Elephants | Earth Day Network

What You Need to Know About Elephants and How You Can Help to Protect Them

Facts About Elephants

  • Elephants are the world’s largest land animals and one of our most iconic species.
  • In Africa, elephant’s population has declined from 5-10 million in 1930 to around 500,000 today. Over 20,000 elephants are poached every year. Equally troubling, Asian elephants have seen their numbers decline from 200,000 to roughly 40,000 over the course of the last century.[1] Only 2500 Sumatran elephants are left on earth. This map shows the distribution of African elephants, while this map pinpoints the locations of the Asian elephants.
  • Why do people say, “elephants never forget?” Elephants brain weighs almost 5 kilograms, the largest of any land animal, which gives them extraordinary memory storage and recall.
  • Elephants are one of the few animals on earth that can recognize themselves in a mirror—which means that they have a sense of self, distinct from others!
  • Elephants have saved humans from drowning!
  • Elephants are capable of complex thoughts and deep feelings, including love, anger and sadness.[2] For instance, when two elephants are reunited, it is a highly emotional occasion. The greeting ceremony begins with exuberance and drama, concluding with expressions of what humans would describe as utter joy.[3]
  • Elephants’ sight is relatively poor, so they rely on smell and sound to guide its decisions,[4] which explains their long and sensitive trunks.

Why We Need to Protect Elephants

  • Contribution: From books to films to poetry, elephants have inspired all of us for centuries. In very practical terms, elephants are “tourism magnets,” attracting funding that helps protect wilderness areas. Each African elephant generates at least $1.5 million annually [5] in eco-tourism for the local economy—critically needed resources for African communities. By one estimate, elephant poaching reduces African tourism by $25 million a year.[6]
  • Role in the Ecosystem: Elephants are a keystone species, playing an important role in maintaining the biodiversity of the ecosystems in which they live. They flatten forests and dense grasslands, creating habitat for smaller species. African elephants also dig water holes, which are used by other species. Elephants travel long distances in search for food, dispersing seeds contained in their waste along the way, helping to generate new green growth.[7] In some areas, species of plants and trees rely entirely upon elephants for seed dispersal for their survival.

Threats to Elephants

  • Poaching: The most severe threat facing African elephants is poaching and the now illegal global ivory trade. More than 100 elephants are killed every day for their tusks. In recent years, poaching of elephants has increased exponentially, even in the face of global outrage and treaties, leading to dramatic reductions in this already vulnerable species.[8] Asian elephants are being targeted by poachers for their skin which is used for commercial and medicinal purposes.[9]
  • Habitat Loss: Habitat loss fuels a vicious cycle in the elephant ecosystem. Rising and expanding human populations reduce the habitat available to elephants, putting them in closer proximity to humans, leading to more elephant killings.[10]
  • Climate Change: Elephants are already feeling the impacts of global warming. Droughts lead to food shortages and reduced habitat. Droughts also disrupt the mating season, which leads to fewer offspring.[11]

How You Can Help Protect Elephants

  • Join the Movement to Stop the Ivory Trade: China is the world’s largest market for illegal ivory and has long been considered the country most responsible for the decline in elephant populations. China, along with the U.S., declared a near total ban on ivory sales in 2016 but illegal trade continues throughout the world. While countries have banned trade in ivory altogether, some allow trade in antique or “certified” ivory but those limitations are often ignored. In the U.S., many states are taking local action passing laws that ban the import, sale, purchase, or possession of ivory. Find out if your state or country is fighting to protect elephants and check out our new EDN Spotlight Interview with D.C. Councilmember Mary M. Cheh about her bill that would ban ivory and rhino horn in the District of Columbia!
  • Speak Up Against Trophy Hunting: The National Rifle Association and the Safari Club, both big-game trophy hunting groups, successfully petitioned the Trump Administration to reverse the Obama-era rules that banned imports of elephant tusks and other animal parts. Write to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and tell them to keep the ban!
  • Protect Elephants from Entertainment: Elephants are used for a variety of human entertainment– from circuses to elephant-back rides – which contribute to their endangerment. It is important to speak out against these cruel practices.
  • Practice Sustainable Tourism: Only travel with companies that are certified as sustainable. If you are fortunate enough to see an animal in the wild, make sure that your interaction is respectful.