The Beautiful Elephant

The largest land mammal is the majestic elephant. These creatures roamed in their natural habitats by the millions.  But during the modern era their numbers have dramatically diminished to an estimated 450,000 to 700,000 African elephants and 35,000 to 40,000 Asian elephants due to years of environmental changes by worldwide climatic reversals, mainly lack of rain, destroying their feeding grounds of grasses, leaves, bamboo, bark and roots that satisfy their appetite of 300 to 400 pounds of food a day; their habitats have been minimized by land development; and the most hideous of reasons perpetuated by man, poaching.

The elephants’ average natural life span is 65 years or more but they have been and still are killed, about 70,000, for their tusks to satisfy the lucrative ivory market. Ivory tusks are harvested in a legal controlled manner but poaching is still about 80% of elephants’ deaths. Conservationists and governments have been successful in combating poaching although it still is an on going battle and hopefully will be completely eradicated in the near future. Internationally, various countries have banned the importation of ivory. Some of this work is being done through the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES). In 1988 the African Elephant Conservation Act was passed banning the importation of ivory into the U.S. and allowing the US government to enforce strict action against illegal ivory imports and providing funds for elephant field conservation projects.

There are two species classifications of elephants, the African (Loxodonta africana) and the Asian (Elephas maximus), although currently there are genetic studies being conducted that have provided new insights into their relationship.  The African has two subspecies the Savanna and the Forest while the Asian has four subspecies, Sri Lankan, India, Sumatran and Borneo. A bit of trivia you can impress your friends with is how to tell the difference between an African and an Asian elephant.  The African elephant has large ears in the shape of the African continent while the Asian has much small ones.

They are a very sociable animal forming tight matriarchal families, or herds, composed of related females caring for the young, that when born weigh between 200 to 250 lbs. with a mortality rate exceeding 30%.

The oldest female, or matriarch, is head of the herd. The males, or bulls, leave the family unit between the age of 12 to 15 and live solitary lives or with other males on a temporary bases. You’ve always heard the phrase of someone having the memory of an elephant, well it’s true, at least for the elephant. They are very intelligent, with memories that encompass many years. This memory allows the matriarch to remember past watering holes and lead the herd to them when drought compromises their feeding grounds and water supply.

There are several sanctuaries and wildlife preserves that do a good job in maintaining these beautiful animals, but it is challenging.  If you want to participate in saving the elephant you can go to: Wildlife Conservation Society (wcs.org), sheldrickwildlifetrust.org; savetheelephants.org; elephantconservation.org. These are just a few that do a good job in elephant conservation.

Dennis Machicao