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An Introduction to the Five Freedoms & Five Domains Models of Animal Welfare

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The protection and promotion of elephant welfare is a core value of Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. We pride ourselves on our knowledge of, and adherence to, modern standards of animal welfare. In addition, we believe that to improve animal welfare on a national, or even global, scale, information about theories of animal welfare and the associated frameworks for welfare assessment should be freely accessible to everybody. In this post, we will discuss two of the most influential and widely used models of animal welfare.


Although animals have been domesticated and lived alongside humans for millennia, animal welfare as a scientific concept is a shockingly recent development. Attempts to adequately define animal welfare – and to identify and codify its constituent elements for the benefit of domestic animals – began in earnest only in the latter half of the 20th Century. While some components of welfare are both intuitive and easily apparent to any animal owner or casual observer, others – in particular, psychological needs – may be less obvious, and thus a standardised, objective set of standards is vital for ensuring animals’ fundamental needs are met.


The importance of animal welfare was highlighted in 1964, when an activist named Ruth Harrison published a book entitled ‘Animal Machines.’ This book exposed to the public the animal cruelty associated with industrialised agriculture (or “factory farming”) practices in Britain. Information contained within Harrison’s book, combined with public outrage at its contents, prompted the creation of a committee to officially investigate the welfare of farm animals in the UK. The resulting report, known as the “Brambell Report,” stated that animals kept by humans should have the freedom “to stand up, lie down, turn around, groom themselves, and stretch their limbs.” These guidelines became known as Brambell’s Five Freedoms, and although they were specific to an industrialised agriculture setting – and may appear to a present-day reader to be both fundamental and self-evident – at the time of publication, the mere creation of a set of formalised guidelines for animal welfare was a landmark development.


By 1979, Brambell’s Five Freedoms had been developed significantly, and formally codified into a model of animal welfare which is now known simply as the ‘Five Freedoms’. Each Freedom benchmark is accompanied by a “Provision” which aims to offer an explanation of practical measures by which the associated Freedom may be attained. The Five Freedoms are listed below in bold, accompanied by their companion Provisions:


1. Freedom from thirst, hunger, and malnutrition: By providing ready access to fresh water and a diet to maintain full health and vigour.

2. Freedom from discomfort and exposure: By providing an appropriate environment including shelter and a comfortable resting area.

3. Freedom from pain, injury, and disease: By prevention or rapid diagnosis and treatment.

4. Freedom from fear and distress: By ensuring conditions and treatment which avoid mental suffering.

5. Freedom to express normal behaviour: By providing sufficient space, proper facilities, and company of an animal’s own kind.


An infant elephant with its mother at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary



In the context of elephant welfare, in order to adequately meet an elephant’s complex physical, psychological, and social needs, according to the Five Freedoms model, a number of things must be provided to the animal. These include consistent access to fresh water, a varied, healthy diet tailored to the needs of the individual, and nutritional supplementation if necessary. A safe, secure, location with adequate space for roaming, foraging, and physical activity, comprised of a varied landscape, and featuring natural vegetation, should also be provided. Elephants should, at all times, have access to a choice of shelter to protect them from weather conditions, including rest areas and shelters in which they can sleep comfortably, which minimal interference from human activity and environmental stimuli such as excessive noise or artificial light. Mahouts should be sufficiently qualified and experienced to ensure the safety of all animals and humans, and should monitor the elephants daily for signs of distress, social issues within the herd, or physical illness. Access to immediate veterinary care should be available, and frequent routine health checks should be provided by veterinary staff to ensure prevention, or early diagnosis and treatment, of any disease or injury. Furthermore, proactive measures such as the administration of vaccines and anthelmintics are vital to ensuring an elephant’s health. Elephants should be provided with adequate space and freedom to choose whether to engage socially or roam independently, should not be forced to perform any unnatural behaviours, and should be restrained only when necessary to ensure the safety and wellbeing of themselves or others, such as during certain veterinary treatments.


Since its formulation, the Five Freedoms model of animal welfare has been profoundly influential, and has served as the basis for countless research articles, animal care protocols, and animal protection laws worldwide. Despite its near-universal adoption, the Five Freedoms paradigm has received criticism, most notably due to its limitations in scope. Perhaps unsurprisingly, due to its conception as an corrective measure to immediately alleviate the appalling conditions experienced by animals in an industrialised agricultural setting, the focus of the Five Freedoms model is, principally, to minimise, resolve, or remove the negative physical and mental states which can occur in domestic and captive animals as a result of harmful environmental conditions and stimuli. While this endeavour is undoubtedly noble in nature, the implementation of the Five Freedoms alone can, at best, alleviate negative states and lead to a neutral state of being. Our current understanding of animal psychology demonstrates that, while the removal or minimisation of negative physical and mental states is important, animal welfare management protocols should also promote positive experiences and environmental stimuli. Additionally, positive physical and mental states should be emphasised during the formulation of practical animal care guidelines, and incorporated into any model aimed at measuring overall animal welfare of an individual or population.


