A Future with Elephants (AFWE) is a not for profit organisation with a focus on Asian elephant conservation in domestic populations in South East Asia.
The IUCN places Asian elephant numbers at 30-40,000 but this is at best a crude guess; these figures have been made without proper survey and remained constant for nearly 25 years while Asian elephant numbers have declined severely. In truth, we honestly have no idea exactly how many elephants are left in the wild, we just know that they are disappearing….. fast. So the question is how can we save them?
While captive breeding programs in western countries are putting forward a great effort, the process is extremely expensive and has yet to provide much of a result. It takes 4 years to produce a healthy independent elephant (22months gestation, 24 months of dependence to mother) and even after achieving pregnancy many calves are lost throughout the pregnancy even up till birth where there is a 50% mortality rate. Consider this with the fact that there are only around 1500 captive elephants in zoos worldwide, usually in groups of around 5, and it is clear captive breeding just doesn’t have the numbers to increase elephant populations worldwide.
It is the belief of AFWE that the real opportunities for saving the Asian elephant lie in their native lands, with the domestic populations under the control of the elephant owners and mahouts of SE Asia. Countries such as Thailand, Laos, Cambodia and Sri Lanka have used elephants in their culture for hundreds of thousands of years and have around 15-20,000 elephants at their disposal. However, due to their financial situation they cannot afford to breed these elephants. Although most conservation efforts are most useful when conducted on wild populations, with the dire lack of knowledge about the Asian elephant, this is not possible. However, the unique cultural situation in Asia with it huge domestic population of elephants make this a very plausible to re populate elephant numbers in this dynamic.
It is the goal of AFWE to provide these areas with innovative project options, funding, research, infrastructure, veterinary care, and aid so that the local people have the means to focus on breeding their elephants. This process will not only benefit the local people and elephant population, but also provide many research and tourism opportunities for people in the west. AFWE already has strong contacts on the ground in areas such as Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, Malaysia and Sri Lanka to ensure that the resources are distributed where they are needed most and in the best interests of the people.
Sir David Attenborough discusses Asian Elephants with AFWE Director Prof Roger Short of Melbourne University (Melbourne, August 2012.)