How Cheap Meat Threatens Elephants Too

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Sumatran female elephant and baby | Credit: Philip J Lymbery

August 12th this year marks World Elephant Day, when many will celebrate these wonderful creatures but also express concern at how these magnificent creatures are becoming increasingly threatened.

A world without elephants would be tragic.

Yet, to prevent that happening, one of the things that we need to do is tackle industrial agriculture and runaway consumption of cheap meat; whilst the links are not immediately obvious, they are most definitely there.

The Sumatran Elephant

Not so long ago, I travelled to Sumatra* to find out how critically endangered Sumatran elephants, along with other wildlife, are being impacted by factory farming. I was staggered by what I found.

Sumatra’s rich forests are home to an extraordinary array of exotic animals, among them tigers, rhinoceros, orang-utans and sun bears, as well as the Sumatran elephant, one of three subspecies of Asia. Standing up to 9 feet tall and weighing 5 tons, they feed on a variety of plants and drop seeds wherever they go, contributing to a healthy forest ecosystem.

However, their forest home is shrinking fast and the cause can be traced back to our global hunger for cheap meat.

More than a third of the jungle habitat of this critically endangered elephant has gone within just a single elephant generation. As a result, over the last twenty-five years, entire populations of Sumatran elephants have disappeared.  Official estimates suggest the critically endangered Sumatran elephant is down to its last 2,500. It is by far the most endangered elephant in the world, but its plight is little known. In Africa, ivory hunters are the big enemy.

In Sumatra, poaching is not unknown, but the real enemy is something far less sinister-sounding: palm plantations.

Felling natural forests to make way for palm plantations causes untold devastation.  As the elephant’s jungle home shrinks, so conflict between elephants and people escalates and  natural biodiversity is lost. What Covid-19 has also taught us is that encroaching into the world’s remaining wild lands also brings humanity into contact with new viruses.

But what is the link with factory farming?

Palm Plantations and the Palm Kernel

Palm Oil Tree | Credit: peangdao

What I also discovered is that large quantities of the palm kernel, the edible nut from the trees, is shipped out as animal feed for factory farmed dairy and beef cattle and other animals back in the EU and elsewhere. This boosts the profitability of the palm industry which in turn encourages yet further damaging deforestation.

There is little doubt that in Sumatra, as in the rest of the world, the rising demand for cheap protein from animals, is fuelling agricultural expansion and pushing ever deeper into marginal lands and wild spaces, directly driving out wildlife and leading to the extinction of species.

There can be no winners in the cruel practice of farming animals on an industrial scale. It is making victims of farmed animals, wildlife, of us all.

Make a Personal Pledge

Today, World Elephant Day, let’s come together and make a pledge for elephants and all iconic species and wildlife.  A pledge that will also help those farm animals who are treated like mere commodities and are fed on the fruits of deforestation. A simple pledge made through our food choices and that will make a world of difference; by choosing to eat more plants and less meat and dairy; making sure any animal products we do eat comes from non-factory farmed sources like pasture-fed, organic and free-range.

In this way, we can cut out an awful lot of cruelty and help save endangered elephants too.

It has never been so important to come together and to fight for a fairer, more compassionate world for all.

Compassion in World Farming is calling on the world’s most influential organisations, including the World Bank, the United Nations and the World Health Organisation, to replace factory farming with a food system that respects animals, nurtures our planet, and reduces the risk of pandemics. 

Please use this link to sign our petition and join the call for a future without factory farming

Thank you.

* Philip travelled to Sumatra to undertake research for his second book, Dead Zone: Where the Wild Things Were. Dead Zone has been the first book to show how factory farming is a major driver of wildlife declines worldwide: from iconic mammals, to sea life, birds, reptiles and insects and how once plentiful species now face extinction due in large part to humankind’s drive for cheap meat.

All royalties go to Compassion in World Farming

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