Conservation & Research


Currently, international elephant conservation measures focus on controlling ivory stockpiles, establishing and strengthening the borders of protected reserves, anti-poaching patrols, and preventative methodologies to reduce human-elephant conflicts.


The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) is an international treaty developed in 1973 to regulate trade in certain wildlife species, including elephants.

CITES categorizes various animals according to their current status. Asian elephants have been listed as Appendix I since 1975. Appendix I lists species identified as currently endangered, or in danger of extinction. African elephants were listed on Appendix I in 1990. However, as elephant populations grew in Zimbabwe, Botswana, and Namibia; these populations were down-listed to Appendix II in 1997. Appendix II lists species identified as currently threatened. The down-listing of African elephants in these countries resulted in a single shipment of stockpiled ivory, estimated to be nearly 50,000 kg (110,000 lb.) in weight, to Japan in 1999. In 2000, South Africa's elephant population was also down-listed to Appendix II. Currently, each of the above mentioned countries are allowed to export locally manufactured ivory carvings for non-commercial purposes. All other African elephant populations are still classified as Appendix I and trade is regulated.

African Elephant Conservation Act

The African Elephant Conservation Act was passed in 1988. This law allows the U.S. government to take strict action against illegal ivory imports and authorizes government funding for elephant field conservation projects. Through the provisions established by this law, elephant ivory imports are banned in the United States. However, it is legal to buy, sell, and transport African elephant ivory purchased before the ban.

Asian Elephant Conservation Act

The Asian Elephant Conservation Act was passed in 1997. This law supports and provides financial resources to conservation initiatives within Asian elephants’ geographic distribution.


IUCN/The World Conservation Union is a nongovernmental organization founded in 1948 that supports the conservation of wild living resources. The IUCN Red List has classified all Asian elephant subspecies as endangered in all parts of their range and African elephants as threatened.

Endangered Species Act

The Endangered Species Act of 1973 provides broad protection for endangered species in the U.S. and worldwide. Under this law, provisions are made for listing species, recovery plans, and critical habitat designation. This piece of legislation is the foundation for the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

Forest Conservation Act

The Forest Conservation Act of 1980 provides legal protection for the forests of India.

Elephant Trade Information System (ETIS)

In 1985, regulations were established for the ivory trade. All tusks being shipped from Africa are assigned a serial number. The serial number is then recorded on the exporting permit and assists in global tracking of the ivory.

Established in 1989, the Elephant Trade Information System analyzes levels and trends in illegal trade in ivory and other elephant products. It is managed by TRAFFIC (the wildlife trade monitoring network operated jointly by the World Wildlife Fund and the IUCN on behalf of the CITES parties.

Economic Incentives

Economic incentives involve the provision of financial benefits for the conservation of land and animals, in essence making conservation profitable for local people.

In some regions, compensation is given to field owners whose crops are damaged or eaten by elephants.

Sustainable Forest Management is an economic incentive that involves using the forest and/or forest products in a responsible manner, that avoids overexploitation or replants resources that were harvested.


Ecotourism is an economic incentive that combines conservation with tourism that benefits local people.

Elephants are symbolic of African wildlife. Their presence has increased eco-tourism that financially supports the local economy. Since their presence increases tour revenue, governments have increased incentives to develop preservation measures. It is estimated that elephants drive about $25 million dollars a year in ecotourism revenue for Kenya alone.


The creation of natural corridors has been beneficial in connecting isolated elephant populations, resources, and breeding opportunities. Corridors range in size and complexity based on herd size and distance between populations, resources, and protected reserves. Corridors may be as simple in form, such as a bridge across an irrigation canal, for short distances. For longer distances, a larger stretch of nominal quality land may be suitable.


Elephant translocation is the relocation of individuals to another locale that provides more suitable habitat. This method is primarily used with small herds or to exchange sexually mature bulls between populations, to increase genetic variety (gene pools).

Males are primarily translocated because they naturally disperse from their family groups when they mature. Females are translocated less frequently because they require relocation of entire families.

