By Julien Marchais and Julie Samy
Elephants are fascinating and complex social beings. As ecosystem engineers and “megagardeners of the forests”, elephants modify their environment and are essential to the survival of many species. In addition, they are part of the world heritage and have a long history of associations with humans.
Across their entire geographic range, elephants are subject to ever growing human pressures. In addition to poaching, one of the main threats to their survival is the reduction and fragmentation of their habitats due to exploding human demography. As a result, wherever they exist wild elephants are in conflict with humans often from unprivileged communities struggling to maintain a decent life. To sustainably conserve elephants it is essential to improve human- elephant coexistence.
With the escalating decline of elephants over the last decade, in 2015, the NGOs Des Eléphants & des Hommes, supported by Awely, wildlife and people, and IFAW France (International Fund for Animal Welfare) launched the Elephant-Watching initiative or EleWatch. The mission of EleWatch is to promote the economic and non-economic (ecological, cultural, patrimonial, social, and aesthetic) value of elephants and their natural habitats through development of national and international ecotourism programs across their entire geographic range. EleWatch recognizes inclusive Elephant-Watching ecotourism as an important way forward for long term conservation of elephants and their coexistence with humans. This responsible form of tourism guarantees minimal impacts of ecotourists on wild elephant populations. It represents an economic activity that, if correctly developed, can constitute an efficient barrier against the various threats that elephants face and can support the creation of stable jobs and revenues for local communities.
As a first step, EleWatch investigated 544 natural areas (national parks, private or community reserves, and various protected areas…) spread over 37 African countries and 13 Asian countries where wild elephants are found and can be observed. EleWatch first results indicate that the situation is particularly worrisome: across almost 70% of these natural areas, Elephant-Watching ecotourism is vastly under-developed.
The map below shows a categorization of 50 countries from the geographic range of elephants based on the Elephant Watching Index (EWI). This index, developed by EleWatch, estimates the ecotourism value given to elephants and their habitats. There is a great disparity among countries that offer Elephant-Watching ecotourism. While regions such as Southern and East Africa have been able to promote Elephant-Watching ecotourism to a certain extent (respectively 57.1% and 31.1%), in West Africa, Central Africa, and most of Asia this activity is barely developed (EWI: respectively 4.3%, 7.8%, and 18.8%). It is important to notice the outstanding performances of Botswana but also surprisingly of China with only one (but well promoted) site.
EleWatch is sounding the alarm on the surprising lack of value given to elephants and their natural habitats across most of their current geographic range. To fight efficiently against the elephant decline, EleWatch emphasizes that one of the vital solutions is to make Elephant-Watching ecotourism a development priority and suggests that countries which are well established destinations for Elephant-Watching be used as advanced models for other countries where this activity has not yet flourished. EleWatch will play a central role in active sharing of knowledge, best practices, and expertise between recognized Elephant-Watching sites, provided there is sufficient political drive and investment power.
To combine elephant conservation efforts, EleWatch is requesting all countries within the geographic range of elephants to join its network and:
1. Associate any project whose aim is to protect elephants with the development of national plans for Elephant-Watching.
2. Develop these national plans following meticulous guidelines to avoid the negative effects of tourism.
Julien Marchais Coordinator of EleWatch
Phone: +33.649.287.287 (Cell)
IFAW France and francophone Africa
Céline Sissler-Bienvenu Phone: (Office) : +33.326.480.548
(Cell): +33.617.561.074 Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Phone: +33.630.562.221 (Cell)
EleWatch is a French initiative sponsored by the Franz Weber Foundation. All illustrations on this post courtesy of EleWatch.