Tag Archives: Thailand

Celebrating World Elephant Day Through Pictures

Today we celebrate the third annual World Elephant Day.

The holiday was created in 2012 by Canadian filmmaker and elephant advocate Patricia Sims, along with the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation in Thailand.

Elephant activist and filmmaker Patricia Sims with an older female elephant. Click to enlarge

The holiday was started to draw awareness to the plight of elephants around the world.

Asian elephants are an endangered species, with only about 40,000 left in the wild.

A 6-day old newborn Asian elephant meets some of the other elephants in its herd at Whipsnade Wild Animal Park in England. Click to enlarge (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images Europe)

In their traditional home of Thailand, only about 4,000 Asian elephants remain today, down from over 100,000 at the beginning of the 1900s.

In the past 50 years alone, their range has shrunk by nearly 70%:

Asian elephant range. Click to enlarge

African elephants are considered threatened, with a little under 400,000 remaining.

Other than habitat loss, one of the main threats facing African elephants is the extremely lucrative worldwide ivory trade.

July, 2011: Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki lights a bonfire of confiscated illegal ivory at the Tsavo East National Park in southeast Nairobi. Kibaki destroyed some 335 tusks and 42,553 pieces of ivory carvings. Click to enlarge (Tony Karumba / AFP – Getty Images)

Ivory is extremely valuable, meaning that modern day poachers are often very well-funded by wealthy ivory traders.

This high level of sophistication allows them to target even some of the most famous and well-protected elephants in the world.

Satao, one of the world’s last great tuskers (elephants with tusks weighing 100+ pounds each), was killed by poachers in Tsavo East National Park early in June of this year.

Satao had a reputation for being highly intelligent, and was even known to hide his massive tusks in bushes, seemingly aware of the danger that they brought upon him. Click to enlarge

But the news isn’t all bad.

In February of this year, the Fish and Wildlife Service banned all imports and exports of elephant ivory within the U.S. (with extremely narrow exceptions).

The U.S. actually has one of the largest illegal ivory markets in the world, second only to China.

Most ivory passes through Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong and the Philippines before ultimately ending up in China. Click to enlarge

And just last month, we got to hear the touching story of Raju.

This asian elephant spent 50 years being tortured and mistreated, all while sharp chains and spiked shackles cut painfully into his legs.

But in early July, a group of animal charity workers pulled off a daring rescue, freeing Raju from his nightmare. He was visibly emotional during the rescue, and even wept.

Raju the elephant wept when he realized he was being rescued. Click to enlarge

They delivered Raju to an elephant sanctuary in India, where he is already making new friends.

Raju is clearly enjoying his new home, friends and life. Click to enlarge

There are plenty of things to be optimistic about, but we have to keep reminding ourselves that the illegal ivory trade is still a big problem, and one that is actually getting worse.

More ivory was confiscated last year than in any of the previous 25 years. The problem is that poachers can get anywhere between $100-000 to $200,000 for a single tusk, which is a massive incentive to any would-be poacher.

The graphic below shows the relationship between elephant poaching in Africa and ivory seizures in Asia. Click to enlarge:

The problems facing elephants are serious indeed, but today is a celebration of the majestic creatures.

In light of that, I think it’s only fair that I finish this post off with three of the cutest baby elephants ever.

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These “Hero Rats” Are Saving Countless Lives By Detecting Land-mines and Tuberculosis (Video)

As a boy, Bart Weetjens loved to play with his pet rats. One thing that always stuck in his memory was the rat’s strong sense of smell and the ease at which they could be trained.

Bart recalled these skills years later as a student at the University of Antwerp in Belgium, where he was working on an analysis of the global land-mine detection problem (ie. how to find all of the unexploded mines left over from countless wars around the world).

Bart felt that rats could provide a cheaper, more efficient and more locally available solution to the land-mine problem, so he began to do early research on this concept in 1997.

Bart Weetjen, founder of APOPO, with one of his HeroRATs. Click to enlarge (Photo: Getty Images)

Bart called his project APOPO, which stands for  Anti-Persoonsmijnen Ontmijnende Product Ontwikkeling (English translation: Anti-Personnel Landmines Detection Product Development).

The organization moved to Mozambique in 2000, where they partnered with the Tanzanian People’s Defence Force to help mine-clearing operations in that  country.

A HeroRAT sniffs out a a land-mine. Click to enlarge (Image courtesy of APOPO)

By 2006, APOPO’s HeroRATS were also fully integrated into land-mine detection programs in Tanzania. In 2010, APOPO began operations in Thailand as well.

Check out below to learn more about the HeroRAT’s mine-detection skills:

The reason that these rats are so good at detecting land-mines is that they have an extremely acute sense of smell, which allows them to easily identify the scent of TNT (after being trained to recognize it).

Early on, Bart realized that the HeroRATS’ amazing sense of smell wasn’t being fully utilized. In 2003, he entered APOPO in the Development Marketplace Global Competition sponsored by the World Bank.

His idea: using the rats to help detect tuberculosis as well as land-mines. APOPO won the competition, and in doing so received the necessary funding for their research into training TB-detecting HeroRATS.

A HeroRAT checks samples for tuberculosis. Click to enlarge (Image courtesy of APOPO)

TB is one of the deadliest diseases in the world. About 9 million new cases are reported annually, and the disease kills nearly 2 million people each year.

The HeroRATS give health workers a huge advantage over humans when it comes to detection of the disease.

A human lab tech can only process about 40 samples in a day; the HeroRATS can do that same amount of work in only seven minutes, and they often find TB-positive samples that the human technicians missed.

Check out the video below to learn more about he HeroRATS’ work in tuberculosis detection:

To learn more about the APOPO organization’s land-mine and tuberculosis detection programs, you can visit their website here.

How Moken Children See With Amazing Clarity Underwater (Video)

Ever wondered why your vision gets blurry when you open your eyes underwater?

Well, as you descend down into the water, light levels quickly drop. Your eye reacts by opening the iris more to let in more light, which in turn widens your pupils, blurring your vision.

Moken children, however, learn at a very young age how to override this natural reaction, closing their pupils as much as possible rather than opening them wider.

This allows them to see twice as well as you or I underwater. However, recent studies suggest that any child can learn this skill.

The Moken people are a semi-nomadic seafaring people who live in and around the Mergui Archipelago, a group of around 800 islands in the Andaman Sea claimed by both Burma and Thailand.

To read more on the Moken, check out this article from Survival International.

Feature image courtesy of BBC One.