Anti-Poaching Patrols

Local people are often employed as scouts to help protect wildlife reserves. These anti-poaching patrols provide an alternate income resource that benefits them, their families and elephant conservation initiatives. Additionally, employment of local parents also helps disseminate conservation information to younger generations.

Anti-poaching measures can be costly, with an annual high estimate of $200 per km to conduct. However, due to elephants' role as a keystone species, their preservation affords protection for them and many other animal and plant species within the same ecosystem.

International Cooperation

Many African and Asian regions have established international cooperative relationships with neighboring countries to assist in the protection of uninterrupted elephant habitats. These cooperative relationships are especially important in regions where elephants are known to cross borders.

Sustainable Alternatives

A tagua nut is a seed from a South American palm tree (Phytelepbas macrocarpa). Once dried, tagua nuts are similar to elephant ivory, and can be used in the production of comparable products such as carvings, sculptures, and piano keys. The tagua palm tree is a reusable resource in that each tree can produce up to 22.5 kg (50 lb.) of tagua nuts each year, and harvesting causes no harm to the palm. Tagua nuts are sustainable alternatives to elephant ivory.

The widespread use of plastics has reduced consumer demand for ivory. In fact, European and Japanese piano manufacturers have replaced all ivory components on their instruments with plastic substitutes.

Preventative Measures for Human-Elephant Conflicts (HEC)

Crop location planning, if possible, is vital to prevention of human-elephant conflicts. Planting food crops away from the fringe of elephant habitats, reduces temptations to enter human settlements.

Auditory Prevention: In some Asian locales, tape-recorded tiger calls have been used to help deter elephants away from human settlements. Other auditory methodologies, such as high and low-frequency sounds are also being researched to help avoid human-elephant conflicts.

Reducing the visual attraction of human settlements may deter elephants from entering human settlements. Shiny, glittering objects often attract elephants' attention, whereas darker colors, such as black or green, generally go unnoticed.

Olfactory Prevention: In some Asian locales, tiger urine has been used to repel elephants away from human settlements. Additionally, other olfactory repellents are being researched for this purpose.

Pepper-dung: As an olfactory deterrent, elephant dung is combined with ground chillies, molded into a brick, and dried in the sun. When these bricks are burned, they create a pungent, foul-smelling smoke that lasts three to four hours.

Grease and hot-pepper: Oil made from chilly pepper concentrate is applied to a string and combined with grease, to act as a waterproof medium. The mixture of grease and hot pepper oil is an irritant to elephants if they come into contact with it.

Physical Barriers

Various forms of physical barriers have been employed to hinder the entrance of elephants into human settlements. Physical barriers include electrified fencing, trenches, and boulder dry walls. SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund is supporting an elephant trench project. Refer to the “Bukorwe Ridge Elephant Trench: Partner- Uganda Conservation Foundation” in the conservation section.

  • The most cost-effective physical barrier is electrified fencing. Malaysian companies that have used electrified fencing to protect their oil-palm and rubber plantations have reported an 80% reduction in elephant crop raiding.
  • Powerful spotlights: These powerful battery-operated spotlights have been effective in deterring elephants from coming in close proximity to human settlements because herds move away from the intense beams of light.
  • Trained female elephants, called koonkies, have been used to deter other herds away from human settlements. However, this method has potential challenges due to the possible attraction of a musth bull.

Zoological Parks

Zoological parks contribute to elephant conservation through research, public education, fund raising, and managed breeding programs. They help inspire the public's hearts and minds in taking a proactive role in environmental stewardship. Zoological parks help connect people to exotic wildlife from all over the world and empower visitors to take informed and compassionate conservation action.

A 2005 public opinion poll conducted by Harris Interactive® found the following:

  • 97% of respondents agree that zoos and aquariums play an important role in educating the public about animals they might not otherwise have the chance to see.
  • 96% agree that zoos and aquariums provide people with valuable information about the importance of animals and habitats.
  • 93% agree that visiting zoos and aquariums can inspire conservation action that can help animals and habitats.
  • 93% agree that people are more likely to be concerned about animals if they learn about them at zoos and aquariums.

