The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF) has launched the Asian Elephant Alliance (AEA) to secure a future in which the loss and fragmentation of elephant habitats is reduced. The alliance also wants people and elephants to live side by side in a sustainable way, and ensure wild elephant populations remain stable.
Asian elephants are globally endangered but are particularly threatened in Southeast Asia and China, with only about 8,000-11,000 wild Asian elephants spread across eight range countries – Cambodia, southern China, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Thailand, and Vietnam.
Habitat loss and fragmentation, human-elephant conflict, poaching, and isolation of small populations have resulted in sharp declines across the region, with some national populations now estimated as being in the low hundreds, with a few individuals isolated from all other elephants in some cases.
In order to halt these alarming regional population declines and create an environment of sustainable coexistence with humans, WWF aims to work with key players who can positively influence the future of elephants in Southeast Asia and China. The goal of the regional initiative is to work together to replicate successful models of conservation that benefit both elephants and people.
One example is the “living landscape” approach trialed in Sabah, Malaysia, where a private agricultural company is working with WWF and the local government to ensure habitat connectivity and ample food sources for the native Bornean elephants.
This means less crop loss for local communities and the company, and improved habitats for elephants and other wildlife.
“Elephants have been a part of the landscape of Asia for millennia and have an innate right to exist,” said Nilanga Jayasinghe, WWF’s Focal Point for Asian Elephants. “They are a majestic keystone species that bring benefits to people and other wildlife in their habitats, but more than anything, they have intrinsic value as the largest land mammal in Asia. Conserving elephants is not only an act of maintaining balance within their ecosystems and preserving cultural values, but it’s about giving them a chance to survive and thrive in the wild.”
WWF has been working on wild elephant conservation in Southeast Asia and China for many years, specifically through the Asian Rhino and Elephant Action Strategy (AREAS) programme from 2000 to 2015.
The Asian Elephant Alliance will build on this work, ongoing work within range countries and the work of countless other actors, to secure elephant habitats, improve human-elephant conflict management, combat poaching, and improve our understanding of the current status of elephants in Southeast Asia and China.