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Category: Elephants

Tree's weapon against elephants? Ants!

Ecologists have discovered the secret weapon used by certain acacia trees to defend themselves against ravenous elephants: ants.

The finding could one day help conservationists protect vulnerable plants from elephants and other large herbivores, said University of Florida biologist Todd Palmer, who reported the discovery online Thursday in the journal Current Biology.

Elephants can have a devastating impact on the trees of the African savannas, Palmer said. A hungry pachyderm can easily demolish a tree, wrapping its prehensile trunk around thick branches and ripping them off. A herd of them can lay waste to an area -- a problem for people trying to protect wild lands or cropland.

Yet elephants always seem to avoid one particular type of acacia tree called Acacia drepanolobium, also known as the whistling-thorn tree.

What sets these acacias apart is the ants that inhabit them. The insects live in the trees' golf-ball-sized "swelling thorns" and feed on the nectar that oozes from the base of each leaf, Palmer said. In return, they provide the tree with bodyguard service, swarming out of the tree to face any attack.

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Indian panel recommends policy changes to protect wild elephants

India Elephants

NEW DELHI — India should protect its elephant population by securing its wildlife reserves, curbing poaching and restricting development in the corridors they use to travel between forested areas, a panel recommended Tuesday.

Poaching for ivory and increased conflicts between people and elephants due to their dwindling habitat are key problems faced by India's wild elephant population, estimated at around 26,000.

The Elephant Task Force recommended setting up a national elephant conservation authority, better management of elephant reserves and protecting 88 corridors that the animals use across the country from mining, irrigation and other industrial projects.

The report's lead author, Mahesh Rangarajan, said elephants have not received the same attention as tigers and other endangered wildlife, partly because their rate of decline has not been as dramatic. The numbers of wild elephants in India have stayed about the same over the last decade, but their habitat has continued to decline.

"With the elephant it is not a crisis of extinction, but a crisis of attrition," he said.

Environment and Forests Minister Jairam Ramesh said India was declaring the elephant its "National Heritage Animal" to raise awareness of the issue.

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Kenyan officials seize 2 tons of ivory, rhinoceros horns destined for Malaysia at Nairobi airport


NAIROBI, Kenya — Wildlife officers seized 2 tons of elephant ivory and five rhino horns at Kenya's main airport that were to be illegally shipped to Malaysia, an official said Tuesday.

Paul Udoto, a spokesman with the Kenya wildlife Service, said sniffer dogs from the KWS inspection unit, based at the Jomo Kenyatta International Airport, detected the tusks. They were concealed in wooden boxes being transported with avocados and destined for Malaysia.

Two people have been arrested, he said.

Udoto said the 317 pieces of elephant tusk are believed to have been acquired after the deaths of 150 elephants. He estimated that it took 20 years to amass the collection and said it is unlikely the elephants were killed for the tusks but, rather, that someone collected them from elephants that had died naturally.

Udoto said three of rhino horns had transmitters in them, meaning they were being tracked by wildlife officials.

Airports in Kenya, Ethiopia and South Africa have emerged as the three main airports through which to smuggle African ivory to Asia, where it is a collector's item.

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Review of Toledo Zoo incident in which elephant attacked keeper finds that keeper broke rules

Louie, the elephant who injured his keeper in the Toledo Zoo

TOLEDO, Ohio — An Ohio zookeeper critically injured after an elephant charged and pinned him in a corner violated two rules by going into the enclosure alone, according to a review of the attack released Tuesday.

The keeper should have had another person with him and should have carried a steel rod used to handle elephants when he first entered the enclosure, the report said.

The keeper, Don RedFox, has no memory of the incident, which is consistent with trauma victims, and could not answer why he went into the elephant house alone, said Anne Baker, director of the Toledo Zoo.

She said RedFox has been disciplined, but she would not give details. He's expected to return to work when he has recovered.

RedFox, 53, suffered two punctured lungs and several fractured ribs and spent about a month in the hospital before being released two weeks ago.

A security video captured the frightening encounter on July 1.

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Animal rights activists to stage protest of Ringling Bros. circus outside Staples Center

Ringling circus elephants

The Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey circus has returned to Los Angeles, drumming up publicity for its "Barnum's FUNundrum!" show with a Tuesday predawn parade of Asian elephants from Union Station to the Staples Center. The circus runs at Staples from Wednesday through Sunday.

Animal rights activists, including members of In Defense of Animals and People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, have planned a demonstration outside Staples on Wednesday evening to coincide with the circus' opening night. According to In Defense of Animals, the group intends to display a bullhook, a type of hooked pole used by circus staff on elephants, "to demonstrate how sharp, heavy and destructive these instruments are."

PETA and like-minded groups have long opposed Ringling's use of animals in its shows, arguing that both the training methods used by the circus and the manner in which the animals are housed and transported between shows amount to cruelty. PETA hosts a website, RinglingBeatsAnimals.com, to showcase undercover video and other information it says is evidence of the circus' cruelty.

In 2009, a years-long legal battle between animal activists and Ringling Bros. and its parent company, Feld Entertainment, went to trial. The plaintiffs, which included a former Ringling Bros. employee, argued that Ringling's treatment of elephants violated the Endangered Species Act's ban on "harming," "harassing" or "wounding" an endangered animal. The judge ruled in favor of the circus.

Lima, zebra that escaped Ringling Bros. circus in Atlanta, is euthanized
Bob Barker helps lion cubs move to California sanctuary after Bolivia bans animals in circuses

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Elephants walk from a railroad car parked in Vernon to the Staples Center three miles away July 13. Credit: Mark Boster / Los Angeles Times

Bangkok imposes fines for feeding elephants

An elephant with its mahout in Bangkok

BANGKOK — You can still feed elephants in Thailand's bustling capital -- but it could cost you.

