On August 12th, we joined a global celebration that is dedicated to the preservation and protection of elephants around the world. World Elephant Day aims to increase awareness about this endangered species' risk for extinction. It is a day to honor elephants, educate others about the critical threats they face, and support all of the people and organizations that are struggling to ensure their survival.
Elephants are built to withstand extreme weather conditions and survive in harsh environments. These gentle giants are herbivores that consume a diverse diet of grasses, fruits, roots, bark, flowers, seeds... and the occasional unsuspecting insect that happens to be caught up in the vegetation an elephant is eating. Elephants don’t just need to drink a lot... They need to drink a ton! On average, elephants will drink between 68 and 100 liters a week. They also need to eat an exceptional quantity of food to survive. Most elephants eat over 300 pounds of food per day (1)! This means a large portion of an elephant's day is spent foraging, and a byproduct of this foraging is the spread of seeds of trees and bushes within their movement corridors and ranges. Some plant species, such as the iconic baobab tree, rely significantly on elephant seed dispersal to ensure their continued existence. In addition, feeding elephants clear out paths in the brush that provide new plants with space to grow and routes for smaller animals like pangolins and mongooses. Indeed, elephants are absolutely incredible, and that’s why your contribution to safeguarding their future is so crucial.
Often considered as smart as dolphins or chimpanzees, elephants are truly intelligent and intuitive creatures. They exhibit behavior that we as humans can relate to--they are known to communicate using facial expressions, vocalizations, and body language. They employ a diverse variety of sounds and gestures, including trumpet calls, grunts, roars, and squeals. They use these vocalizations to warn each other about danger, attract attention, and express happiness. Some of these low-frequency sounds aren't even detected by the human ear and we've only just begun to understand the complexity of their communication abilities.
Elephants develop relationships, strong bonds, and social and familial networks. They have been observed displaying behavior where they appear to comfort each other, celebrate births, and mourn deaths. Elephants are sentient, deeply intelligent, compassionate creatures that capture the hearts of people around the world. But many are not aware that elephants are also a keystone species, meaning that they make indispensable positive contributions to the environments and ecosystems in which they exist.
Just like baby humans learning to use their arms and legs, baby elephants often struggle when learning to use and control their trunks! If you come across one, don't be surprised if it trips over its trunk as there's often a learning curve to using such a large appendage.
Elephant trunks contain over 75,000 different muscles. This makes for quite a powerful sniffer! For comparison, a human's nose has just around 800 muscles. This means these creatures learn to exercise very precise control over these elongated noses. Whether it's precisely plucking a specific leaf or picking up a peanut, they learn to do it!
Herds & Clans
Elephants live in herds called clans. A clan consists of related females and their offspring. Herds may consist of multiple different clans, living together in territories that vary in size based on the population density. Herds are typically led by a matriarchal female who is responsible for maintaining order within the clans.
Mothers For Life
While male elephants eventually grow to leave the herd and go their own way, female family members stay together for life. Elephants are known to be extremely loyal to their family. In fact, they will often choose to remain with their mothers even after reaching adulthood. This motherhood extends to all calves in the herd as they rely on each other to provide support, protection, and education across each clan.
What is Being Done to Protect Them
Although elephants are among the most intelligent and recognized animals on Earth, they have been systematically exterminated throughout much of Asia and Africa. That's why we desperately need your support today to help defend these irreplaceable animals.
Elephants are threatened by poaching, habitat loss, and human-elephant conflict (HEC). These problems are all distinct, but very much interconnected. Poaching is a gruesome act that's often the result of incredibly complex criminal elements whose primary motivation is to sell ivory in Asia. Bush meat and trafficking of elephant products such as skin, tails, or other body parts are not as common or lucrative but are growing businesses with increasing demand.
Habitat loss is an increasingly problematic challenge as populations continue to increase, and natural land that was once elephant habitat is developed. Deforestation and agricultural expansion are two examples of actions that result in significant habitat loss for elephants. As these habitats continue to be reduced, incidents of HEC tend to increase. HEC occurs when elephants or people get injured or killed by one another, most often as a result of elephant crop raiding or destroying infrastructure and humans defending their crops or houses. Inevitably, our world's natural spaces are shrinking and being replaced by roadways, commerce centers, villages, and schools. Now more than ever, it's imperative that we identify creative, collaborative initiatives that can contribute to solving these problems.
There are a number of organizations working to save elephants. Some of these organizations are the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), SFW, African Parks, and Wild Response--among many others! While these organizations all have different areas of emphasis or different specific projects, they are all working towards the same ultimate goal: Protecting elephants.
What You Can Do
A great way to celebrate this international holiday is to educate yourself about these mammals and share what you learn with others. You can help save elephants by encouraging ethical and appropriate behavior. Don't ride on top of them, don't participate in unethical tourism, and don't encourage people to tease them or keep them as pets. If you participate in these activities, you're contributing to industries that perpetuate their suffering. You can also support organizations like SFW by donating to help protect elephants and other African animals!
Thank you for supporting elephants, all of Africa’s wonderful wildlife, and the brave
teams of rangers who protect them. Every bit of effort we can leverage matters. We need collaborative effort and unified action on community, regional, and global scales to preserve these beautiful and vital species. It's up to us.