Zoological Breeding Programs

Zoological breeding programs play an important role in elephant conservation by increasing the species' genetic variability (gene pools). The more diverse a species' gene pool (potential number of unrelated breeding opportunities), the healthier, and more stable the population becomes. Genetically diverse populations are more likely to persevere through periods of intense selection and less likely to become extinct.

In a cooperative effort with other AZA (Association of Zoos and Aquariums) institutions, Busch Gardens closely manages elephant populations through a program called the Species Survival Plan (SSP), which works to improve the genetic diversity of managed animal populations.

Zoological elephant breeding has certain sociological and environmental challenges. Adult males in musth (reproductively active) are characterized by having more unpredictable behavior. These behaviors, combined with their large size, can be difficult to manage in some zoological settings. Additionally, potential mating pairs are sometimes sociologically incompatible or there is great difficulty moving one or the other to the same facility. Therefore, assisted reproduction is sometimes required for successful breeding.

Assisted Reproduction

The vital aspect to artificial insemination is timing. There is only a two to three-day window when ovulation occurs and fertilization is likely.

Ovulation is primarily monitored through hormone levels collected through weekly blood samples. Hormone levels may also be identified through endocrine laboratory studies that measure hormone metabolites excreted in urine and feces.

Semen is collected from a bull and then transported to the female's location. This allows the female to stay with her herd and eliminates the need to transport elephants between facilities. Advances in artificial insemination and semen-sorting have pioneered research to assist in pre-determining gender in elephant gestations.

Several North American zoos have had successful artificial inseminations that resulted in full term pregnancies in elephants.

Zoological Parks' Roles in Increasing Public Awareness

Educational programming has sparked local and international interest for conservation issues. These programs help prepare future conservation leaders for challenging environmental concerns.

Zoological parks disseminate educational information in the form of public presentations, camps, educational programming, tour groups, research literature, and Web-based learning. Additionally, many zoological facilities participate in national and international conferences, presenting papers, and sharing knowledge and research with colleagues from all over the world.

Zoological Parks' Global Conservation Initiatives

The SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund's mission is to work with purpose and passion on behalf of wildlife and habitats worldwide, encouraging sustainable solutions through support of species research, animal rescue and rehabilitation, and conservation education. Since 2004, the Fund has supported various elephant preservation projects through habitat protection and conservation education.

  • Project: Behavioral Approach to Resolving Human-Elephant Conflict in the Altered Landscape of the Anamalai Hills, Western Ghats, India

    Partner: Nature Conservation Foundation

    Location: Anamalai Hills, Western Ghats, India

    The exploration of elephant movement patterns in high human impact areas is required for the development of conflict mitigation strategies. The Anamalai-Parambikulam Elephant Reserve is home to the second largest population of Asian elephants in India. The goal of this project is to examine the ranging patterns, habitat utilization, behavioral responses of elephants to human activity, and the spatial distribution of conflicts to determine suitable mitigation measures for promoting peaceful co-existence of elephants and humans.

  • Project: KIBODO

    Partner: Tusk Trust

    Location: Northeast coast of Kenya

    The Kibodo region encompasses three National Reserves, around 2,300 km2 (920 mi.2) in size. This project assists with improved security and social development of the region to promote biodiversity conservation.

  • Project: Namunuyak Wildlife Conservation Trust

    Partner: Tusk Trust

    Location: Kenya

    The Namunyak Wildlife Trust (NWCT) was established in 1995 to stop elephant poaching in the Matthews Range. The African elephant population in that area was around 500 individuals. The NWCT has contributed to the success of establishing a resident population in excess of 1,300 African elephants. The goal of this project is to strengthen the NWCT's project management and secure the long term employment of game guards.

  • Project: Youth Education Program, Masai Mara, Kenya

    Partner: Friends of Conservation

    Location: Kenya, Africa

    Increase environmental stewardship for children living in the Masai Mara region. This program teaches about the value of wildlife, habitats, and sustainable natural resource management that will hopefully influence present and future environmental decisions.