Bangkok authorities said Monday anyone caught handing bunches of bananas or sugar cane to the hulking beasts -- proffered by their handlers to make money -- faces a $320 (10,000 baht) fine.

Thailand has about 2,400 domestic elephants. There is little demand these days for the animals' traditional skills in logging and other labor, so owners sometimes loan them for begging from tourists and locals in major cities.

"The ordinance is issued to prevent untidiness or danger toward properties and lives of Bangkok residents," said Manit Techa-apichoke, deputy director of the City Law Enforcement Department, adding there had been cases of elephants hurting people and falling into drains.

Friends of the Asian Elephant, a Thai non-government group that cares for injured or mistreated elephants, called the fines a good start.

"I've been asking for them to do this for 15 years," said its founder, Soraida Salwalla, adding that she hoped other Thai cities would follow suit. "It's not the total solution, but it's a help."

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African elephant researcher Cynthia Moss shares her insights on elephant behavior and conservation

Cynthia Moss

On a 1967 trip to Africa that included a visit to Lake Manyara National Park in Tanzania, Cynthia Moss, then a reporter for Newsweek, met British zoologist Iain Douglas-Hamilton. It turned out to be a fateful meeting, as Moss became Douglas-Hamilton's research assistant.

About five years after her initial meeting with Douglas-Hamilton, Moss founded the Amboseli Elephant Research Project at Amboseli National Park in Kenya -- and she's been there ever since. She's a fascinating source of information about African elephant behavior, and she spoke to The Times about her work on a recent trip to Los Angeles.

"We've learned that elephants live in very complex societies that are multi-tiered, starting with the family unit that might consist of anything from two to 50 animals, and consists of related females … and their calves. ... Certain families have special relationships with certain other families; we call that the bond group," Moss explains. "And then there are the clans, which consist of about 10 families. And then there are the subpopulations, which might be 30 families or so, and then the whole population. In Amboseli, we have 57 families."

Topics addressed in her Q&A also included the behavior of male elephants in musth, "a complete Jekyll and Hyde transformation" from their non-musth behavior, she says; the emerging ivory trade in China; and the interesting fact that Amboseli's elephants react very differently to members of the Masai and Akamba tribes.

Learn more about Moss' work with African elephants in reporter Thomas H. Maugh II's recent interview with her for The Times.

-- Lindsay Barnett

Photo: Moss in the Amboseli park on June 26. Credit: Harvey Croze / For the Amboseli Trust

Escaped circus elephant is recaptured in Switzerland after wading in Lake Zurich

Sabu the elephant

ZURICH — Swiss police say an elephant that escaped from a circus and wandered through Zurich's banking and commercial district has been recaptured.

City police spokesman Michael Wirz said officers chased the elephant through the city for an hour until a keeper was able to control the animal and bring it to safety.

He said nobody was hurt and there were no reports of damage after Sunday's escapade.

Niklaus Leuenberger, a spokesman for the Knie circus, told the Associated Press that Sabu the elephant got loose as she was about to be loaded onto a trailer.

He said her stroll through the city included a brief dip in Lake Zurich.

Rhinoceros escapes his stall at Jacksonville Zoo
Whew! That's a relief: Escaped hippo returns home to Montenegro zoo

-- Associated Press

Photo: Sabu munches a branch on June 7. Credit: Steffen Schmidt / European Pressphoto Agency

African elephants imperiled by ivory trade in Asia

African elephants

PUTIAN, China — Carefully, the Chinese ivory dealer pulled out an elephant tusk cloaked in bubble wrap and hidden in a bag of flour. Its price: $17,000.

"Do you have any idea how many years I could get locked away in prison for having this?" said the dealer, a short man in his 40s, who gave his name as Chen.

A surge in demand for ivory in Asia is fueling an illicit trade in elephant tusks, especially from Africa. Over the last eight years, the price of ivory has gone up from about $100 per kilogram (2.2 pounds) to $1,800, creating a lucrative black market.

Experts warn that if the trade is not stopped, elephant populations could dramatically plummet. The elephants could be nearly extinct by 2020, some activists say. Sierra Leone lost its last elephants in December, and Senegal has fewer than 10 left.

"If we don't get the illegal trade under control soon, elephants could be wiped out over much of Africa, making recovery next to impossible," said Samuel K. Wasser, director of the Center for Conservation Biology at the University of Washington. "The impact that loss of this keystone species would have on African ecosystems is difficult to even imagine."

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Elephants' newly discovered fear of bees could help prevent run-ins with African farmers

Elephant JOHANNESBURG, South Africa — Eek, a bee!

Lore has it that elephants are afraid of mice, but scientists have now discovered that elephants are truly afraid of bees -- and that the pachyderms even sound an alarm when they encounter them. The researchers hope this discovery can help save farmers' crops from elephants.

And they hope it will save elephants too.

Conflict between humans and elephants in countries like Kenya occur often. A single hungry elephant can wipe out a family's crops overnight. Farmers will huddle by fires all night during the harvest season. When an elephant nears, the farmers spring up with flaming sticks while their children bang on pots and pans. Not all fields can be guarded, and sometimes the elephants aren't frightened off.

Farmers sometimes kill elephants for raiding their crops. Rampaging elephants have also killed people, and they are then hunted down by park rangers.

The discovery that elephants emit low-frequency alarm calls around bees could help lessen these conflicts, said Lucy King, a researcher into animal behavior whose paper on elephants alarm calls was published in a journal of the Public Library of Science last week.

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