With the African Elephant making international news lately there are ways to help save them.
We love it when people like Katharine get involved and share their passion for Africa’s wildlife.
When you hear “Africa,” what animal springs to mind? Most likely, it’s the elephant. The planet’s largest living mammal is to Africa as the koala is to Australia, the bald eagle is to the United States, or the polar bear is to the Arctic—a cherished and beloved symbol. But like its fellow creatures, the elephant is much more than a symbol; it is a vital part of its environment. The African elephant shapes the very landscape of its homeland.
Elephants are a keystone species—that is, a species on which other species in a given ecosystem largely depend. Without them, the ecosystem of Africa would change dramatically.
For centuries, elephants have been known as the architects of the African continent. As these giant herbivores travel and feed, they uproot trees and undergrowth, creating pathways and clearings where new plants can take root, helping to revitalize the forest and create new grasslands. Elephants also spread seeds over long distances, again allowing new growth to flourish. During droughts, elephants dig for water, creating waterholes that other animals can then share.
Unfortunately, elephants draw poachers as well. It’s estimated that between 30,000 and 40,000 elephants are illegally hunted each year for their ivory, a commodity now so valuable it’s referred to as “white gold.” With one elephant tusk bringing in as much money as 12 years of farming or herding, it’s no surprise that the brutal killing of elephants continues unabated.
Elephants face a grave threat from habitat loss as well. As the human population burgeons, savanna and forest make way for farmlands, buildings, and roads. Elephants need wide open spaces to roam and forage and raise families; without these, they perish.
Conservationists estimate that Africa has about 472,000 to 690,000 elephants today. That’s a catastrophic decline from the five million or so estimated to have lived in Africa in the 1930’s and 40’s.
What can we do to turn those numbers around? The key is education. People, both within Africa and around the world, need to learn why elephants matter, both to the African ecosystem and, through ecotourism, to the African economy at large. Local farmers need to be taught coexisting farming techniques, so both wildlife and humans can benefit from Africa’s natural abundance. And the buying or selling of ivory must be banned, period.
So please help spread the word. Use your voice to help protect African elephants before it’s too late. Let them be a symbol of Africa’s future, not just a memory of Africa’s past.
Contributed by Nikela Volunteer Katharine Colton
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