One model of animal welfare which aims to move beyond the Five Freedoms by incorporating positive physical and mental states is the similarly named Five Domains Model. First proposed in 1994, the Five Domains Model expands on the Five Freedoms to systematically measure welfare outcomes. This updated reformulation of the original theory allows for a more thorough exploration of the psychological state of an animal than the Five Freedoms. It also reinforces the idea that emotional needs are no less important than physical needs for overall welfare. The Five Domains (shown in a somewhat simplified form) are as follows:


1. Nutrition

2. Environment

3. Health

4. Behaviour

5. Mental State


The first four Domains are predominantly ‘Physical/Functional’ Domains, and can be used to identify impacts from both negative and positive stimuli. Nutrition, Environment, and Health may be grouped as ‘Survival-Related Factors,’ and evaluate the presence and effects of such things as adequate food and water, pleasantness of environment, overall physical fitness, and the presence or absence of disease. ‘Situation-Related Factors’ can be grouped under the Behaviour Domain, and allow assessment of negative behavioural factors, such as the restriction of natural behavioural expression, as well as positive factors, such as the encouragement of expression of rewarding behaviours. The fifth ‘Mental State’ Domain reflects the overall mental state of an animal by evaluating the previous four Domains. The negative and positive factors identified in Domains 1-4 are assessed together in the fifth Domain to ascertain their accumulated impact on welfare. The overall ‘Affective Experience’ in the Mental State Domain equates to the overall welfare status.


While the aims of the Five Freedoms and the Five Domains are different, the models can be viewed as complementary. The Five Freedoms focuses on the minimisation or removal of negative physical or mental states, while the Five Domains Model clarifies that, in order to incorporate positive welfare states, animals must be provided with opportunities to have positive experiences. The overall mental state of any domestic animal can benefit from predominantly positive states, such as pleasure, vitality, anticipation, and satiation, while negative states, such as fear, boredom, hunger, pain, and frustration, should be reduced as much as possible. The environment in which an animal lives should be carefully designed to not only provide necessities such as safety, comfort, and adequate shelter, but also to encourage the animal to express natural and rewarding behaviours.


Both the Five Freedoms and Five Domains models have undergone significant revisions and updates since their original formulation, and are continually being reviewed to improve their clarity and relevance. Many other models of animal welfare and assessment frameworks have been formulated, including the ‘Five Provisions/Welfare Aims’ paradigm, which is inherently linked to the original Five Freedoms model, but eliminates the “Freedoms” as problematic terminology, opting instead to focus on the accompanying provisions, paired with animal welfare aims, such as “Minimise thirst and hunger and enable eating to be a pleasurable experience.” (Paired with the ‘Good Nutrition’ Provision.) As humans continue to expand our understanding of animal biology, behaviour, and psychology, our ethical concerns regarding the welfare of domestic and captive animals will inevitably continue to evolve. The original Five Freedoms model of animal welfare may require supplementation to maintain its relevance, but it is invaluable as a foundation for theoretical thought, and the positive impact it has had – both directly and indirectly – on the lives and wellbeing of countless animals over the course of the past six decades cannot be understated.


Elephant Jungle Sanctuary adheres to the Five Freedoms principles and uses an updated version of the Five Domains paradigm to assess the welfare of the elephants we care for on a routine basis. We believe wholeheartedly in the elimination of negative welfare states and the implementation of positive welfare states, and we do our best to create environments which promote enriching experiences and encourage natural, rewarding behaviours. Models such as the Five Freedoms and Five Domains are extremely valuable as guidelines for animal care, and the EJS team uses these as a foundation, incorporating complementary knowledge sourced from contemporary scientific literature and the latest in evidence-based veterinary care and husbandry practices.



References

Beausoleil, N. J., Jones, B., Littlewood, K. E., McGreevy, P. D., McLean, A. N., Mellor, D. J., & Wilkins, C. (2020). The 2020 Five Domains Model: Including Human-Animal Interactions in Assessments of Animal Welfare. Animals, 10(10): 1870.

https://doi.org/10.3390/ani10101870


Beausoleil, N. J., Mellor, D. J. (2015). Extending the ‘Five Domains’ Model for Animal Welfare Assessment to Incorporate Positive Welfare States. Animal Welfare, 24(3): 241-253.

https://doi.org/10.7120/09627286.24.3.241


Broom, D. M. (2011). A History of Animal Welfare Science. Acta Biotheoretica, 59(2), 121-137.

https://doi.org/10.1007/s10441-011-9123-3


Companion Animal Psychology. (2017). The Five Domains Model Aims to Help Animals Thrive.

https://www.companionanimalpsychology.com/2017/01/the-five-domains-model-aims-to-help.html


Grandin, T. (Ed.). (2021). Improving Animal Welfare: A practical approach. 3rd edition. CAB International, Oxfordshire, UK.

Mellor, D. J. (2016). Moving Beyond the “Five Freedoms” by Updating the “Five Provisions” and Introducing Aligned “Animal Welfare Aims”. Animals (Basel), 6(10): 59.

https://doi.org/10.3390/ani6100059


Mellor, D. J. (2016). Updating Animal Welfare Thinking: Moving Beyond the “Five Freedoms” towards “A Life Worth Living”. Animals (Basel), 6(3): 21.

https://doi.org/10.3390/ani6030021


Michigan State University. (2019). The Five Freedoms: A History Lesson in Animal Care and Welfare.

https://www.canr.msu.edu/news/an_animal_welfare_history_lesson_on_the_five_freedoms


Webster, J. (2005). Animal Welfare: Limping towards Eden. Blackwell Publishing, Oxford, UK.

Welcoming Rosé to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Family

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Welcoming Rosé to the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Family


The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary team is elated to report that we have several new EJS family members at our Phuket location! These elephants each have unique backgrounds and histories, but they all now share a permanent home, where they can live a life of love, care, and respect. We will be introducing each new elephant in individual blog posts in the coming weeks, but first, we would like to formally welcome the lovely Rosé to EJS. [Update: You can meet and read the stories of Lisa and Jennie in their own dedicated blog posts.]

