Professor traveling to India, petitioning to save elephants


Jimena Tavel, Independent Florida Alligator

Date Published

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A UF psychology professor will travel across the world today in an effort to save elephants.

Ron Chandler is returning to northeast India for 11 days, as part of his personal mission to preserve the home of one of the remaining five herds of Asian elephants in the world. Chandler is working with George Schaller, a biologist and conservationist, and a team of National Geographic explorers to document the elephant herds near Garo Hills, an Indian mountain range

“Elephants just embody every wonderful thing a human could have,” Chandler said. “They’re remarkably intelligent and facilitate the day-to-day life of every other creature in their ecosystem.”

Chandler founded the locally based nonprofit Conservation Initiative for the Asian Elephant 17 years ago. The organization’s petition to declare the Indian mountain range a world heritage site is being considered by the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization. If the land is protected, so are the elephants.

Chandler said he believes the area needs to be internationally protected from damage by agriculture, mining and the palm oil industry. He said he hopes by this time next year Garo Hills will become valued for its culture and ecology.

The hills are made up of 90-percent unaltered forest and pristine streams and have one of the highest populations of wildcats in the world, he said. Villages of Garo people, who live in the mountain range and follow an ancient Earth religion, also face losing their home to an increasing amount of human activity.  

Julia Jeanty, a UF sustainability studies junior and a teaching assistant for Chandler’s psychology of sustainability class, said she became passionate about the preservation of elephants after hearing Chandler talk about it.

“He just has this ability to instill passion in anyone,” the 21-year-old said.

Jeanty founded a UF student organization called Gators for the Asian Elephant last Fall. She hopes Chandler’s trip raises awareness about the conservation of elephants.

“It’s not that people don’t care,” she said. “It’s that they don’t know.”