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In Laos, once referred to as the “land of a million elephants,” the pachyderm population is facing extinction.
“Populations are not sustainable and are actually declining,” biologist Anabel López Pérez told NPR in 2019. Elephant conservation efforts have become increasingly difficult. Ecotourism, which fuels many conservation projects, came to a screeching halt in the wake of the global coronavirus pandemic.
Laos’s only elephant rehabilitation park, the Elephant Conservation Center (ECC), reports a 100 percent loss of income over the past 15 months. It needs to raise at least $75,000 by the beginning of July to remain open in 2021.
That’s where the yoga community comes in: Yoga apparel company the Elephant Temple has organized a fundraiser dubbed “Yoga For Elephants.” When you purchase a pair of their flowy, cotton, elephant-printed yoga pants now through the end of July, they will donate 100 percent of the profits to help save the conservation center.
The company, which also sells ethically made clothing—shorts, wraps, masks, and other accessories—isn’t just jumping on the bandwagon. It always donates 10 percent of revenue to the ECC. “Because we are connected to the same planet, we share a responsibility to nurture our relationship with animals and live in harmony with the environment,” says Stephen Grider, founder and executive director of the Elephant Temple.
Why elephants need our help
Elephant extinction is a global problem: The number of African forest elephants fell by more than 86 percent over the past 30 years, while Asian elephant numbers have dropped by at least 50 percent over the same period, according to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In Laos, a Southeast Asian country that’s about half the size of California, it’s estimated that fewer than 800 elephants remain. Half of them live in captivity.
African elephants are most threatened by ivory poachers; in Asia, elephant populations are endangered by habitat loss, according to the World Wildlife Fund. They need large areas of land to forage for food (they eat hundreds of pounds of plants each day). When their habitat disappears, they come into competition with human populations for land resources. Laos, known for over-harvesting to fulfill timber demands from neighboring China and Vietnam, has become a less hospitable place for the animals.
Elephants in captivity aren’t any better off. Some are used for logging and other forms of labor. Even those in elephant tourism camps—where they give rides or perform for human audiences—may not be properly fed or cared for. Repopulation is nearly impossible because elephant owners don’t want a pregnancy keeping a female elephant out of work for up to four years, López told NPR.
A plan for elephant repopulation
“Most of [the rescued elephants] are coming from either a circus or from the logging industry. So [the ECC is] taking these rescues and trying to resocialize them,” says Grider. The ECC’s goal is to reinvigorate the population through humane breeding and top-notch care.
“They’re the first conservation project to release captive-raised elephants back out into the wild,” Grider says. Elephants who can form their own herd have a chance of surviving in the wild. “If the Asian elephant is not going to go extinct, that’s what’s going to have to happen.”
“Yoga is about finding the connection or balance between our bodies, our spirits, and the world around us,” says Grider. “If we see success here, imagine the opportunity this brings to our community and wildlife conservation projects around the world.”
In addition to supporting the Elephant Temple’s project, yogis can also help by donating directly to the ECC.
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