Elephants are undoubtedly some of the most majestic creatures on this planet. Their empathy, intelligence, and distinct personalities have captivated humans for centuries, and the more we study these creatures, the more we fall in love. As Graydon Carter, Editor of Vanity Fair put it:
“We admire elephants in part because they demonstrate what we consider the finest human traits: empathy, self-awareness, and social intelligence.”
Perhaps one of the most interesting thing about elephants is their social intelligence. Like humans, elephants have strong personalities and complex social interactions. For example, some elephants are popular, some are extroverts, and some are natural born leaders - and conversely, some are introverts, some prefer team work, and some are social outcasts.
Equally fascinating is the fact that elephants live in a matriarchal society. The matriarch of an elephant family is generally the oldest and largest adult female; one whom other family members can turn to in a moment of crisis.
Whilst it is traditionally thought that matriarchs rule autocratically, recent research has suggested that in many smaller families, elephants act co-operatively and even democratically.
Sadly, despite the clear intelligence and beauty of elephants, humans have been poaching them for centuries, mainly for their ivory tusks. Whilst the poaching and selling of new ivory is now illegal, it is still legal to sell ‘stockpiled’ ivory, providing it can be certified as having been ‘worked’ or ‘carved’ before 1976.
Because of this, there is still a great demand for ivory products, which makes it easier for the illegal ivory trade to continue. After all, all it takes for the illegal ivory trade to flourish is for one buyer to agree not to ask too many questions about the source of the ivory they’re buying.
The poaching of elephants is tragic - not just because elephants are incredible animals, but because they have an important role to play in our environment.
Indeed, in addition to providing other animals with water by digging with their tusks, and creating gaps in vegetation for new plants to grow, elephants also play a vital role in seed dispersal. In fact, there are some species of trees, bushes, and shrubs that rely solely on elephants for seed dispersal.
A declining elephant population there is not only tragic, but it’s also dangerous for our ecosystems.
Thankfully, international communities are starting to come together to bring a complete end to the sale of all ivory, and to clamp down harder on illegal poaching. China is banning domestic ivory trading at the end of the year, and just two weeks ago, New York state publicly destroyed 2 tonnes of stockpiled ivory in Central Park to protest the growing poaching crisis ahead of World Elephant Day.
This is largely thanks to the vital work of elephant and conservation charities across the world. The WWF, for example, works with local communities in Africa and Asia to strengthen local conservation laws, train anti-poaching patrols, and improve the livelihoods of local people through eco-tourism.
Similarly, Save the Elephants is conducting vital research in elephant behaviour and ecology, to help shift international policy using hard data and evidence.
This World Elephant Day, it’s time for all of us to do a little more to protect these incredible creatures. Whether it’s by donating to conservation charities or contacting our representatives asking them to make a stand against poaching and the ivory trade, now is the time to step up.
Before World Elephant Day becomes a history lesson rather than a celebration.