We’re kicking off Earth Month with a post about my son’s favorite animal, elephants. Elephants, the world’s largest land animal, possess very large brains and are capable of complex thought. They have complex social networks and are one of the few animals on earth capable of self-awareness.
Elephants are suffering significant population declines in both Asia and Africa. African elephant populations have declined from 5-10 million in the 1930s to fewer than 500,000 today. In Asia, elephant number 40,000, down from 200,000 a century ago.
Elephants are threatened by climate change and loss of habitat. Droughts reduce habitat, create food shortages and impact the mating season. Expansion of human populations have also encroached on elephant habitat. But the greatest threat to African elephant populations is poaching and the illegal ivory trade. Poachers kill more than 100 elephants every day.
Why do we need to protect elephants? In addition to their long-standing relationship with human cultures, elephants are a keystone species in the ecosystem. They flatten forests and grassland, creating habitat for smaller animals, and disperse seeds over long distances adding to biodiversity. Elephants also dig water holes used by other animals. In addition, elephants are “tourism magnets.” By some estimates, each African elephant generates at least $1.5 million annually in eco-tourism for the local economy.
How can we help elephants? Given the huge impact of poaching, we must cease the ivory trade. Though most countries have now joined the ban on ivory sales, illegal trade continues. In addition, speak out against trophy hunting. Finally, practice sustainable tourism by traveling only with certified companies.