World Elephant Day

The elephant is the largest land mammal on earth, yet it is also one of the most fragile. Where once the mighty elephant roamed the African and Asian jungles and forests in large numbers, now both species of African elephant (the savanna elephant and the forest elephant), as well as its smaller cousin, the Asian elephant, are endangered. To bring awareness to the plight of the elephants and to protect them from further harm, World Elephant Day was created in 2012 and is celebrated every August 12.

The numbers tell the story
The endangered designation is borne out by the numbers. Over the last century, the African elephant population has fallen from an estimated 12 million to around 415,000. This rate has accelerated in recent years with their numbers dropping by 62% in the last decade. Using data going back to the 1960s for savanna elephants and the 1970s for forest elephants, a new statistical model shows that savanna elephants have declined by more than 50 percent over three generations (75 years), making them endangered.  Longer-lived and much smaller forest elephants have fallen by more than 80 percent over three generations (93 years), making them critically endangered. The Asian elephant has fared no better. It is estimated that over 100,000 Asian elephants existed at the beginning of the 20th century, but in the past three generations, numbers have declined by 50% leaving less than 50,000 in the wild.

How did this happen?
The biggest threat to the elephant is human activity. For the African elephants, this activity is poaching for their ivory tusks. It is estimated that every day around 100 African elephants are killed for their tusks. The ivory trade, which has been illegal since 1989 and declined briefly at that time, began to surge again around 2010, especially in Asia, where the consumer demand is greatest.

For Asian elephants, it is primarily loss of habitat, due to increasingly close human populations, that is causing their decline. To survive, elephants need vast areas of land that can provide them with enough food, water, and space to roam. When roads, canals, and fences are built and cities expand, it encroaches on and fragments their habitat, which has now dwindled to 15% of what it was historically.  Another side effect is that this close contact with humans often brings the elephant into conflict with them and may result in them destroying crops and property and even injuring or killing people. In turn, humans may retaliate and defend themselves and their property by killing elephants whose behavior is threatening them.

Save the Elephants
Various conservation groups have taken action and campaigned for governments in countries such as Hong Kong, Thailand, the U.S., and the U.K. to clamp down on poaching. This helped somewhat but it was China’s 2018 ban on domestic trade of ivory that finally made a difference. China is by far the largest market for elephant ivory so when the ban went into effect, the demand declined and prices dropped. However, there is still much to be done to protect these magnificent animals. Conservation groups such as the World Wildlife Fund (WWF), African Wildlife Foundation, and the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) are committed to this effort. The good news is elephants are resilient and this decline can be reversed with strict laws, cooperation of governments, and involvement of concerned citizens. Case in point is Kenya’ Tsavo National Park, where poaching of its savanna elephants reduced their numbers from 40,000 in the 70s to 6,500 in 1988.  Strict anti-poaching measures have brought their numbers back up to 17,000 today.

Adopt an Elephant!
You may think there is nothing you can do, but it turns out, you can Adopt an Elephant – well symbolically at least.  More fun than just sending in a monetary gift, for a $55 donation, you will receive an adoption kit that includes a plush elephant, photo of “your” elephant, an adoption certificate, species card, and gift bag, not to mention the satisfaction of being part of the effort to save the elephant – and you don’t even have to feed it!

Fun Elephant Facts

  • Elephants can spend up to 18 hours a day eating, consuming hundreds of pounds of plant matter.
  • They can weigh over 250 pounds at birth.
  • The Greek general, Pyrrhus, invaded Italy with an army that included 20 armed and armored elephants.
  • Hannibal led a cavalry of 37 elephants across the Alps, but only one, Surus, survived. Surus was Hannibal’s mount for 15 more years.
  • Elephants have the biggest brain of any land animal, which is why they are clever, social, and empathetic.
  • Big though they are, they cannot jump.
  • Baby elephants lose their first set of teeth and tusks (which are actually incisors) just like human children.
  • It’s true, an elephant never forgets! At least that is what they say because the temporal lobe of their brain (the area associated with memory) is denser than that of people.

You can read more about elephants and World Elephant day at these links:
World Elephant Day
The status of Asian elephants
The status of African elephants
Top Ten Facts about Elephants
Both African elephant species are now endangered, one critically

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