• Don Lichterman

Canines for Conservation, Karma, Happy at Bronx Zoo, Nepal, Zoos, Big Tim, the Elephant in the Room!

Decision in Happy the Elephant's case

Last week, Justice Alison Y. Tuitt of the Bronx Supreme Court issued a decision in the Nonhuman Rights Project’s case on behalf of Happy that is powerfully supportive of the NhRP’s legal arguments to free Happy from the Bronx Zoo to an elephant sanctuary.

While Justice Tuitt “regretfully” denied the habeas corpus relief the NhRP had demanded because she felt bound by prior appellate court decisions in the NhRP’s chimpanzee rights cases, “she essentially vindicated the legal arguments and factual claims about the nature of nonhuman animals such as Happy that the NhRP has been making during the first six years of our rights litigation,” said Happy’s lead attorney and president of the NhRP, Steven M. Wise. In her analysis and conclusion, Justice Tuitt agreed with New York Court of Appeals Justice Eugene M. Fahey’s conclusion that an elephant, like a chimpanzee, is not merely a “thing.” Instead, Happy “is an intelligent, autonomous being who should be treated with respect and dignity, and who may be entitled to liberty.” Further, Justice Tuitt rejected the Bronx Zoo’s claim that its continued imprisonment of Happy is good for her, stating that “the arguments advanced by the NhRP are extremely persuasive for transferring Happy from her solitary, lonely one-acre exhibit at the Bronx Zoo” to The Elephant Sanctuary in Tennessee. Deeply encouraged by Justice Tuitt’s embrace of the merits of the NhRP’s case following 13 hours of oral argument over three days, the NhRP has already begun working on its appeal.  CLICK HERE to sign up for alerts and updates about Happy’s case. CLICK HERE to read more about the importance of this ruling in the fight to free Happy to an elephant sanctuary.

Losing Big Tim

The world recently lost one of its last remaining Big Tuskers. Big Tim died peacefully at age 51 in Amboseli National Park, where AWF has a long history of working closely with the Kenya Wildlife Service. His death leaves a gaping void in our hearts and in the ecosystem.


As each of these Great Tuskers disappears, so does the possibility that we will see another again, which is why AWF invests in strategies that protect populations and habitats to save elephants in the long term. Learn about Big Tim’s life

Watch This Baby Elephant Learn How to Use Its Trunk

Powerful enough to pull down trees, yet dexterous enough to pluck a blade of grass, an elephant’s trunk is a strong, sensitive, and highly versatile organ. And babies aren’t born knowing how to control it: They spend up to a year mastering its many capabilities.

It’s captivating. It’s cute. And we filmed it in the field. Watch on Facebook as one young individual gives it a try, and follow us for more of wildlife’s most adorable moments.

Here's a much awaited video of Karma's introduction to Holly and Kalpana and her welcome into their group.

The three peacefully amble and graze greens on the banks of the Yamuna river. They have grown quite close to each other and one can find them together from dawn to dusk as they share thoughts and stories amidst soft rumbles. Karma is easily identifiable as the tallest amidst Kalpana and petite little Holly.

We are truly happy to report that Karma, who was rescued in January, has befriended Kalpana and Holly. Since they met a few days ago the trio has been joined at the hip. The three of them have gone swimming in a pool and have taken strolls together. But mostly, they enjoy embracing one another with their trunks. Because Karma is blind, her world was both lonely and dark before she was rescued. Now her loneliness is gone and she has a family of her own.

At a hideous zoo in Thailand, an elephant sways sadly from side to side, denied any semblance of a natural life so that tourists can gawk at him.

His misery—and that of the other animals imprisoned at this facility—isn't unique: In the coming months, elephants may still be torn away from their mothers as babies, held captive in bleak conditions, and released from their chains only to be forced to perform tricks or give rides to tourists, all while enduring constant jabs from handlers' sharp weapons.

