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Elephant conservation is more vital than ever

A commitment to conservation is now more vital and timely than ever, given a recent change in the status of wild African elephants. In late March, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) announced that African savanna elephants, the species housed at Zoo Atlanta, are now classified as Endangered. Their relatives, the African forest elephants, are now classified as Critically Endangered.

Until very recently, African savanna elephants, which are also known as African bush elephants, and African forest elephants were originally collectively classified as Vulnerable and were listed as one species. However, new data on wild populations have resulted in their separation into two species, as well as have led to the downgrade in conservation status for both.

“While it is very distressing to learn of a downgrade in conservation status for such high-profile animals, not to mention a species very important to us here at Zoo Atlanta, we should also recognize this news as an opportunity,” said Jennifer Mickelberg, PhD, Vice President of Collections and Conservation. “We must take advantage of this chance to be aggressively raising awareness of the threats facing African elephants and to address the urgent need for their conservation – now, while there is still time.”

With the construction of its transformative new African Savanna elephant habitats and Zambezi Elephant Center – currently home to African elephants Kelly, Tara, and Msholo – Zoo Atlanta expressed a commitment to new leadership in the preservation of the species in the wild. In 2018, Zoo Atlanta announced a new partnership with Conservation South Luangwa in Zambia. Conservation South Luangwa works to mitigate illegal wildlife trafficking and human-wildlife conflict using aerial patrols to search for snared or poached animals; a team of specialized detection dogs trained to sniff out ivory, illegal arms and ammunition, and animal parts intended for the commercial wildlife trade; and community initiatives dedicated to helping local people improve their livelihoods while living in close proximity to elephants and other wildlife. While African elephants’ most urgent challenge remains poaching for their tusks, habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict pose additional threats.

In 2020, Zoo Atlanta became a partner of the Wildlife Trafficking Alliance (WTA). WTA is a coalition of AZA-accredited organizations, nonprofits, and companies dedicated to reducing the illegal sale and purchase of wildlife and illegal animal products.

Zoo Atlanta is open daily with new protocols and procedures in place to promote wellness, including timed ticketing; hand-sanitizing stations throughout grounds; and signage and other aids to encourage social distancing. Masks are required for ages 2 and up for general admission and all in-Zoo experiences. Learn more or plan a visit at zooatlanta.org.

Learn more about Zoo Atlanta’s conservation programs and partnerships at zooatlanta.org/conservation.

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