The International Elephant Project (IEP) is a non-profit project for elephant conservation and rainforest protection with the goal of saving the entire ecosystem and biodiversity of habitats for elephants.
IEP currently supports endangered elephants in Laos. Laos was once known as the “Land of a Million Elephants.” Now, according to npr.org, there are approximately only 800 elephants left in the country (400 in the wild and 400 in captivity). Deforestation is the leading cause of the decline of elephants in Laos.
According to the IEP, sadly, the survival rate for calves in Laos is so low that they are not named until they reach the age of two, when they are more likely to survive. For the first two years, calves are called “Noy.” Two calves are currently under the care of IEP’s partner institute, the Elephant Conservation Center (ECC).
ECC cares for 33 elephants who have been rescued from the captivity of zoos, the logging industry, and the tourism industry, where they are forced to provide rides or perform tricks for visitors. Tourists, usually from abroad, spend a significant amount of money to ride these beautiful creatures and the demand fuels the capture of more elephants from the wild, which perpetuates a cruel form of entertainment where the animals are tortured and abused for financial gain.
The long term goal of IEP and ECC is to reintroduce ex-captive elephants into the wild in order to secure the survival of the species. Studies in Africa have demonstrated that rewilding entire social groups, including calves, assisted to create and maintain important social networks, which reduce stress. Rewilding studies in Thailand have also shown similar successful results. The studies demonstrate that elephants have the ability to quickly learn how to navigate forested areas, forage for food and form crucial natural social groups in order to thrive. These studies show that captive elephants can be released back into the wild and they do not have to be dependent on humans for food and survival if their release is thoroughly planned.
The studies also remind us that elephants are significantly social creatures and should not be released alone to fend for themselves. A proposal has been suggested in which an inventory of currently captive elephants could assist in identifying herds of healthy elephants that can be released together and encouraging elephant owners to participate in rewilding projects.
Of course, my ideal scenario is a world where elephants can live freely without abuse and financial exploitation. With your help, we can ensure they have a brighter future.
The two babies named Noy represent the future for their species. ECC has hopes that they will be able to live free in the wild with the herds in the Nam Pouy National Protected Area. The first calf was born in December 2020 and the second was born in October 2021.
Currently, the ECC is introducing the babies to each other as well as their mothers and their aunt. This socialization is important as staff hope these five will form a herd, supporting their social, physical, and cognitive development.
According to elephantvoices.org, calves follow their mothers' responses in order to learn who their relatives and friends are, as well as who represents potential threats. Calves significantly rely on social companions to learn appropriate behaviors. Calves learn how to navigate forested areas to forage for food by mimicking behaviors taught by their mothers. Therefore, socialization is incredibly important for young elephants in order to survive.
The IEP is working towards the day where they are able to release the calves and their mothers into the wild where they belong. If you want to help support them in these efforts, consider contributing a gift to help protect these little ones and their herd. Your donation will go towards improving the rates of survival for elephants and the protection of their habitat.