Rosé is a 47 year old female elephant who was recently rescued from a local riding camp. After arriving at EJS Phuket, she entered quarantine and underwent a thorough physical examination by our veterinary team. Overall, she was found to be physically healthy, though she was given precautionary deworming medication and had several minor lacerations on her trunk which required treatment. We are happy to report that her minor wounds are now almost fully healed. Rosé has several identifiable physical attributes, including tail hair which is naturally very short, and a small hole in her right ear, the cause of which could not be determined.

Currently, Rosé is still settling into her new home, and the brief interactions she has had with the other elephants have been superficial. These closely supervised encounters have included visual, olfactory, and auditory communication between Rosé and others, but no physical touch of a kind indicative of the close bond needed for complete acceptance into the herd has yet been observed. Socially, Rosé is friendly and outgoing, and we are confident that once she is allowed to fully integrate into the herd, her relationships with the other elephants at EJS will blossom into lifelong bonds.


Introducing Lisa – The Newest Member of the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Phuket Herd!

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Lisa – The Newest Member of the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Phuket


The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary team is proud to announce the second new resident to join our herd at the EJS Phuket location recently [If you haven’t met Rosé yet, you can check our previous post about her here]. Please allow us to officially introduce the beautiful Lisa and welcome her to Elephant Jungle Sanctuary! Lisa, Rosé, and another new member of the herd – who will be introduced in an upcoming post – all have unique backgrounds and histories, but they all now share a permanent home, where they can live a life of love, care, and respect.

Lisa is a 40 year old female elephant who was recently rescued from a local elephant camp in Phuket and brought to EJS. Little is known about her early life, but it is believed that she was born in or near Bangkok. Prior to the economic downturn resulting from the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, Lisa worked as a performer at a circus in Bangkok for at least eight years. In 2020, as a result of a lack of tourism income forcing the circus to close, she was moved to Phuket, where, unfortunately, she was subjected to inhumane treatment. For more than two years, Lisa was confined to a small space in which she had little interaction with elephants or humans, and limited cognitive stimulation from her austere environment. During her time in Phuket, Lisa’s diet was not sufficiently varied, and she did not have adequate space in which to properly exercise. As a result of these factors, she was in somewhat poor health at the time of her rescue.

Upon arriving at her new home at EJS Phuket, Lisa underwent a thorough veterinary health check and began a period of quarantine. During this time, she was also introduced to her new Mahout, and they began the long process of forming a bond. Lisa was found to have several distinguishing physical characteristics, including a larger than average head size, large ears, and unusual two-toned tail hair. Our veterinary team administered a course of precautionary deworming medication, as well as vitamins and other dietary supplements, and noted that she had a friendly but somewhat nervous disposition on arrival.

Curiously, Lisa had adapted to the limitations of her former environment so completely that she initially refused all foods except for bamboo leaves and a select few other fibrous plants. Her Mahout attempted to offer her a huge variety of different foods each day, but it took two weeks before she felt comfortable enough to indulge in any food to which she was previously unaccustomed. Now, like the other elephants in her herd, Lisa has begun adjusting to her new life, and enjoys a balanced, nutritious, and highly varied diet, eating with a newfound prodigious appetite. Similarly, Lisa was observed to be hesitant to leave her resting area or interact with other elephants, even after her quarantine period had been completed. Her Mahout gently encouraged her to join him on short walks in the forest, and initially, though she would walk a short distance, she showed little interest in roaming independently or foraging for food.

Over time, however, Lisa’s curiosity seemed to grow with her fitness and confidence, and she began to roam further and forage in an exploratory way for longer periods. Simultaneously, she also began to initiate interactions with the other elephants at EJS Phuket, and she is currently settling into herd social life very well. It is a pleasure and a privilege to help Lisa and elephants like her, and the Elephant Jungle Sanctuary team is extremely pleased with her progress thus far.


Meet Jennie – A Cherished New Arrival at EJS Phuket

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Jennie a Cherished New Arrival at EJS


The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary team is proud to introduce Jennie – a beautiful new addition to our elephant family at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary’s Phuket location! Jennie is the third elephant to be introduced here in our new blog section, and if you haven’t met the others yet, you can read about Rosé and Lisa in their respective posts. These elephants each have unique backgrounds and histories, but they all now share a permanent home, where they can live a life of love, care, and respect.

Jennie is a beautiful 54 year old female elephant from southern Thailand, who was recently rescued from a local elephant camp and brought to Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Phuket, where she can now enjoy her retirement in a peaceful and happy permanent home. Born in Phang Nga province, Jennie began working long hours while she was still in her early teens. Throughout her life, she has been used by humans in a variety of difficult roles, often in extreme and difficult conditions. Though she has also worked in a number of riding camps, it is estimated that Jennie has spent over four decades of her life working in the logging industry, in both legal and clandestine operations.

These years of hard labour have taken their toll on Jennie physically, and though she has a strong, robust frame – Jennie has a body type that many consider a model ideal for female elephants, with long legs, a shapely form, and beautiful eyes – Jennie was frail, thin, and malnourished at the time of her arrival at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. Due to her somewhat advanced age, as well as her tough lifestyle in the past, Jennie is missing some of her teeth, and is now unable to replace those which have been lost. This is not an uncommon problem in elderly elephants, both domestic and wild, however it is an issue that requires special attention and care. In her previous home, Jennie did not receive the necessary treatment for her condition, and additionally, being unable to work and generate income, she was often neglected.

