Today is World Elephant Day, an international event dedicated to the preservation and protection of the world’s elephants. Conceived in 2011 by Canadian filmmakers Patricia Sims and Michael Clark of Canazwest Pictures, and Sivaporn Dardarananda, Secretary-General of the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation in Thailand, it was officially founded, supported and launched by Patricia Sims and the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation on August 12, 2012. Since that time, Patricia Sims continues to lead and direct World Elephant Day, which is now supported by over 65 wildlife organizations as well as individuals in countries across the globe.
The goal of World Elephant Day is to create awareness of the urgent plight of African and Asian elephants, and to share knowledge and positive solutions for the better care and management of captive and wild elephants. African elephants are listed as “Vulnerable” and Asian elephants as “Endangered” on the IUCN Red List of threatened species. The most dire prediction suggests that both African and Asian elephants face extinction within 12 years. The current population estimates are about 400,000 for African elephants and 40,000 for Asian elephants, although these estimates may be too high.
The film Return to the Forest, narrated by William Shatner, is about the reintroduction of captive Asian elephants to the wild and was released on the inaugural World Elephant Day in 2012. The follow-up feature film When Elephants Were Young, also narrated by William Shatner, depicts the life of a young man and young elephant in Thailand.
The demand for ivory, which is highest in China, has led to catastrophic poaching of both African and Asian elephants. One of the world’s largest elephants, Satao, was recently killed for his iconic tusks. Another iconic Kenyan elephant, Mountain Bull, was also killed by poachers, and with the street value for ivory now exceeding that of gold, African elephants face a poaching epidemic. Elephants are also poached for meat, leather, and body parts, with the illegal wildlife trade putting elephants increasingly in danger, because it is perceived to be a low risk and high profit endeavor given that the resources for policing poaching are inadequate and elephants live in some of the poorest countries in the world. For many would-be poachers the potential profits are well worth the relatively small risk of being caught.
The loss of habitat for elephants due to deforestation, increases in mining, and agricultural expansion has also become problematic, especially for Asian elephants. The fragmentation of habitat also creates isolation for herd members which makes breeding more difficult, and allows poachers to find the elephants and set traps more easily. Furthermore, as human populations increase and forest cover decreases, wild elephants are forced into closer proximity with human settlements leading to incidents of crop damage and other economic losses, pitting elephants directly against humans.
A lack of legislation regarding the care and treatment of elephants in zoos, circuses, and tourism often leads to their mistreatment. Captivity can be a serious threat to elephants, and Asian elephants are often illegally captured in the wild and trafficked into a lucrative wild animal industry.
I well remember a time in the 1950s when elephants were the mainstays of circuses in England and Australia, the circuses being sure to parade the elephants through town before setting up the big top (which the elephants assisted in raising). Those days are mostly gone. When I was on a very well-managed safari in Kenya in the Maasai Mara 10 years ago, I didn’t see a single elephant until the last day when we were heading out of the park on the way to the airport, and then it was just a couple of them.
Giving you a recipe for elephant stew would certainly be at odds with the purpose of the day, although I notice no lack of them online. That does not mean that we cannot have an elephant-themed recipe. Here’s a well-known pastry: cinnamon elephant ears. No elephants need to be killed to bake and enjoy them.
Cinnamon Elephant Ears
1 cup sugar
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 sheet puff pastry, defrosted
Preheat the oven to 450˚F/230˚C.
Mix together half of the sugar and a pinch of kosher salt and spread it thinly and evenly on a pastry board or marble slab. Unfold the puff pastry over the sugar mixture.
Mix the other half of the sugar and the cinnamon and spread it evenly on top of the puff pastry. Then use a rolling pin to roll out the pastry dough into a 13”/33cm square, pressing the sugar into the pastry, top and bottom. Fold the sides of the square towards the center so they go halfway to the middle. Fold them again so the two folds meet exactly at the middle of the dough. Then fold one half over the other half so that you have 6 layers. Slice the dough into 3/8-inch slices and place the slices on baking sheets lined with parchment paper.
Bake the “ears” for 6 minutes or until they are caramelized on the bottom. Turn them carefully with a spatula and bake them for another 3 to 5 minutes, until they are caramelized on the other side.
Cool on a wire rack.