UF student Julia Jeanty walked down West University Avenue on Sunday morning, megaphone in hand.
“Elephants are here to stay,” the 20-year-old UF sustainability studies and environmental geosciences junior chanted.
“Let them live another day,” other elephant-conservation supporters replied.
Led by a lifesize, wood and paper mâché elephant sculpture attached to a cycle, Jeanty and about 25 students and residents marched downtown from UF’s campus to call attention to the declining population of elephants.
The second-annual march, held two days after Elephant Appreciation Day, was hosted by the Conservation Initiative for the Asian Elephant, a local nonprofit.
Last year, Jeanty said, more than 100 people attended the march, so Sunday’s turnout surprised her. She said a pro-elephant benefit concert held Saturday at First Magnitude Brewery drew about 250 people, which may have impacted the march’s attendance.
Gainesville Police officers blocked off West University Avenue for the march, which began on the Plaza of the Americas at 10:30 a.m. and finished at the Hippodrome State Theatre at noon.
Ron Chandler, a co-founder and the president of CIFAE, said he hoped more people would have attended the march, but it can be difficult to attract a crowd on a Sunday morning.
Despite the decrease in participation, he said the march still accomplished what he wanted. As participants walked past Midtown, bystanders waved, cheered and took photos.
“The turnout was small, but the energy was great,” he said. “We’re still highly motivated to keep going.”
Chandler said the elephant population is disappearing, and the biggest culprits are the mining industry and corporate farming. To produce massive quantities of palm oil, corporations have burned millions of acres of habitat, he said.
Because of this destruction, Asian elephants wander into human territory, where they can be killed or harm residents, Chandler said. CIFAE hopes to end human-elephant conflict by teaching residents of these regions how to peacefully interact with the animals.
Chandler said he urges Gainesville residents to help conserve and protect elephants by not buying products containing palm oil and donating to elephant-conservation organizations in Asia.
“We need to have acted yesterday,” he said. “Their plight is dire.”