Today is World Wildlife Day – a day to celebrate all the world’s wild animals and plants and the contribution that they make to our lives and the health of the planet. Although we get to see and share the beauty of elephants at the sanctuary daily, we want to spend today’s EleFACT Friday talking about the continued and significant threats to elephants in the wild.
In the last century, African elephant populations have declined significantly: there were an estimated 12 million African elephants across the world at one point, but today’s numbers are closer to 400,000. It is estimated that at least 20,000 African elephants are killed each year for their tusks alone. The greatest threat to African elephants is undoubtedly wildlife crime and poaching. The impact of the ivory trade in Tanzania, for example, is staggering: up to 30 elephants a day are being slaughtered for their tusks. By the end of the year more than 10,000 elephants will have been senselessly killed in Tanzania alone, solely for the purpose of household trinkets and jewelry. We have shared before that human greed is the cause for the decline of elephant populations in captivity and the same remains true for in the wild.
In 2021, the Wildlife Conservation Society and the National Park Service of Gabon conducted the first forest elephant count in more than 30 years, where they reported an estimated 95,000 forest elephants in Gabon. Prior to this, the population had been estimated at 50,000 to 60,000 individuals, so that represents a rare increase in today’s world. In India, Asian elephant populations have been steadily increasing since 1980, rising from around 16,000 to over 27,000 (still a devastatingly low number) in 2017, but destruction of their habitats remains a significant problem. Habitat degradation and fragmentation forces elephant populations into smaller, more dense areas. As forests disappear, herds are broken up, genetic diversity is lost, and elephants experience more conflict with humans. As human populations increase, the space of native wildlife is lost. Although the elephants were in the wild first, they are seen as a threat and, while there are rules created to protect their natural habitats, they are often ignored, putting both the elephants and humans in danger.
We are privileged to provide sanctuary to elephants who were previously in captivity, but we recognize the ever-present peril for elephants who are experiencing threats in the wild. The important reality is that the only way to save the elephant species as a whole is to protect and conserve their wild populations. While sanctuary can provide better livable conditions, the true rescuing of the species must start where they begin – in their natural homes. We hope you spend this World Wildlife Day furthering your knowledge about animal populations all over the world that still need our support and care.
Photo of Lady in the male Asian habitat