The bucking bronco may be the animal most identified with Denver, but these days, the Mile High City seems to be more connected with elephants. If ever there was to be another animal to symbolize Denver, it would have to be the elephant. The city has one of the largest elephant exhibits among American zoos. Neighboring Commerce City was the site where 25 years worth of seized, illegal ivory which was destroyed just last week as the US sought to make a statement of intolerance to elephant slaughter. In that same week, international elephant advocacy group Pachyderm Power gave a public presentation in Denver on efforts to protect the world’s largest land animal.
Denver has been the lecture destination for elephant protection advocate Krystal Parks for some years now. Parks spoke at Colorado Veg Fest 2012 in Fort Collins and Veg Fest 2012 and 2013 in Golden. Last week, she spoke in Denver with Jim Nyamu. Nyamu comes from Kenya, where Pachyderm Power is based. Parks spends much of each year in Kenya as a principle of the Pachyderm Power organization. The group’s local presentation was hosted by the Colorado Animal ACTion Network, which spearheaded a mass-ad campaign against cruelty to circus elephants this past fall.
Like all African elephants, Kenya’s elephants face danger from poachers. Kenyan elephants are better off than some since the nation’s government is more stable and is able to provide some enforcement of animal protection laws. In other nations where governments are less functional, such as Zimbabwe and the Democratic Republic of Congo, the slaughter of elephants by poachers is even more severe.
Parks is critical of the Denver Zoo’s well-known Toyota Elephant Passage, as it is known, because she equates captivity for the large animals with prison for humans. The metro area’s growing number of vegans and animal rights supporters have mixed opinions of the exhibit, with some agreeing with Parks and others disagreeing when they were questioned by the Examiner. Elephants are highly-social creatures who have complex emotions and even cry with tears. Elephants do enjoy attention from humans when the attention is positive and will often taunt humans in order to get attention.
The local elephant exhibit does represent a connection to the animals for humans and is continues to draw big crowds. Zoo visitors do gain exposure to issues faced by endangered elephants through the informative talks and materials that the zoo provides. The Denver Zoo is one of the only a few US zoos to expand its elephant exhibits; many other zoos have fazed them out and sent their elephants to sanctuaries. Critics argue that the zoo exhibit does nothing to change people’s indifference toward the plight of the animals. But the receptive audience that Parks has enjoyed in her visits to Colorado reflects strong elephant advocacy in Denver and in the US as a whole.
Ivory was once a coveted jewelry material that was popular in the western world, but it was banned in 1989 in an international effort that was well supported by then-President George HW Bush, a fairly-conservative republican. The ivory ban was lauded as a major success story in animal conservation. In the early 1990s, African elephant populations stabilized, became much healthier and began to grow. Some African countries permitted regulated hunting as it helped weaken poachers’ profits. Elephants enjoyed their recovery, with their population reaching nearly one million by the late 1990s. But the recovery wouldn’t last.
China’s exploding affluence soon created a new demand for ivory in the eastern world and the substance, made from elephants’ tusks was once again a coveted commodity that people were willing to pay ever-higher sums to own. It is estimated that nearly 80 percent of the Ivory connected to Chinese businesses is illegally acquired by poachers who now slaughter nearly 100 Elephants every day. According to the Born-Free Foundation, which is based in the United Kingdom, 32,000 elephants were killed last year alone and the total world population has been reduced to only about 350,000, which means the species could go extinct in as little as a decade.