Upon her arrival at EJS Phuket, our specialist veterinary team conducted a thorough physical examination of Jennie, and concluded that – likely due, at least in part, to her dental issues – she was significantly underweight, malnourished, and slightly dehydrated. She was also lacking muscle tone, indicating that she had not been provided with the opportunity or space to exercise an adequate amount. During her necessary quarantine period, the EJS veterinary team prescribed precautionary medications, such as anthelmintics, and formulated a bespoke nutrition plan for Jennie, designed to cater to her special needs, as well as to restore her health and energy quickly. She has also been provided with vitamins and dietary supplements to assist her recovery.

Jennie has bonded quickly and deeply with her new Mahout, and together they have frequently been venturing into the forest. This is an important part of Jennie’s new daily exercise regimen, and also offers her the opportunity to forage for food. Having previously worked in numerous logging camps in the jungles of southern Thailand, Jennie is unlike many domestic elephants in that she has a good knowledge of local flora, and can be selective in choosing the nutritional plants her body requires. Jennie’s Mahout reports that she is not a fussy eater, and enjoys a wide variety of foods, seemingly unhindered by her missing teeth, except for the fact that she must eat more slowly and patiently than other elephants.

Since her rescue, Jennie has settled in well at EJS Phuket, and her dietary plan, supplements, and exercise regimen have allowed her to regain some vitality and put on a significant amount of muscle. She appears visibly healthier, and no longer looks aged beyond her years. The EJS team is very pleased with her recovery thus far, and the speed of her weight gain has exceeded the expectations of our veterinary team. Jennie is a very social, friendly elephant, and she has made considerable effort to befriend the other elephants at our Phuket location and integrate into the herd. She seems to have found a role within the hierarchy, and is becoming close with a number of other elephants, but deep bonds have yet to be formed. We are confident that, in time, Jennie will become a truly beloved member of the EJS Phuket herd.


Buzzword Species: Defining Ecological and Conservation Terminology in the Context of Elephants

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Endangered Species

Definition: A species which is facing a very high risk of extinction in the near future.

In the context of wildlife conservation, perhaps the most widely known designation is that of endangered species. Though at a rudimentary level it is easily understood, “endangered” is often misused. Classifying a species as endangered requires specialised assessment and evaluation against standardised criteria. Additionally, numerous organisations and individuals utilise differing definitions, criteria, and subcategories of endangered status, meaning that identical data on a single species may result in that species being classified as “endangered,” “critically endangered,” “threatened,” or “vulnerable,” depending on the classification system used.

The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) Red List of Threatened Species is regarded as a crucial indicator of a species’ risk of extinction. The IUCN uses standardised criteria (including population size factors, geographic range, and a quantitative analysis of the probability of extinction) to evaluate and classify species into categories based on the severity of their current global extinction risk. The majority of the IUCN Red List categories can be grouped into three broad categories: Lower Risk, Threatened, and Extinct. Within the Threatened category, there are three subcategories into which a species may be classified. In order of severity, these are: Vulnerable (VU), Endangered (EN), and Critically Endangered (CR), with animals in these categories presently facing a “high,” “very high,” and “extremely high” risk of extinction in the wild, respectively.

Thus, we can define an ‘endangered’ species as any species which is very likely to become extinct in the wild in the near future. Furthermore, a ‘critically endangered’ species can be defined as one which is considered to be facing an extremely high and imminent risk of extinction in the wild. It should be noted that, somewhat confusingly, in the United States, the Endangered Species Act of 1973 (ESA) categorises a ‘Threatened’ species as one which is “likely to become an endangered species within the foreseeable future…”

Are Elephants Endangered?

The IUCN Red List has assessed the Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus) as an endangered species, noting specifically a marked “continuing decline in area, extent, and/or quality of habitat” as a cause of wild elephant population decline, and a major threat to the survival of the species. The African Savanna Elephant (Loxodonta africana) is also currently classified as an endangered species according to the IUCN Red List, while in 2020 the African Forest Elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) received an assessment of Critically Endangered (CR).

The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) species list uses the same classifications for the elephant species, but further details the extinction risk status of Asian elephant subspecies. Of the three definitively classified Asian elephant subspecies, Indian, Sri Lankan, and Sumatran, the former two remain classified as Endangered (EN), as does the Bornean elephant, when assessed independently. The Sumatran subspecies, however, was reclassified to Critically Endangered (CR) in 2012, as a result of a significant population loss – up to 80% – in a single generation (approximately 25 years). This tragic decline in numbers of wild Sumatran elephants has been attributed to human-elephant conflict and devastating deforestation within the species’ habitat – some estimates claim that up to 70% of the habitat of the Sumatran elephant was destroyed within one generation, with much of the rest heavily fragmented.



Priority Species

Definition: A threatened or endangered species with unique or significant value to one or more ecosystems, communities, or cultures, possibly exploited for commercial gain and/or emblematic of broader conservation issues.

The term “priority species” has a number of broad definitions which are often unrelated and not always complementary. A priority species may simply refer to a species “requiring protective measures and/or management guidelines to ensure their persistence at genetically viable population levels.” This description is usually used as a legal definition in the U.S., and as such, if used as a classification tool, it would most likely result in a list comprised of species designated as endangered or threatened by a recognised international body or national law. Some priority species may also be legally classified as protected species, meaning that it is illegal to capture, kill, injure, or disturb any member of that species.

