Although August 12, 2014 officially marks World Elephant Day, every day is elephant awareness day to us! Since we first visited the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Nairobi two years ago, happily taking as many elephant photos as we could of the adorable babies, the fates of many an elephant has come across our desks. The horrific stories of poaching and the human-animal conflict in many places in Africa which leaves the magnificent creatures threatened.
World Elephant Day is an international effort that was created to urge people from around the world to express concern, share knowledge and offer solutions to stop the destruction of the African and Asian elephant population.
It’s hard to relate, perhaps, if one has never witnessed them in their natural habitat, seen the babies drink from ginormous bottles, play like puppies, love like kittens, and bond like the best of families. A heard of elephants is one of the more spectacular sightings while on safari, and to see the babies at all stages of life, there’s no better place than Sheldrick, where doors are open to the public for just an hour each morning.The rest of the time, the elephants are cared for and roam around their large, protected property, as when they are healthy and old enough, Sheldrick releases them back in to the population, ensuring that a herd will “adopt” them before letting them go. Their work, including a sky vets team that flies to elephants in need or injured as a result of poaching or otherwise, is quite simply impressive.
Every day leading up to WED, Sheldrick’s facebook page has been sharing their “reasons to love elephants.” Here are a few of our favorites:
1. Their ears are the shape of Africa: Did you know African elephants have much bigger ears than an Asian elephants. But as well as using their ears to signal if their alarmed or angry, flapping them also cools them down!
2. They’re social! In fact, their some of the most social mammals around: elephants form extremely strong social bonds and love nothing more than a reassuring touch. But they have their own shared language which we can’t hear.
3. They’re matriarchal: Herds for life, it’s the females that rule the roost in elephant herds, which are comprised of several generations of female relatives (aunts, sisters and cousins).
4. They’re surprisingly fast! Especially considering their size, an elephant can run up to a super speedy 30 km/hour!
5. They help others: An elephant’s footprint serves as a water trough after the rains for smaller animals. In fact, whole ecosystems including plants, trees and other animals are dependent on elephants for their survival.
By the numbers + Fun Facts:
- The Asian elephant is endangered with less than 40,000 remaining worldwide.
- The African elephant (Forest and Savannah) is threatened with less than 400,000 remaining worldwide.
The African elephant weighs 22,000 pounds and is the planet’s largest land animal. The Asian elephant is the second largest, weighing around 10,000 pounds. An elephant’s trunk has more than 40,000 muscles, more than all the muscles in the human body. They can tear down trees or pick up a blade of grass with their trunks.
- In 1989, CITES (the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species) issued an international ban on the ivory trade. 2013 saw the greatest quantity of ivory confiscated in the last 25 years.The street value of a single tusk is approximately US$15,000.
- The main market for illegal ivory is China, where a single tusk can fetch $100,000–200,000.
- An African bull’s tusks can grow to over 11 feet long and weigh 220 pounds.
- One out of every three Asian elephants left in the world is a captive animal.
- At 11 pounds, the elephant has a brain that is larger than any other land animal in the world.
- Elephants have the longest gestation period of any animal at almost 22 months. A newborn elephant can weigh up to 260 pounds.
- Asian elephants range in 14 countries. In the past 50 years, the Asian elephant range has shrunk by over 70%. In Asia there are approximately 70,000 people to 1 elephant across their range. There were over 100,000 elephants in Thailand at the beginning of last century. There are less than 4,000 today.
Helping elephants while traveling
Just in time for World Elephant Day, the Bodhi Tree Foundation’s S.A.F.E. campaign (Safeguarding a Future for Africa’s Elephants) has introduced a collection of conservation-based itineraries called “The S.A.F.E. Travel Collection”. Travelers can experience curated experiences to get up close and personal to these majestic and endangered animals as well as visit behind the scenes with organizations leading the charge for conservation and against poaching in Africa.
Offerings range from volunteering with baby desert elephants to aiding a professional team to create an elephant awareness film in Kenya, allowing guests to truly make a difference. S.A.F.E. travel partners also contribute financially to the campaign, with many donating a portion of proceeds directly from these packages.Itineraries can be found on the S.A.F.E. website, including opportunities to visit beneficiaries on the ground such as exploring the research station of Save The Elephants while staying at the Elephant Watch Camp, visiting orphaned elephants in person, at The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust or staying at one of the many African eco-tourism lodges of the African Wildlife Foundation, working closely with local communities to help protect the area’s wildlife.