Elephants are renowned for their strength, cleverness, emotional abilities, and complex social behavior. Considered a keystone species, these magnificent creatures play a vital role in preserving the ecological harmony of their ecosystems. However, elephants are (critically) endangered due to the multiple threats they face, such as habitat loss, illicit wildlife trade (poaching), and human-elephant conflict!
Table of contents
African Savanna Elephant (Loxodonta africana)
You are maybe aware that the largest terrestrial creatures in the world are African Savanna elephants, which may grow to a height of 3 meters and a weight of 6 tons. Their huge ears, concave backs, and long, flexible trunks, which can be utilized for defense, food collection, and digging for and drinking water, set them apart. They are indigenous to Africa, south of the Sahara desert.
As reported by World Wildlife Fund (WWF), the population of African Savanna elephants has declined by at least 60% in the previous 50 years, and they are now enlisted as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) on their Red List of Threatened Species, also known simply as the “Red List”.
Sub-Saharan Africa is home to African Savanna elephants. They require vast areas of territory to roam and graze (up to 30,000 sq km), and they frequently migrate in search of water and food during different seasons.
African Savanna elephants are experiencing challenges in finding adequate homes due to habitat loss. This is a result of both human activities (urbanization, farming, energy production and mining, wood harvesting, tourism), and climate change. They also face many threats, such as poaching for their ivory tusks. This is an illegal activity, but unfortunately, it still happens.
Anti-poaching patrols, community education programs, and habitat conservation measures are all part of the effort to protect and conserve the Savanna elephant. However, much more must be done to secure this species’ survival, including addressing the root causes of habitat degradation and human-elephant conflict.
There are numerous organizations working to protect Savanna elephants. African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), for example, strives to safeguard elephants and their habitats throughout Africa. They collaborate with local communities to promote long-term conservation strategies and decrease human-elephant conflict. They further assist with anti-poaching operations, and provide education and awareness campaigns.
“Save the Elephants” is another worthy organization to mention. They perform research on elephant behavior and ecology in order to inform conservation measures. They also collaborate with governments and local communities to promote elephant conservation and prevent human-elephant conflict.
1. What is the weight of African Savanna elephants?
a) Up to 2 tons
b) Up to 4 tons
c) Up to 6 tons
2. What does Save the Elephants do to protect elephants?
a) Train elephants to perform in circuses
b) Conduct research on elephant behavior and ecology to inform conservation strategies
c) Sell elephant ivory
African Forest Elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis)
African forest elephants live in West and Central African rainforests. They are smaller than their Savanna cousins, with rounder ears and a straighter, downward-pointing tusk, and a darker color than Savanna elephants. They’re also known for their deep rumbling calls, which they use to communicate across large distances. Forest elephants are also great swimmers, and while crossing rivers, they utilize their trunks as snorkels.
The African forest elephant is now listed as critically endangered by IUCN!
The number of African forest elephants has fallen by more than 86% in the last 31 years. The entire population is believed to be somewhere between 70,000 and 100,000 individuals, and in several areas, the number of exemplars suffers major declines due to habitat destruction, ivory poaching, and human encroachment. 72% of the remaining population is now located in Gabon and the Republic of Congo.
At the moment, there are around 415,000 African Savanna and Forest elephants in the wild, and their numbers continue to decrease year by year.
“Over the past century, African Forest Elephant populations have declined across most of their range. The African Elephant Status Report 2016 estimated a continental population of 415,428 for both African Savanna and African Forest Elephants combined and reported a continental decline of approximately 111,000 elephants since 2006,” reports IUCN.
1. Where are Forest elephants found?
a) In the deserts of Africa
b) In the savannas of Africa
c) In the dense rainforests of West and Central Africa
2. How are the ears of Forest elephants different from Savanna elephants?
a) Forest elephants have larger ears than Savanna elephants
b) Forest elephants have a more rounded shape to their ears than Savanna elephants
c) Forest elephants have no ears
Asian Elephant (Elephas maximus)
The Asian elephant is the largest land mammal on the Asian continent. They inhabit dry to wet forest and grassland habitats mainly in India, Sri Lanka, and Southeast Asia. They are smaller than African elephants and have small, rounded ears at the bottom. Asian elephants also have a convex back and a smoother skin texture than African elephants. They are frequently tamed and used for labor such as carrying heavy loads, or for tourism.
Like their African cousins, they also require access to water and plenty of vegetation to survive, and they migrate in search of food and water during the dry season. However, habitat loss due to deforestation and urbanization has made it difficult also for Asian elephants to find suitable habitats.
Asian elephants are endangered, with only around 50,000 individuals remaining in the wild.
”Asian elephants once roamed across most of Asia, now they’re restricted to just 15% of their original range, in a number of fragmented and isolated populations around south and south-east Asia. Today, there are fewer than 52,000 Asian elephants left in the wild. They are listed as endangered species on the IUCN Red List,” shows WWF.