Other definitional guidelines are less rigid in scope. These include species “of principal importance for the purpose of maintaining biodiversity” and “endangered species whose survival cannot be guaranteed by conserving their habitat alone.” The WWF states that conservation efforts should be prioritised towards species which are especially important, either to their ecosystem, or to humans, based on one or more of the following criteria:

  • Species forming a key element of the food chain.
  • Species which help the stability or regeneration of habitats.
  • Species demonstrating broader conservation needs.
  • Species important for the health and livelihoods of local communities.
  • Species exploited commercially.
  • Species that are important cultural icons.

Conservation efforts which focus on the protection of priority species often extend to the conservation of these species’ critical habitats, referred to as “priority habitats.” Priority habitat can be defined as “a habitat type with unique or significant value to one or more species.” By extrapolating from this simple definition, and adding key details, it can be argued that a universal definition of a priority species may be attained, as follows: A threatened or endangered species with unique or significant value to one or more ecosystems, communities, or cultures, possibly exploited for commercial gain and/or emblematic of broader conservation issues.

Are Elephants a Priority Species?

Elephants may be considered a priority species for a number of reasons. As outlined previously, elephants are endangered, and since they require large amounts of space to meet their ecological needs, they have a particular susceptibility to population decline as a result of habitat destruction and fragmentation. The majority of such habitat loss is caused by humans, and thus, protective measures, management guidelines, and legal frameworks are necessary in order to effectively protect elephants. However, even if elephant habitats were preserved successfully, or even partially regenerated, their survival would still be threatened by many other factors, including human-elephant conflict, poaching, and climate change.

Furthermore, despite being herbivores whose large size almost invariably protects them from natural predation, elephants play a vital supporting role in food chain maintenance. Sometimes described as “ecosystem engineers,” the behaviours exhibited by elephants are extremely important for the promotion and preservation of biodiversity in their habitats, and the presence of elephants in an area is closely connected to the regeneration and stability of the local ecosystem.

Elephants also occupy a position of unique importance to the human population of their native habitats. Historically, humans in many parts of the world relied on elephants for transport, construction, and other manual labour tasks which allowed individuals, and entire societies, to prosper. Nowadays, elephant tourism provides jobs and livelihoods for many people throughout both Africa and Asia, and some communities are almost wholly reliant on earnings generated either directly from elephant tourism, or indirectly, such as income from crops grown specifically to feed elephants. Elephants are also highly significant cultural and religious icons in many places, including Thailand, where they have been revered for millennia. [You can read articles about the cultural and religious significance of elephants in Thailand on the excellent blog page of our partner, The Care Project Foundation.] Lastly, wild elephants are, sadly, exploited for commercial purposes through poaching, particularly, though not exclusively, for ivory. Unsurprisingly, WWF lists elephants as among the 10 priority species clusters it considers in need of concentrated conservation efforts.


Charismatic Species

Definition: A popular, charismatic species that serves as a symbol or rallying point to stimulate conservation awareness and action.

The term…

Are Elephants a Charismatic Species?

Elephants.


Flagship Species

Definition: A species chosen to raise support for biodiversity conservation in a given place or social context.

The term…

Are Elephants a Flagship Species?

Elephants.


Indicator Species

Definition: A

The term…

Are Elephants an Indicator Species?

Elephants.


Umbrella Species

Definition: A species whose conservation is expected to indirectly protect a large number of naturally co-occuring species within its habitat.

The term…

Are Elephants an Umbrella Species?

Elephants.


Keystone Species

Definition: A species on which other species in an ecosystem largely depend, such that if it were removed the ecosystem would change drastically.

The term…

Are Elephants a Keystone Species?

Elephants



References

City of Alwaco, WA. (2017). Shoreline Master Program.
https://ilwaco-wa.gov/wp-content/uploads/2017/09/Locally-adopted-SMP.pdf


Endangered Species Conservation Act. Public Law 205, U.S. Statutes at Large 87 (1973): 884-903.


Gobush, K.S., Edwards, C.T.T, Maisels, F., Wittemyer, G., Balfour, D. & Taylor, R.D. (2021). Loxodonta cyclotis (errata version published in 2021). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2021: e.T181007989A204404464. 
https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2021-1.RLTS.T181007989A204404464.en


Gobush, K.S., Edwards, C.T.T, Balfour, D., Wittemyer, G., Maisels, F. & Taylor, R.D. (2022). Loxodonta africana (amended version of 2021 assessment). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2022: e.T181008073A223031019. 
https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2022-2.RLTS.T181008073A223031019.en


IUCN. (2022). The IUCN Red List of Threatened Species. Version 2022-2.
https://www.iucnredlist.org


Williams, C., Tiwari, S.K., Goswami, V.R., de Silva, S., Kumar, A., Baskaran, N., Yoganand, K. & Menon, V. (2020). Elephas maximusThe IUCN Red List of Threatened Species 2020: e.T7140A45818198. 
https://dx.doi.org/10.2305/IUCN.UK.2020-3.RLTS.T7140A45818198.en


World Wildlife Fund. (N.D.). Species Directory.
https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/directory


World Wildlife Fund for Nature. (N.D.). Priority Species.
https://wwf.panda.org/discover/knowledge_hub/endangered_species/

