This is how we all know and love elephants: big, smart and absolutely adorable.
Elephants are the largest land mammal, weighing in at six tons and reaching up to 10 feet tall! Once upon a time, over seven million elephants freely roamed the world. Today, the number of elephants is a measly 300,000 and still rapidly declining.
The increase of interest in ivory and increasing human population both lead to the rapid decline of elephants. The ivory trade alone killed nearly one million elephants in 30 years. Additionally, as humans increase their living parameters, elephant habitats have taken a hit, making it harder for elephants to thrive.
So why should we save the elephants? Elephants aren’t just cute to look at; they actually benefit the planet.
Elephants are often thought of as individuals who have no relation to the environment around them. On the contrary, elephants are very important to their local ecosystems! In Africa, elephants are known as gardeners. Their droppings act as fertilizer; in turn, they create healthier soil conditions. The droppings also act as seed dispersals, creating a diverse horticulture environment. Birds and and baboons also pick through the droppings for seeds to eat and harvest. Elephants' waste alone helps out many species living within the same ecosystem.
In addition to their droppings, elephants’ tendency to dig in dry river beds leads to the creation of watering holes. Watering holes help out numerous species, ranging from lions to zebras and even local African tribes. During their migration, elephants also break up thorny bushes and create grasslands and salt licks. All their actions lead to a healthier African ecosystem and easier lives for other species, including humans.
Elephants have been of great importance in African and Asian cultures across time. They are featured on jewelry, home decor, clothing, etc. In some African tales, elephants are revered as wise leaders who mediate any debates in the wild. In the African Ashanti tribe, whenever members would come across a dead elephant, they would stop and give it a proper burial, according to their practices.
Elephants show up in Asian culture and religion, as well. In Buddhism, elephants represent mental strength while in Hinduism, an elephant head on a human body is the deity of success and remover of obstacles. Across the board, elephants are seen as strong and important figures of vitality.
“A living elephant is as valuable as 76 dead elephants,” according to Paul Steyn in his article for National Geographic. Wild elephants are extremely important to the tourism industry, and when one is killed by poachers, the commercial loss to the tourism industry is an estimated $1.6 million. Comparatively, poachers would only make $21,000 per tusk from the elephant they slaughtered.
It's difficult trying to convince poachers that elephants are worth more alive than dead. Most poachers rely on the black market and illegal ivory trading to make a living. But by donating more to wildlife conservation programs such as The African Wildlife Foundation, organizations can create more jobs for people who make efforts to protect wild elephants!
So why save the elephants? When one part of the world is ruined by the poaching of innocent creatures who provide so much for their environment, local culture, and economy, it affects the rest of the world. To quote the creator of the Butterfly Effect Theory, Edward Lorenz, "a butterfly flutters it's wings and creates a hurricane on the other side of the world." Small events have big consequences, and this can be blatantly seen by the dwindling population of elephants.