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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.

Science and traditional wisdom provide ample knowledge to identify and protect the interests of elephants. This Charter is an expression of that knowledge. It recognizes that elephants exhibit remarkable physical vigor, unusual social complexity and significant cognitive abilities. Furthermore, it acknowledges that elephants are complex, self-aware individuals, possessing distinct histories, personalities and interests, and that they are capable of physical and mental suffering.

In an ideal world elephants would be neither managed nor held captive. Long-held human traditions and beliefs and enormous impact on elephant habitats have brought us far from this ideal. The purpose of The Elephant Charter is to provide a set of guiding Principles based on a consensus on the nature of elephants, which can form a touchstone for anyone needing to address elephant interests. Within the context of our rapidly changing world, these Principles are intended to promote scientifically and ethically sound management and care of all elephants.

We urge all those responsible for decisions and actions that have an impact on the daily lives, welfare and survival of elephants to embrace the sentiment of this Charter and, through education and practice, to strive wherever and whenever possible to promote understanding and respect for elephants among peoples of the world.

The Elephant Charter Principles