By Darla Shelden, City Sentinel Reporter —
OKLAHOMA CITY – The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden, in partnership with the Association of Zoos and Aquariums (AZA), are celebrating the third-annual Asian Elephant Awareness Month. During August, Zoo happenings will support Asian elephant conservation with #ThumbsUpTrunksUp digital media campaign fundraisers.
The event was created in 2019, to raise awareness about the issues facing Asian elephants.
Beginning Monday, August 2, and continuing through Tuesday, August 31, Asian Elephant Awareness Month, a collaborative effort among AZA-accredited members and international elephant conservation partners, will host community conservation events, learning opportunities and a social media campaign.
Elephant enthusiasts are encouraged to share their support for Asian elephants using the hashtag #ThumbsUpTrunksUp.
While wild African elephant populations are rebounding in some areas, the number of Asian elephants in the wild continues to decrease. According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN), Asian elephants are an endangered species with many serious threats to their survival.
The biggest threat includes human-elephant conflict as a result of habitat loss and poaching for ivory tusks, skin and meat. Asian elephants live in a very densely populated section of the world. As habitat decreases, they come in contact with people causing conflict because elephants raid food stores and crops.
Elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus (EEHV), a fast-moving elephant herpes virus, with an approximately 60 percent fatality rate, and habitat destruction due to palm oil plantations are other major threats to their populations.
“Because African elephants are most commonly top-of-mind in conversations concerning elephant conservation, the unique challenges Asian elephants face often go unnoticed by the general public,” said Rebecca Snyder, OKC Zoo’s director of conservation and science.
“The ultimate goal of Asian Elephant Awareness Month is to engage with individuals and provide them with the information they need to shift the conversation and educate others about the dire situation facing Asian elephants today,” Snyder said.
“By doing that, we can heighten awareness of their plight and present actionable ways for the public to get involved to ensure this beloved species’ future.”
Last year’s campaign messages reached over 12.5 million people, with hopes of reaching even more people this year.
Wildlife fans are encouraged to use the #ThumbsUpTrunksUp hashtag @OKCZoo throughout this global social media campaign and share why they love Asian elephants in their captions. All shared photos will be featured on the Zoo’s Facebook page throughout the month.
The OKC Zoo is celebrating World Elephant Day on Thursday, August 12, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m., in the Zoo’s Sanctuary Asia elephant habitat near the ZooZeum. Presented locally by Bob Moore Subaru, this special activities including an information station, interactive activities for kids with prizes, photo opportunities, an elephant presentation at 2 p.m., Facebook live chats, a #ThumbsUpTrunksUp pledge station, and more.
World Elephant Day is meant to inspire individuals to help conserve and protect these gentle giants. All World Elephant Day events are free with Zoo admission.
The Zoo’s Sanctuary Asia’s elephant habitat is currently home to a multi-generational herd of seven elephants – Asha, 26; Chandra, 25; Bamboo, 54; Rex, 52; Kandula, 19; Achara, 6; and Kairavi, 2. Asha is currently pregnant and expecting her fourth calf in February 2022.
The OKC Zoo is partnering with Eileen’s Colossal Cookies for elephant conservation. Beginning Monday, August 2 and continuing through Tuesday, August 31, Eileen’s Cookies for Conservation effort will donate $.50 per cookie for every frosted elephant cookie purchased to the OKC Zoo in support of Asian elephant conservation.
Cookies will be available to purchase individually or trays of 6 cookies. Customers that purchase a tray of 6 will be entered to win an OKC Zoo Asian Elephant Wild Encounter experience good for four people plus Zoo admission. There will be one drawing at each of the two participating locations, Edmond (1333 N Santa Fe, Edmond) and Nichols Hills (7700 N. May Ave, OKC) locations.
On Thursday, August 12, from 6 – 8 p.m., the OKC Zoo will partner with Chicken N Pickle (8400 N. Oklahoma Avenue, to host an “Evening for Elephants,” in support of elephant conservation. The event will include a night of fun, food and games. Chicken N Pickle will donate 10 percent of all sales from the event to support Asian elephant EEHV, elephant herpes virus, treatment and monitoring.
Participants can meet members of the OKC Zoo’s elephant and rhino team and try their hand at playing a game of giant yard pong for a $3 donation per person to elephant conservation. For details, check out the Zoo’s Facebook page.
The OKC Zoo is dedicated not only to educating wildlife fans about the plight of Asian elephants, but also conserving their wild counterparts through global partnerships. In 2020, the Zoo’s Round Up for Conservation funds supported EEHV vaccine development. These funds contributed to the development of a Polymerase Chain Reaction (PCR) laboratory for a nature conservancy located in Nepal, home to more than 200 elephants.
The Zoo has supported the Northern Rangelands Trust since 2009, which protects elephants and other native species in Kenya, the Zoo partnered with the Rainforest Trust to purchase and preserve 13,000 acres of forest in central Sumatra and 18,000 acres of forest in Borneo, both of which are natural habitats for Asian elephants.
The Zoo’s other elephant conservation projects includes the Wildlife Conservation Society’s Rakhine Yoma Elephant Range Project in Myanmar and International Elephant Foundation’s conservation efforts in Sumatra. These projects support boots-on-the-ground teams that work to protect forests, prevent poaching and habitat encroachment, as well as mitigate human-elephant conflict.
In the last decade, the Zoo has contributed more than $400,000 to elephant-related conservation. OKC Zoo proudly participants in the Asian Elephant Species Survival Plan®(SSP), developed by the AZA.
Through AZA SAFE: Saving Animals from Extinction, experts from around the world are working together to implement strategic conservation and engagement activities, measure conservation progress and build on established recovery plans, all in an effort to solve problems facing vulnerable and endangered species, including Asian elephants.
In 2020, AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums reported taking part in a variety of field conservation projects, investing nearly $25 million to help save animals from extinction with $270,000 invested in projects benefitting Asian elephants, including work with the International Elephant Foundation.
Zoo supporters can make a fashion statement for Asian elephants, with an exclusive conservation T-shirt. AZA SAFE is teaming up with the Elephant Mangers Association to make these wild tees available during the month of August.
Proceeds from the sale of all shirts will support EEHV, elephant herpes virus, treatment and monitoring. Purchase your t-shirt today by clicking here.
The OKC Zoo is currently in its summer hours and open daily from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. with the last entry no later than 4 p.m. Purchase advance tickets at okczoo.org/tickets to avoid entry lines.
The Zoo is offering free general admission for guests, weekday afternoons during August 2-6; 9-13 and 16-20. Advance reservations are required. Tickets are available at okczoo.org/tickets for all guests and ZOOfriends members wanting to visit. Capacity is limited to six people per reservation.
Regular admission is $12 for adults and $9 for children ages 3-11 and seniors ages 65 and over. Children two and under are admitted free. To learn more, call 405-424-3344 or visit okczoo.org.