Elephants are the iconic symbol of wildlife that marches the jungles of Asia and the plains of Africa. They are admired by their intelligence and emotional complexity. However, they are tragically facing extinction.
By the findings of conservation conference in Botswana; in 2025 the elephants might become completely extinct, leaving us with very little time to act.
Where do elephants live and How are they important for the environment?
- The two major species of elephants are African and Asian.
- The African elephants are the largest of the mammals on Land; they are 14 feet tall and weigh about 8 tons.
- The Asian elephants have a weight of around 5 tons and reach nine to ten feet.
- African elephants roam around the entire continent. Some of them live in the deserts and forests, but today they are mainly found in the sub Saharan savannas.
- Most of the Asian elephants live in the forests.
- All the species of elephants are herbivores; they eat twigs, seeds, grass, leaves and bark. In fruits, they like to eat bananas, sugar cane and marula fruit.
- An adult elephant consumes around 300-400 pounds of vegetation a day.
- In a hot area, an elephant would have to drink around 50 gallons of water a day to stay cool.
It is very obvious that the eating and drinking habits of these elephants alone will significantly impact the surrounding environment. This is the reason that elephants are considered a keystone species. They are the species crucial for maintaining the diversity and the numbers of other species.
There would be a cascading negative effect on the entire ecosystem if these species were to go extinct.
The Savannas has grasslands where the elephants push down trees and devour the low shrubs. While doing this, these elephants knock down the seed pots of the acacia trees for other animals to consume such as, kudus, baboons and warthogs.
The ecosystem in grasslands is sustained by grazing animals like gazelles, zebras and impalas. Due to the presence of those gazing animals; lions, hyenas and jackals have prey to eat. These grasslands also provide shelter to small animals like mice and badgers.
An average elephant produces around 250 pounds of dung a day. The dung contains 50% of the original nutrients consumed because their digestive system is notoriously inefficient. Many people suggest that the elephant dung is a habitat for many insects’ species such as ants, centipedes, scorpions and spiders.
The dung also contains seeds from many trees which are dispersed by the dung as far as 40 miles away. The chances of germination are increased as these seeds are already in fertile soil. Due to this reason, elephants spread the Balanite tree, which are highly valued in these areas for subsistence.
Elephants also help to make paths through the forests which are used by other animals and humans to go through. They also dig into dry river beds for water which creates holes and reach the water table. This gives other animals the access to water as well.
Are elephants really endangered?
Over the past century, the numbers of elephants have reduced by 50% due to hunting for Ivory and Sport. Many initiatives have been implemented to reduce such sports. Sumatran species of Asia are the closest to extinction. Other species from Africa and Asia remain threatened as well.
Threats to elephants: is Poaching the main threat?
Poaching remains the number one threat to the elephants.
In many regions ivory trade has been restricted. Even after restrictions, the elephants’ population is declining due to poaching as reported in Central Africa. Although the focus is shifting now, a massive unregulated market still exists as a primary threat to the elephants.
There is a lot of demand of elephants from the wealthy Asian and Western countries. Even though 46 countries have pledged to protect the elephants, the monitoring programs showed that 20,000 African elephants were killed by poachers in 2013 despite the regulations.
The populations struggle to maintain their numbers as more than 50% of deaths came from poaching. The rampant poaching has caused further reductions as they target the largest animals of the herd who are usually the ones who lead the herd and are responsible for guiding the herd for food and water.
We do not know much about the elephant’s internal communications as they take place below our hearing range. Although it has been observed that the males can communicate with the females from miles away.
There is also a significant risk of extinction of elephants due to habitat loss and destruction. Elephants usually require a lot of area of land (and forests) to prosper. As human populations are continuously increasing and the development is expanding rapidly, the elephants’ habitat is rapidly declining.
Effects of Habitat loss on Elephants
Humans are expanding their way and moving into the habitat of elephants. They are building roads, businesses and big plantations for palm oil.
Sumatran Elephants have lost 70% of their habitat since 1985 according to a study by International Union for the Conservation of Nature. Not only this, but their population has reduced to around 2500 in very limited areas which has increased human and elephant interaction and conflicts.
South East Asia is particularly facing problems, where it is estimated that only five percent of the jungle remains. However, many forest restoration projects are underway. Many organizations are working to restore their habitats and to educate people about the importance of wildlife.
Since elephants are so huge, they can be frightening and can demolish a family’s farm over time. In response people set up traps for elephants; eventually shooting or poisoning them. Many peacekeeping measures are being implemented to protect the crops as well as the elephants.
Loss of Habitat and Fragmentation is the second major reason for significant loss in elephant species’ numbers.
How can we save elephants from extinction?
The concern over the declining of elephants is worldwide due to which the ivory trade has been completely banned by the Convention on International Trade Endangered Species in 1990.
Many governments have used aggressive approaches to catch poachers of elephants. The results are positive; however, the support for banning ivory hasn’t been universal.
Other actions that might bring a change include:
- Legalized hunting should be monitored for its impact on elephants
- Enforcement of fighting illegal wildlife trade
- Development should be planned which does not impact elephant habitats.
- Educate people about elephant behaviors.
Initiatives Against Elephant Poaching (Protecting Elephants)
Many initiatives are set to help conserve elephant population. World Wide Fund has established many protective zones with the help of many governments to identify the illegal trade routes.
Bloomberg Business reports about a private sector initiative taking place in Tanzania which plans to monitor the poacher movements and to track them down by using unmanned drones and other technologies.
What do elephants need to survive?
The basic needs of elephants include a lot of space; fresh vegetation, water and a community with each other (preferably an ecosystem). They take ancestral migratory routes, therefore, require a lot of space. The habitats and migratory routes of elephants should be researched before planning developments. This will go a long way in protecting elephants from habitat loss and fragmentation.
By creating such an environment that would satisfy elephants is the only way to ensure their survival amidst the human population explosion.