Between the government shutdown and the public uproar over the National Zoo Giant Panda Cam going dark (“PANDA! PANDA!” screamed the general public), you might not have noticed a few more elephants in the news.

I'm not talking about fluff pieces with adorable elephants and their big ears that according to BuzzFeed, “We Would Like to Be Best Friends With.” Instead, the conversation focused on the dwindling number of elephants on the planet.

While my current research focuses on canine behavior and cognition, my background is in applied animal behavior, or the study of “domesticated and utilized animals.” Elephants certainly fit the bill as “utilized,” predominantly for their ivory. Elephant carcass data and the seizure of large quantities of ivory suggest that elephant killing is increasing:

“The proportion of elephant carcasses found that had been killed illegally in 2010 was the highest on record only to be exceeded by 2011 levels. Elephant meat is an important by-product, but ivory is the primary reason for elephant poaching. It is now clear that elephants in general, and especially the elephants of Central Africa, are under serious threat and that the poaching since 2011, may be at the level at which all elephant populations are in net decline.” (embedded citations here).

The mistreatment of dogs is met with horror and public outcry. Last month, the media blew up when a dog was abused “medieval-style.” That’s as far as I got. For others, that was just the beginning. Animal care professionals and crime-scene investigators can go to school to learn to detect the signs of animal abuse and document and preserve evidence for trial. Practitioners learn to look for old wounds and recognize that multiple breaks or fractures might not be “accidental.” Programs, like the ASCPA Veterinary Forensic Sciences Program at the University of Florida, hold events on “Bloodstain Analysis,” “Animal Crime Scenes” and “Shooting Reconstruction.”

Companion animal abuse gets world-wide attention, and it is prosecutable. Elephants haven’t been so lucky. But times are changing. This Friday, October 4th, elephants have an international platform with 15 elephant-protection marches around the globe, including marches in NYC, Los Angeles, San Francisco and DC. Funded partnerships and initiatives are gearing up to stop elephant killing.

This Friday in New York City, Hunter College and Thinking Animals host an evening expert-lecture, Speaking Up For Elephants. Speakers include:

Iain Douglas-Hamilton, one of the world's foremost authorities on the social behavior of the African elephant.

William Clark, Coordinator for INTERPOL's Project WISDOM, which supports the law enforcement capacity for the conservation of elephants and rhinoceros.

James C. Deutsch, Director of the Africa Program of the Wildlife Conservation Society. Over 1,300 field staff are in place to help maintain the continent's iconic wildlife.

Patrick Omondi, Deputy Director of the Kenyan Wildlife Service. He is flying to New York City specifically for this event.

John Quiñones, winner of seven Emmy Awards for his "Primetime Live," and "20/20" work. Quiñones will moderate.

My interest in elephants far outweighs my knowledge, and I look forward to being in a room with these keen elephant observers and protectors. I’ll be Tweeting away on Friday night so follow along. Or hope to see you there!

Lecture Details:

Speaking Up For Elephants via Thinking Animal

Friday, October 4th

Symposium: 7:00pm - 8:30pm

Private Reception: 8:30pm- 10:00pm

Hunter College 68th & Lexington Ave

New York, NY

Tickets and event details here. Info about free entry for Hunter students here.


Image: Flickr creative commons Jethro Taylor and BuzzFeed


Maisels F, Strindberg S, Blake S, Wittemyer G, Hart J, et al. (2013) Devastating Decline of Forest Elephants in Central Africa. PLoS ONE 8(3): e59469. doi