Elephants nearing Extinction: Only two decades left with our largest land animal

Kyra Abbott ‘24, Student Life Editor

Thundering footsteps make their way across the endless expanse of the golden, dry land of the African Savannah. There is a massive, rather hazy, silhouette in the distance. As it makes its way closer to the mud pond, its unique physique begins to unveil: a long, curled trunk; pearly, white tusks; wide, floppy ears; and a rough, wrinkly texture. Only now is the smaller figure of a baby elephant visible; its short, stubby legs plodding along as it grips its little trunk around its mother’s tail. They both make their way towards the pond, and as they reach it, the mother dips her long trunk in. Just a moment later, she holds her trunk high, and she showers herself and her young calf. The calf trumpets in gleeful delight as the water moistens her dirt-caked skin. 

Suddenly, chaos erupts. The mother elephant trumpets in sheer distress, for a pointy object has impaled her on her right side. From behind a scraggly bush, a poacher reveals himself, wielding a bow with poisonous arrows. The mother elephant tries to run, but is incapable of doing so. Instead, she drops to the dry, cracked earth, with fearful glances towards her baby. The young elephant stands in a solid stance, seemingly paralyzed by fear and confusion. The poacher comes up to the fallen mother elephant; he immobilizes her by cutting her tendons and her trunk, subjecting her to an agonizing death. Now she is mute and her legs are of no use to her anymore. The calf  urgently tramples away, trumpeting in alarm. The poacher does his final trick; he chops off the mother elephant’s tusks. He has just won a jackpot, but the young elephant has lost everything: her mother. She is far too young and small to defend and provide for herself. She will die early — in her young life — all because of the poacher’s cruelty. 

The African elephants are only one of the 16,306 different species threatened with extinction. The World Wildlife Fund (WWF) said, “African elephants are vulnerable to poaching for their tusks, with on average 55 elephants illegally killed every day.” This means that one elephant is killed every 26 minutes, which totals up to about 20,000 elephants killed each year. At this rate, the remaining elephant population — 415,000 elephants — will become extinct within two decades. 

The evil method of killing that poachers impose on elephants is unsightly and horrendous; it is merely one form of life killing another. In fact, the human population shares some parallels to the elephant population. For instance, elephants and humans — though not with a trunk — greet each other upon gatherings. Both species also take care of one another; they sense when one of their members are sick, weak, or injured, and they take on the role of protecting them from the dangers of the outside world. Furthermore, in one of their articles, Scientific American said, “Because of recent experiments, — designed with the elephant’s perspective in mind — scientists now have solid evidence that elephants are just as brilliant as they are big: They are adept tool users and cooperative problem solvers; they are highly empathic, comforting one another when upset; and they probably do have a sense of self.” Clearly, humans and elephants are similar in the ways that they socially interact and intellectually process information. Likewise, this makes the killing of a seemingly equivalent mammal — in terms of natural disposition — even less sensible.

To protect elephants, a ban on trading ivory was put into effect in the U.S. on July 6, 2016. However, elephants are still being killed illegally; poachers still wish to fuel the illegal trade. This is widely because of  ivory’s high selling price. The threat of elephant extinction is greatly posed by the ongoing illegal ivory trade. If the illegal trade of ivory continues at such a high rate, elephants will have no hope of long-term survival.

In addition to illegal ivory trade, environmental destruction also poses a threat to the conservation of elephants. For instance, WWF said, “the ongoing conversion of their [elephant’s] natural habitats for agriculture and other land uses,” poses a major threat to African elephants. This destruction causes the elephant’s habitats to be destroyed, leaving no place for the elephants to roam, live, or play. 

Not only will the extinction of elephants present itself as a physical loss within our world, but also within the world of different forms of wildlife. WWF said, “[Elephants are] ‘landscape architects’ — for instance as they move around and feed, they create clearings in wooded areas, which lets new plants grow and forests regenerate naturally. And then there’s seed dispersal. When elephants eat seed-bearing plants and fruits, the seeds often re-emerge undigested. It’s the way a lot of plants spread.” The natural tasks that elephants perform are essential to the survival of certain plant life and other animal life. As a result, the loss of elephants from the world would clearly cause an imbalance between the natural world and the physical world.

Therefore, something must be done. 

Even though issues concerning the natural world may seem too large for humans to fix, there are still small steps to take to stop the decline of an innocent animal’s population. 

For starters, donations to the WWF — no matter how small — can help provide them with the resources that they need to participate in critical conservation methods: nurturing a safe habitat for elephants, protecting elephants from environmental threats, and saving elephants from the physical assault of poachers. People can also make the decision to symbolically adopt an elephant by offering a greater donation, in which they will become a partner with the foundation that they donate to — WWF or The Sanctuary. 

 In addition, it is crucial that we do not purchase ivory products. In doing this, there will be a wider range of support for the ban on the ivory trade. As a result, less elephants will die at the hands of poachers, and the number of elephants within the elephant population will rise and become more stable.  

Furthermore, educating others about elephants can go a long way. This may include teaching them about their importance to the environment, their unique physical and intellectual features, the illegal poaching and environmental threats from humans, and the importance of effectively implementing the ban on trading ivory. 

The co-chair of the conservation union’s African Elephant Specialist Group — Dr. Okita — said, “At the moment, we are getting to the minds of the people, but we need to get to the hearts.” Likewise, small actions can make a drastic positive difference in the threatening world in which elephants live. Unfortunately, the phrase “it is never too late to act” is not applicable in this situation; time is running out, and the elephants need our help — they need our help now. 

In order to help with saving the innocent lives of elephants, donating to these organizations through the following websites can make a huge impact: https://support.worldwildlife.org (WWF) and  https://shop.elephants.com (The Sanctuary). 

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