Special to 1808Delaware

The IUCN Species Survival Commission (SSC), the Wildlife Trust of India (WTI), and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium (CZA) have joined forces in a unique partnership to establish a new Center for Species Survival (CSS) in India, focused on Asian elephants.

Currently, there are 17 other CSSs deployed around the world, all of which are housed at leading conservation organizations, and most at zoos and aquariums. CSS partnerships recognize that accredited zoos and aquariums like the Columbus Zoo offer critical expert knowledge and data from decades of caring for endangered species and engaging with visitors to raise awareness. CSS: Asian Elephant is based in the species’ native range in India which holds 60% of the global Asian elephant population. While other CSS programs focus on groups of plants and animals, CSS: Asian Elephant is the first CSS to focus on one species.

Asian elephants, an endangered species of cultural and ecological significance, face numerous threats across their range across 13 countries, including Bangladesh, Bhutan, Cambodia, China, India, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Thailand, and Vietnam. To counter these challenges, CSS: Asian Elephant partners are building off their global connections and collaborating with representatives from each of these countries to strategically create a hub for research, conservation planning, public awareness, and capacity-building within the species’ native range.

This groundbreaking initiative aligns with the goals of the IUCN SSC Asian Elephant Specialist Group (AsESG) and is a significant step towards fulfilling the agreed-upon Range State commitments of the 2022 Kathmandu Declaration for Asian Elephant Conservation and the IUCN SSC Asian Elephant Action Plan.

“CSS: Asian Elephant provides an innovative model for partnerships among conservation organizations in distant regions of the world. We encourage others to consider supporting the work of SSC groups in this way, mobilizing human and financial resources, as well as ex situ and in situ expertise, where they are most needed, directly supporting animals, fungi and plants in their native ranges,” said Jon Paul Rodríguez, Chair, IUCN Species Survival Commission, “This also helps us address the biodiversity paradox: the mismatch between the co-occurrence of biological diversity and the human, financial and institutional resources to address its decline. Our deep thanks to Wildlife Trust of India and the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium for leading the way.”

Key Objectives of the Center for Species Survival for Asian Elephants

The partners, along with government representatives from the 13 Asian elephant range countries, will collaborate to establish and sustain CSS: Asian Elephant. Over the next year, they will work on a shared work plan, sustainability strategy, and stakeholder engagement to achieve key objectives, including:

  • Resource Hub: CSS Asian Elephant, hosted by WTI, will serve as a collaborative range-wide resource center for Asian elephants. It will facilitate the exchange of scientific knowledge and conservation solutions among stakeholders in range countries.
  • Capacity Building: The center will conduct in-country capacity-building efforts on priority topics, ranging from census techniques to human-elephant coexistence solutions.
  • Education and Community Engagement: It will serve as a model for Asian elephant interpretive experiences, offering educational opportunities for tourists, local communities, students, and experts.
  • Workshops and Training: The CSS will host workshops and training programs, such as capacity building workshops and international collaborative elephant conservation planning sessions.
  • Emergency Response Fund: The partnership aims to establish a grant fund for emergency human-elephant conflict mitigation across the range countries.

“Asian elephants’ range states have a lot of issues in common, and there is much sharing and learning that can be done. For a voluntary Specialist Group to have the facilities of a Center in a range state providing dedicated staff to help turn range states’ aspirations and declarations into reality is a step in the right direction,” said Vivek Menon, Chair of the IUCN SSC Asian Elephant Specialist Group, and Founder Trustee and Executive Director of Wildlife Trust of India.

Contributions and Resources

In addition to shared responsibilities and direct collaboration with all stakeholders, each partner offers a unique role in the success of CSS Asian Elephant.

As part of the world’s largest environmental conservation organization, IUCN SSC will support connections between the CSS Asian Elephant team and the wider SSC network, provide training, tools, and regular communication support. They will promote the partnership and its goals across the global conservation community.

WTI will create and host the CSS Asian Elephant team, working on assessment, planning, and action initiatives. They will provide resources, administrative support, and annual reporting on the CSS’s activities.

The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium will provide full funding for the CSS for the first 5 years, ensuring the successful launch of the center. The Zoo has also committed to long-term sustainability, offering staff expertise, and engaging in decision-making and activities critical to the center’s success.

“The Columbus Zoo and Aquarium has a long history of supporting Asian elephant conservation. However, understanding the urgent needs of this iconic and imperiled species, we felt it was vital to significantly increase our conservation commitment and develop an innovative approach to saving this species from extinction. That is why we have committed support for the next 5 years to establish this program,” said Tom Schmid, President and CEO of the Columbus Zoo and Aquarium.

The population of Asian elephants in their native ranges continues to decline rapidly. According to the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species, researchers estimate that the species’ habitat has dwindled to just 15 percent of its historic range. CSS Asian Elephant is set to become a beacon of hope for the conservation of this iconic species and a model for collaborative species survival initiatives worldwide. This partnership highlights the shared commitment of these organizations to safeguard the future of Asian elephants and their habitats.

To learn more, please visit the IUCN SSC’s website.

Source: Columbus Zoo and Aquarium

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