PETA is determined to expose and stop such abuse. It's appalling how much animals are suffering at that Thai zoo. Eyewitnesses saw elephants who were tightly chained and forced to stand on concrete, leaving them with aching joints and foot problems.


Tourism means torment for elephants and other animals.


These sensitive, social animals are subjected to routine beatings and other forms of abuse—all for a tourism industry that seems to be stuck in the Dark Ages. Some elephants had bleeding wounds on their sensitive ears and temples, while others bore scars from enduring years of violence. Such misery is found everywhere that elephants are exploited—whether in Thai zoos, at temples in India, or at festivals in Nepal and Sri Lanka.


PETA is pushing to free all elephants from "sporting" events, rides, and other miserable attractions—but tourists are still supporting the suffering of these magnificent animals.

Three images of elephants


That's why we're determined to strengthen the powerful exposés and bold, creative campaigns that are reminding millions of people that animal tourism is inseparable from animal abuse.


Help us free more animals from chains.


After hearing from our supporters and those of our international affiliates, more global travel companies than ever—including giants like TripAdvisor and Booking.com—have cut ties with cruel elephant rides. Even the Cambodian Buddhist temple Angkor Wat recently announced a new commitment to compassion by ending these rides.


Following a groundbreaking PETA investigation, elephant polo has virtually ended in Thailand. With the recent release of footage revealing extreme cruelty at Nepal's Chitwan Elephant Festival, we're determined to end that event, too.


But despite our many successes, we can't rest, not as long as any animals at all are still being chained and bullied. We must keep inspiring compassionate people to oppose cruelty by avoiding all animal-abusing attractions.


Please, help us keep moving forward by making a gift to PETA right now. Thank you for helping us create a kinder world for elephants and other animals.

Detection dogs help Uganda double down on illegal traffickers

Close-up photo of trained wildlife contraband detection canine and handler at AWF-supported training facility in Tanzania


Ground up. Hidden in coffee. Disguised. There is no limit to the tactics wildlife traffickers will use when they are attempting to sneak through wildlife contraband. But there is no fooling a dog’s nose. No matter how hard smugglers try to hide their contraband, African Wildlife Foundation’s highly trained canine detection dogs will sniff out wildlife products. In fact, it takes only 10-12 seconds for one dog to inspect a vehicle and signal to their handler where the contraband is concealed.


“If you don’t have a dog, you’re going to have to get out your toolbox,” jokes Will Powell, AWF Director of Canines for Conservation. He runs an intensive canine and handler training program in Usa River, Tanzania, pairing wildlife authority officers with a canine counterpart and training the teams to detect wildlife contraband. With the support of the Bureau of U.S. International Narcotics and Law Enforcement Affairs, African Wildlife Foundation has helped train wildlife rangers from Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Cameroon, and Botswana. The fully equipped canine units are deployed strategically at exit and entry points to intercept traffickers smuggling illegal wildlife products — elephant ivory, rhino horn, pangolin scales, and hippo teeth are commonly seized.


For Powell, the 43 sniffer dogs his team has trained as wildlife detection dogs are just as much wildlife officers as the rangers who handle them. Speaking at the graduation ceremony of Uganda Wildlife Authority rangers who completed their course at the Canine Training Facility in February 2020, he explains that the program is designed for teams to “understand how we can connect with our four-legged colleagues.”


Some of the newly trained handlers will return to Entebbe International Airport, where they have already been assisting the canine unit that graduated from AWF’s program in 2016. A separate group of detection dogs and handlers will be deployed to western Uganda, where, with support from the Giorgi Foundation, AWF has constructed a canine facility at Karuma station in the wider Murchison Falls National Park. According to Uganda Wildlife Authority’s Deputy Director of Field Operations, Charles Tumwesigye, the north-western region harbors trafficking routes for wildlife contraband smuggled across the Democratic Republic of Congo border and, increasingly, from South Sudan. “The converging point is Karuma,” he says, so the Karuma canine unit must sniff out culprits in this trafficking zone before they proceed.

