Lost Habitat Is Chief Threat to Elephants

THE chief threat the Asian elephant faces is habitat destruction," says wildlife biologist and conservationist Ronald Orenstein. Unlike African elephants, ivory poaching "has been a very limited problem for Asian elephants," mainly because Asian females do not carry tusks, he adds.But ivory poachers have killed many of the male tuskers, says Surapon Duangkhae, projects director for the World Wildlife Fund in Thailand. And female wild elephants are now threatened by the lucrative trade of trapping baby elephants and selling them for use in tourism, he adds. "They kill the mother to get the baby. Many hotels buy baby elephants for their reception area to welcome guests," Mr. Surapon says. "We know there is poaching everywhere because of the demand." Elephants old enough to be separated from the mothers are usually the targets, adds Ian Redmond, cofounder of Elefriends in Surrey, England. "Although I have no doubt that mothers are sometimes killed ... the intention is usually to separate the calf from the mother." Tourist shows also undermine repopulation because "the tourism business wants to use elephants to make as much money as possible," Surapon says. "They do not allow the female to get pregnant because then [she] can't serve the tourist." Female elephants are less active when pregnant, and spend many years caring for their young.

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