  • Project: Bukorwe Ridge Elephant Trench: Partner-Uganda Conservation Foundation

    Partner: Friends of Conservation

    Location: Uganda, Africa

    Located in Southern Queen Elizabeth National Park, Ishasha is home to the largest elephant population in Uganda. Competition for land and resources is growing as both human and elephant populations increase. Economic losses incurred by communities co-existing with wildlife are severe and instances of human-animal conflict are increasing rapidly. Crop raiding by elephants is extremely high and in order to protect both the elephants and the livelihoods of the subsistence farmers, a 20 km trench is being dug along the park boundary. In addition, newly designed fences are being erected and tested in the valleys and wetlands where the trench is inappropriate. With support from the Fund, the elephant trench and related conservation efforts will be completed.

  • Project: Developing a Sustainable Research and Conservation Program for the Reduction of Human and Elephant Deaths from Human-Elephant Conflict in the Somawathiya Chaitiya region of Sri Lanka

    Partner: Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society

    Location: Sri Lanka

    Lack of data on the ecology of Asian elephant (Elephas maximus maximus) populations hinders efforts to successfully address elephant conservation issues throughout Sri Lanka. This is one factor that leads to the deaths of about 60 humans and 100-150 elephants each year. This Fund-supported project collects empirical biological and ecological data on Sri Lanka's elephant populations to..... 1) develop conservation management strategies that include the resolution of human-elephant conflict and reduce human and elephant mortality; 2) provide ecological data to local stakeholders for use in planning village expansion, and to the government for use in planning rural development programs; 3) create alternative economic incentives to reduce dependency on agriculture. This multi-pronged project integrates research and conservation programs with development and education initiatives.

For more information on these and other SeaWorld & Busch Gardens Conservation Fund projects, please visit http://www.swbg-conservationfund.org

What Can I Do?

We can help save elephants by protecting the forested habitats in which they live. Certified forestry products assures consumers that their wood purchases come from forests whose products are harvested in a manner that conserves biodiversity, limits degradation to soil and water supplies, and supports local communities. Several organizations such as the Forest Stewardship Council and the Sustainable Forestry Initiative provide certified forestry certification to products that comply with global sustainable forestry standards. By purchasing certified wood products, we are helping to save many endangered species, including elephants, by protecting their environment.

Sustainable alternatives to endangered animal products help meet present consumer demand without compromising future generations' resources. Tagua nuts are sustainable alternatives to elephant ivory.

Refer to the sustainable alternatives section above.

Consumer wisdom can have a powerful influence in the global marketplace and is one of the best ways to curb illegal wildlife trade. After all, there would not be a supply of illegal wildlife products available if there was no demand for them. By not purchasing illegal elephant products, the demand for them diminishes, thereby aiding their conservation.

We can help save exotic endangered wildlife by becoming environmentally invested in our own backyards. Learning and understanding about local wildlife and habitats are the stepping stones to global conservation initiatives. Backyard wildlife habitats are a great way to attract local wildlife such as songbirds and butterflies and provide a nurturing retreat for them all year long. In addition to attracting wildlife and increasing the appeal of your property, environmentally-friendly gardening practices help reduce chemicals, save water and improve air, water and soil quality throughout your neighborhood. The National Wildlife Federation has a certification program that recognizes the commitment involved in creating a place for wildlife in the modern world. Creating wildlife habitats in our own backyards fosters an appreciation and understanding for local wildlife and environment. These skills can then be built upon and applied to global environmental stewardship where endangered species such as Asian elephants can be conserved.

Coltan is a metallic ore and is an essential component in the circuit boards of cell phones and other electronic devices. Nearly 80% of the world's coltan resources are located in Africa, specifically in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), which is home to many species including elephants. The land clearing involved with coltan mining has greatly reduced the amount of available food and foraging grounds for native wildlife. In the past decade, cell phone usage has greatly increased, making coltan mining a very lucrative industry. We can help reduce mining in these regions by recycling cell phones, laptops, and other electronic devices. Many coltan-utilizing companies are offering recycling incentives such as free shipping for the return of unused electronics. Consumer support for these company's initiatives also helps promote global conservation.