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Protecting Asian Elephants

Endangered elephants in Indonesia
Endangered elephants in Indonesia

Wildlife Without Borders, a program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is working to mitigate human-elephant conflict.

Large herds of elephants once roamed freely throughout Asia’s forests and grasslands. Today, there are fewer than 40,000 in the wild due to habitat loss, human-elephant conflict, and poaching.

Asian elephants face many threats in the wild, primarily due to habitat loss and fragmentation. All Asian elephant range countries are currently experiencing rapid human population growth. This growth in population expedites the destruction of the forest, the principal habitat of Asian elephants, through heavy logging practices and the clearing of forest for agriculture, livestock grazing, and infrastructure development such as settlements.

As the natural habitat of Asian elephants shrinks, elephants are forced to find food outside of the forest. Often, these food sources are local villager’s subsistence crops, such as banana, rice, and cassava plantations. As a result, human-elephant conflict is one of the main threats to Asian elephants as angry villagers frequently retaliate by harming or killing elephants. Furthermore, human fatalities also regularly result from the clash of humans and elephants.

Each year in Sri Lanka, approximately 120 elephants are killed by villagers and about 60 people are killed during these incursions. In addition to habitat loss and human-elephant conflict, Asian elephants are also poached regularly for their ivory tusks and other body parts.

Wildlife Without Borders, a program of the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, is working to mitigate human-elephant conflict and stop poaching by supporting conservation projects that seek to identify ways to alleviate human-elephant conflict, increase law enforcement capacity to monitor illegal logging and poaching, and conduct community outreach and awareness to inspire pride and optimistic views about Asian elephants in range countries.

The United States Congress passed the Asian Elephant Conservation Act in 1997, which established a fund to protect the Asian elephant and conserve its habitat. The 2011 Congressional appropriation of $1.5 million to the Asian Elephant Conservation Fund allowed the Service to support 29 vital elephant conservation projects in Asia, including in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, and Cambodia.

Since 1989, Wildlife Without Borders has provided over 2,700 grants for international conservation totaling more than $100 million. The United States has worked with nearly 700 partners in developing countries, who have contributed more than $200 million in matching support for grant projects, tripling the impact of American funding. The United States remains committed to working with international partners to protect Asian elephants and other endangered species.