Infographic showing the decline in illegal wildlife trafficking busts by canine units at trafficking hotspots


Finds by wildlife detection canine units at trafficking hotspots in Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda decline over time


Canines for Conservation break the trafficking transport chain

With the addition of the new detection dogs and handler team, Uganda’s canine unit is the largest group trained by AWF. When the first team was deployed in November 2016, they initially intercepted illegal wildlife products just twice in the ensuing weeks, but the number of finds soared to 101 in the next year. The busts have been steadily declining since the initial surge, which is to be expected — traffickers avoid exit points where they are likely to be caught. This is why governments are eager to work with AWF to deploy these trained canine detection teams to their trafficking hotspots. Just the presence of the Uganda Wildlife Authority canine unit in Entebbe is enough to scare off criminals, says Powell. “They’ve learned: the dogs are there.”


Apart from acting as a deterrent where they are deployed, the canine units must collaborate with other authorities to reduce the trade of illegal wildlife products across the East African region. Tumwesigye lauds the state-of-the-art canine facilities at Entebbe International Airport: “It has made a very big difference in the way we work.” He notes that stopping traffickers is crucial, but it is equally important to ensure that the investigation and prosecution of these offenders are streamlined.


The complex network of illegal wildlife trade crosses international borders, linking criminal syndicates overseas with local actors — some might be tempted to kill wildlife while others might aid traffickers to slip through the cracks. Without coordinated action to counter this dynamic and dangerous industry, the future of Africa’s iconic species is uncertain. As a wildlife-rich country, Uganda might be a source of the illicit items, but many of the products are intercepted en route from neighboring countries and destined for overseas markets.


Combatting illegal wildlife trade by enhancing regional collaboration

Being a transit country and regional trafficking hotspot, sealing its borders and strengthening wildlife crime frameworks is a priority. In February 2020, Uganda launched the National Wildlife Crime Coordination Taskforce to improve information-sharing and interagency operations in the fight against illegal wildlife trade.


According to Tanzania Wildlife Authority’s John Kaaya, who oversees the national agency’s canine units, it is important for Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda to combine forces and protect their shared ecosystems. He underscores the value of the high-quality certification that all AWF-trained canine units receive at Usa River before they are deployed to different trafficking zones across the continent: “With similar training, they will all have the same understanding of how to combat illegal wildlife trade.” AWF is committed to embedding canine units within wildlife agencies and has worked with governments to develop 5-year strategies for the canine units in Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, and Botswana.


The intensive hands-on training at Usa River is only the beginning. Now that the rangers are equipped with the skills and knowledge to look after their dogs and advance the detection capacity of their anti-trafficking teams, AWF will continue to integrate their crucial role into wildlife law enforcement. A newly trained Uganda Wildlife Authority handler recognizes the gravity of this responsibility. Speaking on behalf of his graduating class, he thanked AWF for introducing them to their four-legged companions and providing international canine training that they can apply in different countries across the region to safeguard species targeted by illegal wildlife trade. “You have given us friends,” he says proudly. “Our dogs are an important tool in our work, but we can communicate and enjoy together as we fight against wildlife trafficking.”


Learn how AWF works with Ugandan canine handlers, prosecutors, and investigators to streamline wildlife law enforcement in the country

Elephant in The Room
"Corporations Are People Too My Friends."
Our companies are known for creating products that enhance people's lives.  Through Sunset Corporation of America and its companies, we’re equally dedicated to improving lives.  Our commitment extends to helping local communities, fostering better educational systems, supporting the arts and culture, helping disadvantaged youth, protecting and improving the environment, animal welfare, wildlife issues and encouraging employee volunteerism.

Our companies are known for creating products that enhance people's lives.  Through Sunset Corporation of America and its companies, we’re equally dedicated to improving lives.   Our commitment extends to helping local communities, fostering better educational systems, supporting the arts and culture, helping disadvantaged youth, protecting and improving the environment, animal welfare, wildlife issues and encouraging employee volunteerism.


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