At one point in time, all of us loved the elephant. We adored the tall trunk and the titanic tusks. Indians are even more attached to the animal, courtesy to the elephant God Ganesh. The world has reached the point where every single living organism is under threat, even our beloved elephants.
Interesting Elephant Anatomy
Elephants are the world's largest mammals and have a bulky body. The trunk is used for picking objects, trumpet, greet each other, drink water, and bathe. Both genders can grow large tusks. Did you know that the elephants large use only one of the tusks? They can be either right-tusked or left-tusked. The mostly used tusk is generally shorter due the wear-and-tear. These tusks are used to lift objects, collect food, and break branches from trees. They are also used in defense mechanisms. The tusks also come to rescue if the elephant ever needs to dig the ground for water.
The African elephant is the largest elephant specie. It can weigh up to 8 tons. Asian elephants are quite different from their African population. Asian elephants are relatively smaller. Only the males have tusks, while in African Elephants, both genders have the tusks.
Complex Social Structure
The female elephants are generally the head of the family or tribe. Males live in isolation or the form of small groups of bachelors. One calf is born every 4 to 6 years and the gestation period is about 22 months, which is the longest in any mammals on earth. The entire herd of the female takes care of the calves. The female calves stay with the herd while the male departs as soon as they reach puberty.
Habitat and Nourishment
Elephants require large areas to survive. The elephants feed up to 18 hours a day and eat hundreds of pounds of food. When there is a lack of food for them, they often seek the resources which humans use, hence the conflict happens.
The Importance of Elephants
The elephants are a huge help in maintaining the forest, the ecosystem, and keeping the biodiversity-rich and sustained. They create routes in the dense forests and allow the other animals to navigate easily. The footprints of the elephants create micro-ecosystems. These footprints are later filled with water where frogs, tadpoles, and other organisms live.
Threats to Elephants, and Their Populations
The population of elephants has seen a significant decline since the 20th century in Africa and Asia. The reasons are numerous, for example, illegal ivory trade, poaching, hunting, and habitat destruction. The population in some parts of the world are growing, but the illegal activities continue.
Culling: Legalized hunting of animals still takes place in many parts of the world. Elephant hunting continues in areas where the population is very large when compares to the resources available in the area (overpopulation). Some elephants wonder in the nearby cities and farms in search of food creating chaos. This is a very controversial case. While some call it a measure to balance the population and resource, while some call it downright animal cruelty. The African population is currently classified as Threatened.
Trophy Hunting: Numerous Game Trophy Hunts are going on around the world. Americans and Europeans spend $15,000 to $20,000 to hunt one elephant. In parts of Africa, hunting and gathering prize money is the livelihood for some families. As a result, the African elephant population fell from 12 million to 400K within a century. Their population dropped by 62% between 2002-2011. This horrifying decline continues.
Habitat Loss: Elephants are losing their habitats primarily due to the expansion of human colonies, agriculture, development, and construction, which leads to fragmentation of their habitat. As a result, the number of human-elephant conflicts is rose, which often leads to the killing of elephants as well as human casualties.
Illegal Ivor Trade: Illegal ivory trade has caused the decline of several species and it continues to date. Governments are taking measures to stop the practice and help the elephant population survive.
Today, there are 415,000 elephants across the world.
Efforts to Protect the Animal
Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES): In 1989, global agreements were made by governments to ban ad regulate the international trade of all the animal species which are under threat. Poaching rates dropped significantly due to the pact.
World Wildlife Fund (WWF) advocates ending the commercial ivory sales around the globe. WWF has also been working on technologies and tools to reduce human-elephant conflicts. They also educate the local communities and motivate them to change their behavior which is causing negative consequences. In KAZA (Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area), where more than 50% of African elephants reside, WWF is trying to secure these animals and supporting the works of KAZA Secretariat and 5 other supporting nations which are Zimbabwe, Angola, Zambia, Botswana, and Namibia. WWF also has patrol teams at the borders of Vietnam and Cambodia.
TRAFFIC, which is an International Wildlife Trade Monitoring Network in partnership with WWF have been successful in mitigating major ivory market expansions and trafficking. TRAFFIC is also the stakeholder for the management of ivory seizures, which is stored as data as the Elephant TradeInformation System (ETIS).
China: China on January 1st, 2018 banned domestic trade of ivory which was a game-changer.
India: The country has one of the strictest elephant legislations in Asia. India has 3,600 domesticated elephants. The laws, unfortunately, are not followed much.
With this, I hope many other countries will come forward with strong legislation to protect our beloved elephants and maintain a sustainable future for us.
Want to adopt an Elephant? Click here to check out WWF Animal Adoption
Author: Subhasri Banerjee
Data and Statistics: WWF
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