World Elephant Day 2020
World Elephant Day is a day to honour elephants, spread awareness about the critical threats elephants face, and support organisations protecting elephants worldwide.
Why do we love elephants so much?
It is for their intelligence, empathy, loyalty, social and family bonds, and caring for their families.
Elephants are one of Africa’s wildlife “Big 5” ~ a big drawcard for tourism to Africa. It is also a great source of income for tourism in Africa by providing many jobs for locals and contributing greatly to fund elephant conservation.
There are two species of elephants ~ African (Loxodonta Africana) and Asian (Elphas maximus). African elephants have more prominent ears and are shaped like the African Continent. Asian elephants’ ears are smaller and shaped like the Indian Continent.
The African elephant population has decreased by 90% in the past 100 years. This is due mainly to being killed to supply the ivory trade. Current status ~ endangered. Their numbers have decreased by more than 50% over the past 30 years and are continuing to decline.
Despite elephant poaching being illegal in Africa, there has been a dramatic increase in poaching elephants in the past 10 years. This is due to the increasing demand for ivory in China and the Far East. It is estimated that around 20,000 elephants are being killed annually for their ivory ~ this equates to the killing of 55 elephants every day!
Difference between the African and the Asian elephant
African elephants are found in 37 countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Approximately 70% are in Southern Africa, 20% in East Africa, 6% in Central Africa, and 3% in west Africa.
There are two species of African elephants ~ the Savannah or bush elephant and the Forest elephant. Savannah elephants are larger and their tusks curve outwards. Forest elephants are darker, and their tusks are straighter and point downwards. They have two fingers at the end of their trunk.
Asian elephants are smaller than their African cousins, with smaller ears, and a single finger at the end of their trunk. Many Asian elephants don’t have tusks. Only 5% of elephants in Sri Lanka have tusks, and 90% of elephants in southern India have tusks. It is thought that over time elephants have lost their tusks due to past ivory hunting. There are three sub-species of Asian elephants ~ Indian, Sumatran, and Sri Lankan.
All elephants play a critical role in their environment. They are often referred to as ‘landscape architects’. They cover large areas to feed and create clearings in wooded areas, which allows new plants to grow and forests to regenerate naturally. They are also great for seed-dispersal of fruits and plants. The seeds they eat are passed undigested which aids in the regeneration of new plants and fruits. Without elephants, this would have a significant impact on other wildlife and people who share these areas.
- Female elephants form social herds of related females which are led by the oldest female the ‘matriarch’. Males tend to live a solo life but may sometimes belong to an all-male group.
- Females will birth a calf every 2-4 years. The average weight of a newborn calf is between 50-150 kg. Calf’s stay with their mothers for around 4 years.
- Males and female elephants do not start breeding until around 14 years old.
- Elephants need to eat around 150kg of food a day and spend most of their day feeding on grasses, branches, bark, roots, and leaves. They may help themselves to bananas, rice, and sugar cane from local farmers’ crops, which has increased human-animal conflict. Elephants need a lot of water and are usually not far from a water source.
- They are the world’s largest land mammal. Males can weigh up to 8 tons and grow to 3 meters tall.
- Males are fully grown at 35-40 years.
- Lifespan is 60-70 years in the wild.
- Elephant trunks have around 40,000 muscles.
The following apply for both African and Asian elephants
Despite the world ban on ivory trade, elephants are still killed for their tusks, skin, and bush meat.
Elephants are also stolen from the wild for live elephant trade, mainly going to Thailand for the tourism industry. India, Myanmar, and Vietnam have banned the capture of live elephants as part of their conservation efforts. However, Myanmar still captures elephants for the timber industry and illegal wildlife trade.
Habitat loss due to the increasing population. With more land cleared for human settlements and agriculture, more elephant habitats are smaller. In addition, more roads connecting human settlements is fragmenting elephant habitats.. Elephants are eating and trampling farmers’ crops which in turn farmers will often shoot elephants to protect their crops and families.
During capture of wild elephants, they are often killed. There are now captive breeding centres for this purpose to prevent mortality during capture.
A worldwide ban on trophy hunting is essential.
Both African and Asian elephants face many threats to their existence and are categorised as ‘vulnerable’.
Many elephant conservation organisations are working towards saving elephants from poor treatment and extinction. Preventing illegal poaching and ivory trade, improved conditions for captive elephants, and reintroducing captive elephants safely back into the wild and in safe and protected sanctuaries.
How can we help elephants?
As individuals, what can we do?
- Be elephant ethical and promote safe ethical elephant tourism by not supporting organisations that exploit or abuse elephants (or any other animals) for entertainment and profit, such as; circuses, elephant rides, any captive wildlife tourist entertainment.
- Do not buy ivory or any other items that are made with animal products.
- Always choose eco-tourism friendly tour operators who support local elephant conservation and treat elephants and other animals with dignity.
- Support organisations that are working to protect elephants and their habitat.
- Support organisations that are working to put an end to illegal poaching, ivory trade, and trophy hunting.
- Don’t buy items that are commercially produced or that have been grown in plantations that have decimated elephant habitats. Only buy products that are certified as ‘fair-trade’ and ‘palm oil-free’.
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