Did You Know?
Who doesn’t love elephants, the largest land animal on earth, and want to learn more elephant facts? Of the 2 main species, African and Asian, the African elephants are larger, with tusks on both males and females. Asian elephants have much smaller bodies and ears and tusks only grow on males. And of course, they live in completely different environments with the African elephant living on the hot plains of Africa and the Asian in the cooler jungles of Asia.
All elephants are highly intelligent and social animals with the females often living in the same herd for 60-70 years. A keystone species, elephants help maintain the balance of the ecosystem in which they live. They disperse seeds extensively, with one study showing they spread the seeds of 96 plants over a 35-mile radius helping biodiversity in the forest.
Tragically, African elephants have declined by 30% over the last 10 years with only about 400,000 left in the entire wild. And the plight of Asian elephants is even worse with only about 50,000 left. The biggest threat: poachers killing the animals solely for their tusks which are made into jewelry, sculpture and ornaments. Loss of habitat and conflicts with farmers over crops have contributed even further to their decline. Elephants have truly reached a tipping point with more elephants dying each year than are being born.
Our Experience with Elephants
Both Dale and I have travelled in Africa observing these beautiful creatures up close and personal. Dale spent two weeks in Tanzania in 2013, one of nine international artists in Artist Ambassadors Against Poaching. Their mission was to create art inspired by this expedition to raise awareness and funds to combat the slaughter of elephants through illegal poaching. His African elephant sculptures reflect his experiences from this trip.
I travelled through Botswana in 2007 and Kenya in 2014 with memorable close encounters with numerous animal herds. One highlight was to get close enough to a three-week old baby to take some great photos. And in northern Thailand, I was able to feed and observe Asian elephants with their mahouts or caretakers.
What Can We Do?
What can we do, especially living so far away? You can support international wildlife groups including the African Wildlife Foundation or local groups such as The Elephant Sanctuary of Tennessee which provides lifetime care for rescued Asian and African elephants.
Or get involved with a zoo that practices conservation. We recently joined, as lifetime members, the NC Zoo which has many animal preservation initiatives including one supporting Asian elephants in Vietnam.
And great, breaking news: in December, 2016 China announced a ban on all domestic ivory trade by the end of 2017 which is very positive news for elephants. We need to continue to pressure other countries such as Vietnam and Laos to do the same.
The Elephant Sanctuary in Tenneesse www.elephants.com