spread around the globe and entered into our ecosystems. Scientists can measure these trace amounts in elephant tusks to find their age to within 4-16 months! Because of this, officials can now prosecute many more illegal traders and hopefully cut down on poaching.

4. Bees!

Elephants are massive animals that can cause lots of damage to crops and villages. At best, this creates resentment towards elephants, but at worst it can cause people to take violent and sometimes lethal actions against them. Putting up fences is ineffective due to the elephants’ sheer size, but one conservation group has come up with a deterrent that not only keeps the peace but promotes a sustainable form of income as well. Bees! Despite their colossal size, elephants are terrified of bees. The ‘Elephants and Bees Project’ uses beehive fences to keep elephants safe out of crops while also providing honey for locals to sell.

5. 3D Printing

3D printing is all the rage lately, but a biotech firm called Pembient has taken it to the next level. Using powdered keratin (the stuff hair and nails are made from) as well as rhino DNA, they have been able to 3D print rhino horns that are genetically and physically indistinguishable from the real thing. Once they perfect the process, they plan to move on to elephant tusks. Ultimately, they will flood the markets with them, making ivory virtually worthless, thus ending the demand for poaching.

Every day conservation groups are working hard to come up with new and creative strategies like these to combat the dangers threatening elephants. Hopefully with innovative ideas like the five we just saw, we will be able to once and for all “Save the Elephants!” before it’s too late.

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