OKLAHOMA CITY – Zookeepers are kicking off a month-long campaign to raise awareness of the plight of Asian elephants and encourage people to help save the endangered species.
The Oklahoma City Zoo and Botanical Garden is planning activities at the zoo for Asian Elephant Awareness Month.
Officials say Asian elephants face unique challenges compared to other elephant species since they are more susceptible to elephant endotheliotropic herpesvirus, a fast-moving virus with a 60 percent fatality rate.
Asian elephant populations in the wild have fallen below 40,000, according to the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. In comparison, African elephant populations stand at about 500,000 elephants in the wild.
The 13 nations where Asian elephants naturally live contain the densest human population on the planet, meaning their habitat has been reduced by 85 percent in 40 years. Poaching is also a major problem for the species.
“Asian elephants and the specific threats they face are almost invisible to the general public,” said Rebecca Snyder, OKC Zoo curator of conservation and science. “It’s been the African elephant species that has long dominated the conversation and represented all elephants in the zeitgeist. We want Asian Elephant Awareness Month to raise awareness about the dire situation facing Asian elephants and provide actionable ways for the public to get involved to ensure the species’ future.”
Wildlife fans are encouraged to share their love of Asian elephants on social media with #TONSoflove. To provide a visual signal unifying the posts, participants are encouraged to hold their hands in the shape of a heart and use that heart to frame an elephant selfie. Fans are asked to include the #TONSoflove and reasons why they love Asian elephants in their photo captions.
The Oklahoma City Zoo is celebrating World Elephant Day on Sunday, Aug. 11 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
On Aug. 11, Empire Slice House is donating a portion of sales to the International Elephant Foundation.