- 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. 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. 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.
- Elephants’ sight is relatively poor, so they rely on smell and sound to guide its decisions, which explains their long and sensitive trunks.
Why They Matter
- 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  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.
- 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. In some areas, species of plants and trees rely entirely upon elephants for seed dispersal for their survival.
- 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. Asian elephants are being targeted by poachers for their skin which is used for commercial and medicinal purposes.
- 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.
- 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.
How to Help
- Join the Movement to Stop the Ivory Trade: Illegal or legally sourced, the ivory trade is decimating our remaining elephants. China, once the world’s largest importer of ivory, and long considered the country most responsible for the decimation of elephants, recently joined the United States, declaring a near total ban on ivory sales, but illegal trade continues throughout the world. Many countries ban trade altogether but some, such as Great Britain, allow trade in antique or “certified” ivory, but those limitations are often ignored.
- 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. Although our courts stepped in, Trump’s officials are still “studying the issue.” Let’s keep the pressure on. Write to Donald Trump and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and tell them to keep the ban! And tell the National Rifle Association and the Safari Club to back off.
- Protest Elephant Exhibitions: Elephants are used for a variety of human entertainment – from the circus to elephant-back rides – which contributes 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.
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