Since the origin of elephants, about 60 million years ago, the order Proboscidea has included at least 160 species in 39 genera, in an extraordinary array of forms. The African and Asian elephants existing today are the sole remnants of that spectacular radiation, and they, too, may be close to the end of their time on earth.
It was with decades of experience studying elephant communication and behavior and an equal number of years witnessing, firsthand, the suffering of elephants, that we envisioned something along the lines of a Bill of Rights for elephants. It seemed that, no matter where we turned, there were issues related to the treament of elephants. management practices, poaching for ivory, capture of elephants for captivity, and the holding of elephants captive led us to ask: How should we treat these extraordinarily complex, intelligent, social beings? What rights to exist or to be given fair treatment should they have in our anthropocentric world? The Elephant Charter, written in 2007, was the result.
As initiators of the Elephant Charter we wish to share with you its preamble, which resonates even more powerfully today than when it was written in 2007. The Elephant Charter has per September 2013 been signed by well over 50 elephant biologists, more than 130 elephant professionals and over 1,400 friends of elephants. Please join us by signing The Elephant Charter and helping to change the way people think about our planet and all of its inhabitants.
The preample to the Elephant Charter begins:
"For thousands of years, people have praised and punished, elevated and degraded, revered and feared elephants. Now, the earth’s largest living land mammal is under threat, and with it a host of ecosystems. The destruction of elephants and their habitats has annihilated entire populations and pushed others close to the brink of extinction. Furthermore, the regular exploitation and abuse of individual elephants is a source of preventable suffering.
The preservation of elephants is vital to the health of the natural world and to the heritage of future generations; mistreatment of them is unworthy of our species. We, the undersigned scientists and conservationists, affirm that elephants are unique, important and irreplaceable. We, therefore, hereby introduce an Elephant Charter to promote the protection of all elephants from human conduct and institutions that cause their needless suffering or loss of life.
We recognise the right of people to go about their daily activities and economies without threat to life or livelihood from elephants. Nevertheless, when human endeavours threaten the future survival of elephants, people must examine their collective behaviour in relation to the needs of other species. We have reached such a time...."