Elephant Jungle Survival: A Retrospective Look at EJS During the Pandemic

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The COVID-19 pandemic caused innumerable far-reaching and often devastating difficulties for people around the world, some of which continue to resonate. But less commonly discussed than the ramifications the crisis has had on humans is the severity of the impact that coronavirus – or, often more correctly, the restrictions implemented to limit the spread of coronavirus – had on animals, both wild and domestic. While some of these effects resulted in a positive outcome for one or more species, the repercussions for domestic elephants in Thailand were dire. Many elephants faced the threat of hunger and illness as their owners’ income – primarily derived from international tourism – dissolved, and many mahouts were left without employment as the months progressed. Elephant camps and tourism organisations throughout Thailand were forced to cease operations, in some cases permanently. Fortunately, with help from our wonderful supporters, Elephant Jungle Sanctuary (EJS) was able to adapt and, ultimately, survive. In this blog post, we will discuss the issues faced by EJS during the pandemic, as well as some of the strategies our devoted team used to ensure we could continue to provide a high quality of life for the elephants in our care.

If you would like to learn more about the hardships faced by elephants in Thailand generally, you can read an informative blog post on the topic at our partner The Care Project Foundation’s website HERE.

An elephant walks with mahouts to a new home at a nearby EJS location in Chiang Mai, Thailand.


Like people around the world, when the COVID-19 pandemic began, the EJS team waited anxiously to find out what might happen. As the months progressed, it seemed that a resolution to the situation would likely not be reached quickly, and with the introduction of international travel restrictions and mandatory closures of tours, national parks, and other attractions in Thailand, it became clear that extraordinary measures would need to be taken in order to ensure the safety and wellbeing of the elephants at Elephant Jungle Sanctuary. One of the most immediate problems we faced – and ultimately, one which would prove enduring – was that of feeding close to 100 elephants with little to no income.

Elephants eat approximately 10% of their body weight in food daily, which, on average, equates to around 200kg per elephant, per day. Although at most EJS locations we are fortunate to have abundant lush jungle in which the elephants can forage, we understood that this would be unsustainable as a sole food source for any extended period of time, and that we would need to find complementary sources of food. Additionally, we were mindful of the risks posed to local ecosystems if we relied exclusively on the surrounding forest for elephant food. Taking advantage of any otherwise unused land available to us, with the help of our mahouts we planted a large amount of Napier grass at many of our locations. Cultivating our own grass partially reduced our reliance on external food sources, but with a growth cycle of around 3 months needed before each harvest, this too would prove insufficient to meet the daily dietary needs of our elephants.

Prior to the pandemic, a significant portion of the food given to our elephants on a daily basis was purchased from local farmers in the communities surrounding each EJS location. In addition to the necessity of having an additional food source as the pandemic progressed, we wished to honour our existing agreements with these farmers and help support them financially during this time of shared hardship. However, the majority of the income received by Elephant Jungle Sanctuary has, historically, been generated by offering ethical elephant interaction experiences to international visitors. Without this important source of income, we knew that our daily expenses, including elephant food, veterinary care, staff wages, and maintenance of infrastructure, would eventually become unaffordable. To offset the effects of this severe impending problem, the EJS team developed a number of innovative solutions.

Initially, we decided to adapt by pivoting some of our existing office spaces into alternative businesses designed to appeal to local Thai people. We quickly opened several cafes and restaurants, where talented Elephant Jungle Sanctuary chefs pivoted from preparing buffet lunches for visitors to serving papaya salad, noodles, and coffee. In addition to providing EJS with much-needed income, these endeavours allowed us to continue to offer employment to many people whose jobs would otherwise have been rendered redundant by the ongoing COVID-19 restrictions. Furthermore, they offered us a platform to reach out, educate, and directly discuss elephant welfare with people in the local area. The Elephant Jungle Sanctuary Phuket team also managed to engage with people internationally during this time, by launching a personalised video content service via Cameo. While we had some success with these ventures, despite our best efforts, the income generated by them unfortunately remained insufficient to meet the requirements of our elephants on a long-term basis.

In early 2021, a critical turning point was reached, and drastic actions needed to be taken in order to keep our beloved project alive. After much deliberation, discussion, and thorough planning, the EJS team made the difficult decision to close several of our Sanctuary locations in order to reduce operational expenses. This temporary solution brought with it a variety of new challenges, not least of which was the logistical difficulty of finding new homes for, and ultimately relocating, the elephants living at the locations to be closed. While this outcome was far from ideal, continuing to maintain operations at every existing EJS location had begun to prove wholly unsustainable, and radical action was needed to ensure the continued survival of Elephant Jungle Sanctuary and the wellbeing of the elephants in our care.

New home locations were carefully selected for each elephant to be relocated, based on an array of considered factors, including health status, personality type, and pre-existing social relationships. EJS management, our veterinary team, mahouts, drivers, and auxiliary support staff collaborated to ensure that each elephant had a smooth journey to a permanent new home large enough to accommodate them comfortably. After a period of close monitoring while they settled in, we were satisfied that every relocated elephant had integrated easily and happily into their new herd, and we are glad to report that we encountered no social integration or other issues since.

