Elephants are the earth’s largest land mammals. These mammals are of the family Elephantidae, and three species of its have currently been recognized: the African forest elephant, the African bush elephant, and the Asian elephant.
At present, the Elephantidae is the only identified surviving member of the order Proboscidea. The identified extinct members of this family include the mastodons.
The Elephantidae family also contains many now-extinct groups, and they include the mammoths and the straight-tusked elephants.
Table of Contents
- Scientific classification
- Threats to survival
- Conservation status
- Elephants in cultures and traditions
- Kingdom: Animalia
- Phylum: Chordata
- Class: Mammalia
- Order: Proboscidea
- Family: Elephantidae
- Subfamily: Elephantine
African elephants are found throughout the sub-Saharan Africa Savannah, as well as the rainforests of West and Central Africa.
The northernmost elephants of the African continent are located in the Sahel area of Mali. This small, nomadic herd of Mali African elephants are known to migrate in a circular route through the Sahara desert in search of water.
Because elephants are enormous and eat so much, they are almost continually coming into contact with people while. The elephant is often confused as destructive animals as they can quickly destroy a whole season of crops in just one night.
This usually is a massive blow to any farmer who falls victim, and it may cause such a farmer to retaliate.
There are now a good number of conservation programs that work with farmers to help them with protecting their crops (elephants have been found to be so smart that they can quickly learn to get around electric fences in no time) and offer compensation to affected farmers when an elephant does raid them.
Elephants, by nature, are matriarchal animals, which means that they live mainly in female-led groups. The matriarch of an Elephant herd is usually the biggest in size and oldest.
The female head will bear the responsibility of presiding over a multi-generational herd that is a collection of other females, known as cows, and their babies. Adult male Elephants are called bulls, and they tend to roam on their own, or sometimes form smaller, more loosely associated groups of all-male.
Giving birth to a baby elephant is a big task and a serious commitment. Elephants have been found to have a more extended pregnancy period than any other mammal in the world —almost 22 months.
The cows have Been found to give birth to one calf at least every two to four years. Because elephants are big animals, at birth, they already weigh around 200 pounds and usually stand approximately three feet tall.
Threats to survival
As for elephants in Africa, poaching for the ivory trade has been the biggest threat to their survival. Before the Europeans began the colonization of Africa, there may have been up to 26 million elephants roaming the area.
The arrival of Europeans marked the beginning of the commercial ivory trend, which featured the use of tusks for piano keys, combs, beads, billiards balls, and all kinds of other items.
The decline in elephant population was not noticed until the early 20th century when elephant numbers dropped to as low as 10 million. This alarming decrease didn’t stop the hunting, as it continued to increase.
By the year 1970, the numbers of elephants were down to 1.3 million. Between the space of 2 decades from 1970 and 1990, poaching and hunting put the African bush elephant at risk of extinction, as it reduced the population by another half.
Today, elephants have been listed by the International Union for Conservation as vulnerable to extinction. Today, there are only as few as 400,000 of these creatures remaining.
Because poachers are mainly targeting elephants for their valuable tusks, these decades of violence have also produced an expecting result: The African elephants are fast evolving to become tuskless.
Recent studies across the African continent have shown that the areas with historically higher levels of elephant poaching now have proportions of tuskless females that are higher than usual.
Researchers are still finding it challenging to figure out how this evolution may affect the species in the long term.
Even though the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES) had placed a global ban on commercial ivory trade in 1989, this has had little, or no effect in saving the lives of elephants as the illegal tusk trade has remained strong.
The African continent has continued to experience high poaching activities in many regions. In 2016, there was a Great Elephant Census that revealed the deep decline in numbers of the savanna elephant at a rate of 8 percent—or an estimated 27,000 elephants a year.
Compounding the problem of the specie’s decline is how long it takes for an elephant to reproduce. With present reproduction rates hanging around 5 to 6 percent, it is apparent that there are not enough calves being born to cover up for the losses of older elephants from the activities of poachers.
African elephants are not only suffering a decline in numbers, but they are also losing their habitat at a fast rate as the human population continues to grow, and people convert available land for development and agriculture.
Elephants are not animals that love to remain constrained to a single location. These massive creatures need a lot of room to roam, so the destruction of their habitat and fragmentation makes it more difficult for them to find water, food, and each other.
That’s not all; it also makes them have an increased conflict with humans, which is a dangerous prospect for both species.
African elephants are now getting some of the attention they deserve as they are now protected to varying degrees in all the regions if the continent where they are found.
These gigantic fellows also protected under the international environmental agreements, Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species, and CITES. There have been efforts in recent times geared towards a re-legalization of the global trade in ivory, but so far, those have failed.
Government and Conservation groups have put in the effort to set aside land precisely for wildlife. This includes corridors that connect those protected lands. Still, researchers are of the opinion that as much as 70 percent of elephants’ range is on lands that are unprotected.
To curb poaching, putting an end to the illegal trade of ivory is critical. Advocates have launched innumerable campaigns that address both the demand end and the supply side (poaching).
Thankfully, there have been a good number of breakthroughs in recent years, mostly on the demand side. In 2015, China, which is believed to be the largest illegal and legal ivory market in the world, agreed to an almost complete ban on the domestic trade of ivory.
Ever since the ban went into effect, there seems to have been a fall in public demand for ivory. On the supply end, there is also a need for a local approach in protecting elephants from poaching.
Elephants in cultures and traditions
Elephants have found their way into several African and Asian cultures and traditions because of their numbers in these regions. Even in some religions, elephants are considered sacred. Sadly, all of these have played no role in guaranteeing their safety from poachers.
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