“Elephants have long term supportive bonds between family members, so it’s not just a species facing extinction, it’s massive individual suffering.” ~Jane Goodall, Wildlife Conservationist
Elephants are one of the world’s most intelligent animals, similiar in brain functionality to humans, other primate and cetaceans (whales, dolphins). Elephants display a very wide variety of behaviors including grief, mimicry, play, altruism (helping others without expecting anything back), use of tools, compassion, cooperation, self awareness, memory and communication. Many of these behaviors are not seen in any other animals except Primates, Cetaceans and a few bird species. Elephants are even known to experience a form of PTSD because of the types of memory they are capable of. They are also like humans in that they have a long gestation (pregnancy), offspring requiring extended dependant care (baby elephants stay with their mothers for about 16 years) and they have a long life span. Aristotle once said that the elephant was the animal which surpasses all others in wit and mind. Wit in this case means mental sharpness and inventiveness not humorous wit.
Elephant Numbers Decline
In 1930, elephants numbered around 10 million in Africa. By 1979, the population had been decimated to only 1.2 million due to the ivory trade. Then in 1989, when rules banning the sale of ivory was accepted around the world, the population was down to about 600,000. The population began to recover but then rules were loosened in 2008 to allow ivory from stockpiled tusks to be sold as long as no new elephants were killed. While in theory, that wouldn’t cause harm, instead it ignited a huge demand that has not declined to date. The demand is mostly in China for ivory to make trinkets, chopsticks, jewelry and hair accessories. Now, local hunters and modern poaching gangs are shooting and poisoning 25,000 elephants per year for their tusks. These gangs are financed by Asian criminal syndicates and armed by supplies from regional African conflicts, This annual kill rate is more elephants than are born each year. Unless something is done to reverse this trend, most wild populations will disappear in the next decade. There was never a more dangerous time to be an elephant.
PART OF A HERD OF INDIAN ELEPHANTS
Video Infographic on the Endangered Status of the Elephant
Elephants enjoy play
What Incredibly Majestic Animals!
As the elephants were killed off, land became open for development. In Asia, in the tighter rural spaces, sharing space with elephants can have disastrous results. This large intelligent animal is not deterred by a small livestock fence. Elephants have even been known to use a log to destroy an electrical fence and then to continue on their way through whatever area (probably causing destruction) they were intended to stay out of. One evening of grazing can destroy an annual crop of a small farmer, inciting acts of retribution on the animal that caused such a huge personal crisis. When wild animals capable of such destruction and people capable of killing that animal share the same section of the jungle or the savannah, tragedy is likely to happen. In India, angry or panicking elephants kill 400 people per year. Then the offending elephants are hunted down in anger and killed. Dozens of elephants have also been killed because they cause problems for Palm Oil growers.
Elephant enjoying a bath at sunset
How can the elephant be saved? First, protect their habitat. Stop illegal encroachment, logging and development of roads in the areas most densely populated by elephants.This is good ecology for the land as well. Elephants have a direct effect on forest composition and density. Elephants are considered a keystone species and are tied to biodiversity. They are needed to maintain habitats for many other species in Savannah and Forest ecosystems. One-third of tree species in West Africa rely on elephants in this way.
Strengthen and enforce the existing laws and prohibit the sale of any ivory, stockpiled or illegally obtained.
Educate the communities that participate in the illegal ivory trade about the dire consequences of a continued market for ivory.
Finally, get creative in ways to protect people and their personal spaces from individual and herds of elephants. A good example of this is a new technology project in the tea fields of India. It was dangerous for workers to walk home in the dark because they inadvertently would come across an elephant who became startled by the people and might behave aggressively. So, now teams of trackers, called the conflict response team, watch over the elephants as they pass thru the plateau and they relay, via a hotline, the locations of elephants. Then a text message is sent out to all who reside within 5 Kilometers of that location. At 5 pm, television broadcasts advise the community of the location of all elephants on the plateau and finally, to warn those outside, a light is turned on via text, letting them know of the proximity of the elephants. This program has successfully reduced the deaths from 3 a year to 1. There is buy-in in this community partially because the culture sees elephants as gentle natured and as a manifestation of the Hindu god, Ganesh.
What You Can Do to Help!
- Don’t buy anything made of ivory either in the US or if you are traveling the world!
- Share this information with others. Don’t assume they already know the plight of the elephant.
- Finally, if you can, support one of the elephant non-profit organizations listed on the next (which is the final) post for the topic of Endangered Animals.
In the final post on Endangered Animals, we have compiled a list of organizations that have carved out what piece that they can contribute to changing the future and we hope you will support them by volunteering, making a financial contribution, or sharing their work with others.
We can personally vouch for some of them and many more are known to us as ethical, sound organizations that have submitted to different types of accreditation, however, you should always do your own due diligence through organizations such as Guidestar, which makes many financial documents public.
African elephant numbers plummet 30 person, landmark survey finds. (Paul Steyn). National Geographic. August 31, 2016. http://news. National Geogrpahic.com/2016/08/wildlife-african-elephants-population-decrease-great-elephant-census/
Elephant cognition. (n.d.). In Wikipedia. Retreived April 2, 2017 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/elephant_cognition.
Indian conservationist wins Whitley award for saving elephants via SMS. (Karl Mattiesen). In the guardian. April 29, 2015. https://www.the guardian.com/environment/2015/apr/29/Indian-conservationist-wins-Whitley-award-for-saving-elephants-via-sms.
If you’re interested in following what topics we will introduce weekly, please sign up for our mailing list and you will be entered into a free giveaway of a beautiful, just published, photo book by Nat Geo of gorgeous wild animals. Entries will be accepted through 11:59 PM, Friday April 14, 2017 Pacific time or when we reach 100 entries, whichever comes first. One entry per person. No purchase necessary. Winner will be notified by email and has two weeks to respond with shipping address. Book will only be mailed to US and Canadian addresses. Void where prohibited.