Each of the aforementioned methods to gather or retain resources was an important part of our overall makeshift pandemic survival strategy, but there is one thing we have not yet mentioned which was absolutely vital – the support we received from you! Without the overwhelmingly generous support and morale-boosting messages of love we received from our friends, past visitors, and supporters, both in Thailand and around the world, EJS might not have made it through the many months of hardship to continue to care for elephants today. Aside from offering financial support for elephant food, booking a personalised video greeting featuring an elephant, or simply sharing powerful words of encouragement on social media, some of our supporters found novel and mutually beneficial ways to offer assistance to EJS. Some new friends who live in Thailand even offered us the plants from their overgrown gardens for elephant food, and in return received a free gardening service from EJS staff!

As international borders reopened, and the severity of the daily struggle to feed our elephants subsided, The EJS team was able to pause and reflect on their incredible achievement, marvel at the generosity of our supporters, and appreciate the constant dedication and sacrifice of our mahouts, who work for the benefit of elephants every day, whether there is a pandemic in progress or not, and without whom our Sanctuary could not function on a daily basis. With a combination of hard work, ingenuity, and assistance from amazing people around the world, we are proud to say that the elephants in our care never went hungry, and thanks to our veterinary team, they never missed a routine health inspection either. The entire Elephant Jungle Sanctuary team (Chiang Mai, Phuket, Pattaya, and Samui) would like to offer our sincere gratitude and appreciation for the incredible support we have received from our supporters worldwide in the past years, and for the love we were consistently shown throughout the pandemic. In addition, we would like to thank everyone who offered their support to our partners at The Care Project Foundation, who worked tirelessly to distribute elephant food to an estimated 300 elephants in many locations throughout Thailand, as well as to support mahouts who were exposed to the coronavirus.

Elephant Jungle Sanctuary remains wholeheartedly committed to caring for our resident elephants regardless of any difficulties or hardships we may face. We will continue to work daily to ensure that every elephant in our care remains in good health and receives the love, respect, and freedom they deserve. We will always stand by our mission, and our convictions will not waver regardless of any obstacle. Together, we can overcome any challenge and attain a truly prosperous and harmonious future for all beings.



Single-Use Species: The Impact of Plastic & Other Environmental Waste on Elephants in Thailand

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The catastrophic impact caused by the human species on the environment of our planet is indisputable. Anthropogenic, or man-made, climate change is now progressing at an extremely alarming rate, and the future of all species is in jeopardy. In addition to overall climate change, humans routinely cause habitat and ecosystem destruction, pollute soil, oceans, and waterways with toxic chemicals, and are responsible for the creation of vast quantities of waste due to their use of non-recyclable materials, such as single-use plastic. As a species which is uniquely sensitive to each of these hazards, Asian elephants are now in a position of extreme vulnerability, and only humans can protect them from tragedy.


Asian elephants are able to survive in a variety of different habitats, and can feed on a diverse range of vegetation, both of which are traits which offer some resilience against the effects of environmental change. However, a number of other factors contribute to their sensitivity – and overall low adaptability – to a changing climate. A declining population, slow reproduction rate, limited genetic variation, and a high instance of infant mortality at temperatures above 24°C add to their vulnerability. Furthermore, their reliance on large quantities of fresh water means that they will suffer habitat fragmentation in times of drought, or be restricted to a less-than-optimal area due to the presence of fresh water. Water shortages will likely also cause human-elephant conflict to increase, and allow poachers to more easily locate wild elephants.


Although the negative consequences of climate change on Asian elephant populations is likely to be clearly evident in the next several decades, elephants currently face a number of shorter-term dangers from pollution and environmental hazards created by humans. In some parts of Thailand, months of dangerously toxic levels of air pollution are an annual routine. Air pollution is as dangerous to other species as it is to humans, and can harm elephants on a direct, biological level, as well as contributing to a decrease in the availability and quality of their food sources. Another danger to elephants is the chemical waste produced by human industry and agriculture. In India in 2011, a wild adult female elephant was found dead beside an abandoned shed on a cardamom plantation. It was found that the elephant had been poisoned by pesticide residue which had not been properly disposed of, likely by drinking water which had collected in a barrel which had previously been used to dilute a variety of pesticides.


An increasingly reported problem for not just Asian elephants, but many species of wild animals, is the consumption of plastic, particularly single-use plastic bags. Plastic bags or pieces of plastic are generally consumed accidentally, for instance when a discarded bag becomes mixed up with food, or consumed mistakenly, such as when a plastic bag smells to an animal like a food source it once contained, or when a predator mistakes a plastic bag for prey. Plastic bags can cause distress and pain, or even kill an animal by becoming tangled around a body part or causing strangulation, but in the case of large mammals such as elephants, injuries and deaths related to single-use plastic bags most often occur due to ingestion. Ingested plastic may become lodged in the throat, resulting in suffocation, or get stuck in the stomach or intestines, causing pain and illness, and sometimes resulting in starvation.


In recent times, there have been a large number of reports of wild elephant excrement entangled with plastic. While this is an extremely concerning development, it does indicate that not every instance of an elephant consuming plastic is fatal. Unfortunately, there are also a large number of reports of – usually wild – elephants dying as a result of plastic consumption throughout South-East and South Asia. In a particularly tragic event in Sri Lanka in 2018, six wild elephants were found dead at a landfill site where they were reported to forage for food daily. An autopsy conducted by a local veterinarian found large amounts of single-use plastic in the stomachs or intestines of all six elephants, and ruled this as their likely cause of death.


