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Things to Know About World Elephant Day

Wong Shu Lee  


  August 11, 2022

“We admire elephants in part because they demonstrate what we consider the finest human traits: empathy, self-awareness, and social intelligence. But the way we treat them puts on display the very worst of human behavior.” – Graydon Carter, Editor of Vanity Fair


Elephants are the world's largest land animal. They play a vital role in supporting ecosystems and biodiversity. However, they continue to face threats from poachers and habitat destruction.


Celebrated on 12 August every year since 2012, the World Elephant Day was created to raise awareness and fight for their future. 


Do you know why elephants are important in shaping the ecosystems? 


Elephants are considered a keystone species for the role they play. They trample forests and dense grasslands, supporting the growth of smaller species.


They also travel vast distances, dispersing seeds in their dung, supporting vegetation growth. Indeed, some research suggests that elephants could disperse seeds up to 65km, which helps to maintain the genetic diversity of many tree species and prevent local inbreeding.


What threats are elephants facing? 


Although once a common sight across Africa and Asia, elephant numbers fell dramatically in the 19th and 20th centuries due to the ivory trade and habitat loss. 


While some populations are now stable, that's far from consistently true. Poaching, habitat destruction and conflict with humans continue to threaten numbers.


The WWF reports that Asian elephant numbers have dropped by at least 50% over the past three generations. Just 40,000-50,000 are left in the wild, resulting in the species being classified as endangered.


The African elephant is also regarded as vulnerable, with around 415,000 left on the continent. An estimated 35,000 African elephants are still killed every year for their tusks, according to the African Wildlife Foundation.


How to conserve elephants? 


Organizations across the world are working together to tackle some of the major threats elephant populations face.


Successful initiatives include tackling the ivory trade. International commercial trade was banned in 1989 and the world's largest ivory market, China, announced in 2016 that all ivory sales within the country would be banned.


Other projects work to introduce protected areas, in order to prevent habitat destruction and keep elephants safe from poaching. For example, the KAZA (Kavango-Zambezi) Transfrontier Conservation effort has witnessed strong population growth over the past 50 years.


Preventing human-elephant conflict is also important, with one project in Kenya even using beekeeping to help. The WWF explains that poverty and lack of incentives can promote negative attitudes towards conservation efforts. But, the hives provide an income to local communities, with studies showing that integrating beekeeping into elephant conservation leads to reduced conflict in the long run.


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