Here’s What You Need to Know About Elephants Today on World Elephant Day

*Originally published on RYOT.org on August 12th, 2015 by Sean Sawyer*

Today is World Elephant Day, so take some time to learn about these beautiful creatures and the elephant poaching crisis. An estimated 40,000 elephants a year are killed by poachers and, according to some estimates, since the 60’s the population has been dwindled down from 3.5 million to less than 400,000.

Mali-Elephants-Killed

An elephant stops to take a drink of water inside a dam near Hombori, Mali. (Photo: AP/Baba Ahmed)

Elephants are known to mourn their dead

Sometimes the animal kingdom seems harsh and cold, but elephants may have a particular connection with the human race. Elephants are known to mourn their loved ones when they pass. Dr. Kate Evans, of the Elephants For Africa research foundation, has witnessed mourning among wild elephants that she knew well. On one occasion, she explained to Dailymail UK, a young elephant came across three skulls. He ignored the first two, but paid particular attention to the third skull, from an elephant he had been friendly with. “He seemed to know who the skull belonged to,” Dr. Evans explains.

Perhaps explaining the elephant cogito is because elephants spend their lives together in herds and can live up to 70 years. They lived together, they breed together, and they eat together which causes them to form a tight bond amongst their herd. This is why when one of them passes away they mourn together.

2008’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species

In 2008, the UN’s Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) allowed for a one-time major legal sale of ivory to China and Japan. This sale flooded the Asian market with 102 tons of legalized ivory, according to iWorry. After, the market was overwhelmed with even more illegal ivory because it is nearly impossible to distinguish between the legal and illegal ivory.

After this was allowed, poached elephants surged as poachers look to capitalize on the market. Over 25,000 elephants were poached in a 12 month period between 2010-2011. Another 30,000 elephants were poached in Africa in 2012.

“I think clearly China is driving this, or it’s coming from the Far East,” Ian Craig told CBSNews about who is keeping the ivory trade alive. Craig is a Kenyan working with the Northern Rangelands Trust. “90% of the ivory being picked up in Nairobi Airport, or Kenya’s port of entry and exit, is with Chinese nationals.”

Bouba_Njida

A poached elephant corpse rots in Bouba Njida National Park in Cameroon. (Source: Flickr/U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service Headquarters)

Steps to defending the Elephants

According to iWorry, since the 2008 legal sale and surge in ivory poaching, many countries have seized illegal ivory and destroyed it before it can hit the market. Over 64.2 tons of ivory have been destroyed by nations worldwide. On March 3rd, 2015, Kenya burned 15 tons of ivory on World Wildlife Day making it the largest ivory burn in history. By this time, less that 400,000 elephants remain across Africa.

APTOPIX Kenya Ivory Burning

A ranger from the Kenya Wildlife Service walks past 15 tons of elephant tusks which were set on fire, during an anti-poaching ceremony at Nairobi National Park in Nairobi, Kenya Tuesday, March 3, 2015. Kenyan President Uhuru Kenyatta set fire to the elephant ivory during World Wildlife Day to discourage poaching, saying that 25 years after the historic banning of the ivory trade, new demand from emerging markets is threatening Africa’s elephants and rhinos. (AP Photo/Khalil Senosi)

Various laws across America have been introduced to Congress to make the ivory trade illegal. New Jersey and New York were the first two states to introduce these laws in 2014 which was then supported by President Obama and a number of other states.

On the ground, there are also soldiers fighting to protect the elephants from poachers. According to CBSNews, six Kenyan rangers and three times as many poachers have been killed in gun battles from 2012-2014.

If action isn’t taken now, then we can expect the Elephant to become extinct by 2025, according to iWorry.

Elephants are vital to the African ecosystem

The beauty of these animals are not the only thing they contribute to the ecosystem. According to SOS Elephants, they pull down trees and break up thorny bushes helping to create grasslands for other animals to survive. They use their size and trunks to dig waterholes in dry riverbeds exposing underground water. Even their gigantic foot prints cause holes to form in the ground where water can collect. After, other animals can use as a water source. When the herd travels, they create trails that act as fire breakers and water run offs.

Elephant manure is important to the environment as well. Baboons and birds are known to pick through dung for undigested seeds and nuts, and dung beetles reproduce in these deposits. In fact, some seeds will not germinate unless they have passed through an elephant’s digestive system. The nutrient-rich manure also replenishes the earth which aids humans when we farm in the nutrient rich soil.

Considering all of this, it is no wonder why elephants are bestowed with the nickname “The Megagardeners of the Forest.”

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