Sadly, this is far from an isolated incident in Sri Lanka, where elephant deaths due to consumption of plastic in landfills – as well as accidental poisonings and human-elephant conflict – occur with alarming frequency. In an eight-year period, as many as twenty elephants died after ingesting plastics at a single garbage dump in Ampara district, according to local veterinarians. Sri Lanka has taken steps to reduce the risk of further plastic-related wildlife fatalities. After initially banning bags made of non-biodegradable plastic in 2017 due to fears of flash flooding caused by a build-up of discarded plastic, Sri Lanka has since expanded the restrictions. The import, manufacture, and sale of all single-use plastics – including plastic cutlery and artificial flowers – have all now been banned or restricted, after a succession of incidents in which wild elephants and deer were found to have died as a result of consuming plastic products. Though single-use plastic bags are a large part of the problem, single-use non-biodegradable plastic in any form can be fatal. Also in 2018, a 20-year-old female wild elephant was found dead in Kerala, India. Her cause of death was found to be an accidentally-consumed three-metre-long piece of single-use plastic. The plastic sheet had lodged in her alimentary canal, causing internal bleeding and painful, slow organ failure.


Tragically, due to rampant use and improper disposal of plastic products worldwide, the issue of fatal consumption by wildlife – including elephants – is not geographically limited, but exists everywhere on the planet. Nowhere is safe from human waste products, not even seemingly pristine national parks. In 2020, the body of a 3.5 tonne wild elephant was found in Khao Khitchakut National Park in central Thailand. The elephant was a male, around twenty years of age, and likely only newly mature and dominant enough to begin its breeding life. An autopsy found that a combination of single-use plastic bags and assorted other plastic waste had caused a blockage in the animal’s intestines, which subsequently led to a fatal infection.


Thailand is one of the world’s major producers of plastic, and uses an extraordinary amount of plastic each year, including single-use plastic bags. The country has, for quite some time, retained a place in the top ten countries worldwide as ranked by mass of “mismanaged plastic waste” and is viewed as a major contributor to plastic pollution in oceans. Estimates of annual plastic bag use in Thailand vary widely, but some sources report the number to be 45-70 billion, with others claiming that it is even higher. In recognition of the unnecessary damage this plastic waste is causing to the environment – and indeed, the well-being of Thailand’s national animal – the Thai government implemented a complete ban on the use of plastic bags by major retailers. The ban, which began to be enforced on 01 January, 2020, has thus far resulted in a significant reduction of single-use plastic bag waste, but Thailand still has a long way to go before it reaches an internationally satisfactory low level of use and improper disposal. Unfortunately, while biodegradable plastic bags and other products may be a viable solution for reducing long-term environmental plastic pollution, until the plastic degrades, it still presents a serious health risk to wildlife species which may become entangled in or ingest it.


Thailand pushed even further with the plastic bag ban (which was accompanied by a nationwide “Say No” to plastic campaign) in 2021, when smaller retailers, restaurants, markets, and similar businesses were required to cease using single-use plastic bags. These measures have undoubtedly resulted in a decreased risk of injury and death to wild animals, but we must all be mindful about our use and proper disposal of plastic products – avoiding them if possible – to ensure that our planet remains healthy, and to give every species a fighting chance at surviving the difficult times ahead.


Elephant Jungle Sanctuary is wholeheartedly committed to environmental protection and wildlife conservation, and our team has worked hard to implement a number of sustainability initiatives, including on-site solar panels, recycling projects, and frequent clean-up efforts. In recent years, EJS has also significantly reduced the use of single-use plastics at all of our locations, and we are proudly working towards a future zero-waste goal!





References


Bangkok Post. (2020). Jumbo Death Spurs Call to Shun Plastic Bags.

https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/general/1949936/jumbo-death-spurs-call-to-shun-plastic-bags


Courtiol, A., Lummaa, V., Mar, K.U. & Mumby, H.S. (2013). Climatic Variation and Age-specific Survival in Asian Elephants from Myanmar. Ecology, 94(5): 1131-1141.

https://doi.org/10.1890/12-0834.1


Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung Southeast Asia. (2021). Thailand’s Plastic Waste Conundrum.

https://th.boell.org/en/2021/10/26/thailands-plastic-waste-conundrum


Hoontrakool, D., Marks, D. & Vassanadumrongdee, S. (2020). Perception and Behavioral Changes of Thai Youths Towards the Plastic Bag Charging Program. Applied Environmental Research, 42(2): 27-45.

https://doi.org/10.35762/AER.2020.42.2.3


Huffpost. (2022). Elephants are Dying from Eating Plastic Waste at a Sri Lankan Garbage Dump.

https://www.huffpost.com/entry/sri-lanka-elephants-plastic-waste_n_61e15d1ce4b022634fa7fb96


Newsflare. (2018). Six Elephants Dead After Eating Plastic at Sri Lanka Rubbish Landfill.

https://www.newsflare.com/video/200636/six-elephants-dead-after-eating-plastic-at-sri-lanka-rubbish-landfill


Phys.org. (2023). Sri Lanka Bans single-use plastics to save elephants.

https://phys.org/news/2023-02-sri-lanka-single-use-plastics-elephants.html


Sustainability Times. (2020). Plastic Waste Kills a Thai Elephant in Another Wake-up Call.

https://www.sustainability-times.com/environmental-protection/plastic-waste-kills-a-thai-elephant-in-yet-another-wake-up-call


The Times of India. (2018). Plastic Waste Kills Elephant Near Pamba.

https://timesofindia.indiatimes.com/city/thiruvananthapuram/plastic-waste-kills-elephant-near-pamba/articleshow/62811393.cms

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