Asian elephants are also threatened by habitat loss and fragmentation, Asia being the world’s most populous continent. Human-elephant conflict, poaching, and the illicit wildlife trade are all important threats to them, as is the unlawful capture of wild elephants.
“The illegal capture of wild elephants and elephant calves for various purposes, such as tourism, has become a threat to some wild populations, significantly affecting population numbers. India, Vietnam, and Myanmar have banned capture in order to conserve their wild herds, but illegal captures still occur in a number of countries where elephants live,” reports WWF.
Numerous organizations are concerned about the future and survival of Asian elephants. “Elephant Family” is one of them and its mission is to decrease human-elephant conflict, preserve elephant habitats, and support local communities. They also conduct research and educate the public about the importance of elephant conservation, hoping that more and more people will join their efforts toward securing a sustainable future for Asian elephants.
The “Wildlife Conservation Society” is another prominent organization committed to the protection of Asian elephants and their natural habitats. Their wish and goal are to create a “world where people and ecologically functioning populations of wild Asian Elephants can co-exist and thrive”.
1. What are the types of habitats where Asian elephants are found?
a) Oceans, deserts, and mountains
b) Forests, grasslands, and swamps
c) Rivers, lakes, and wetlands
2. Why are Asian elephants endangered?
a) They are hunted for their tusks
b) They are losing their habitats due to deforestation and urbanization
c) They are too big to fit in most buildings
Keystone Species that Preserve Ecosystems
Keystone species are essential for the health and stability of ecosystems because they hold the intricate web of relationships in an ecosystem together. Starfish, sea otters, wolves, and elephants are all examples of keystone species.
Elephants are essential keystone species because of their unique relationship with their surroundings They can reshape their environment, creating new habitats and landscapes for other species to thrive in, promoting biodiversity and maintaining the ecological balance.
Elephants’ feeding habits are one way they contribute to the ecology. They consume large amounts of vegetation, clearing areas and creating space for new growth. This promotes plant diversity and provides grazing opportunities for other herbivorous species. Elephants also aid in seed dispersal, boosting plant growth and sustaining genetic variation.
Elephants have also been observed digging waterholes, which not only offer water for other animals but also form microhabitats for small aquatic creatures. This fosters biodiversity and aids in the sustainability of the ecosystem.
1: What is a keystone species?
a) A species that is a good source of food for predators
b) A species that has a limited impact on its ecosystem
c) A species that plays a critical role in maintaining the ecological balance of its habitat
2. How do elephants contribute to the ecosystem?
a) By feeding on plants and creating space for new growth
b) By digging waterholes and creating microhabitats for other species
c) By helping to disperse seeds
d) All of the above
Elephants are social creatures with complex communication skills and a deep understanding of social dynamics. One of the most outstanding aspects of elephant social behavior, in my opinion, is their family structure.
Social Structure of Elephants
Elephants live in herds, which are made up of females and their offspring. The eldest female, or matriarch, leads the herd and makes decisions for the group. Elephant calves rely on their mothers for several years, and they learn essential survival skills from their family members. Males typically leave the herd when they reach puberty and live a solitary or bachelor life. Female elephants stay with their mothers and sisters for their entire lives, forming strong bonds with each other.
Living in herds provides elephants with several benefits. Herds allow elephants to protect themselves from predators, find food and water, and share knowledge about their environment. Female elephants also work together to care for their calves, providing them with protection and nourishment.
Social Behavior of Elephants
Elephants engage in varied social interactions, such as grooming, playing, and protecting one another. Grooming is an important social behavior for elephants because it helps them maintain both their social bonds and hygiene. They scrub each other’s skin with their trunks and remove parasites. Elephants also indulge in group activities, such as playing, pushing, wrestling, and splashing water. Another vital social behavior is mutual protection: to protect their young from predators, elephants will form a circle around them.
Elephants develop deep and strong family relationships and interact with one another through a range of vocalizations, gestures, and touch to communicate information about their identity and emotional state. Elephants can recognize the voices of their family members even if they are separated by long distances, and when a member of their family dies, they exhibit clear signs of mourning and grief.
We can all help safeguard elephant families by supporting organizations that aim to conserve their habitats, reduce human-elephant conflict, and end the illegal ivory trade. We can also raise awareness about the significance of these keystone species and encourage others to value elephants’ cognitive, emotional, and social skills. Let us all work together to guarantee that elephant families and other wildlife can live in healthy and thriving environments for future generations!
I invite you to visit 4TinyHands’ Facebook page and share with us in the comments why you love elephants and how you plan to raise awareness regarding the threats these amazing creatures face. Join our community to find other people who love our planet and its creatures just like you do!
Copyright © 2023 All rights reserved