Animal conservation groups have been warning us for decades that the African elephant is at risk of extinction unless determined efforts are made to curb the trade in ivory and other wild animal parts. One African elephant is killed every 15 minutes for their tusks, which are worth more than gold. Extensive habitat loss, driven by increased human settlement of areas once used by these animals, has also served to drive these elephants further to the brink of extinction.
Efforts to protect elephants have been ongoing for many years, and the good news is that awareness of these animals’ plight is steadily growing. Recently, an important agreement was reached by the U.S. and China – the two largest consumers of ivory products in the world – to curb the trade.
Despite these gradual signs of improvement, the fact remains that for the brave people who are involved in the monumental effort to protect elephants, every day feels like a battle. Day in and day out, wildlife rescue organizations have to cope with an influx of ill, orphaned and traumatized victims of the illegal wildlife trade, habitat loss and human-elephant conflict.
This poignant image shows DSWT resident, Loboito, snuggling up to a blanket which serves as a replacement for his mother’s warm body.
Loboito’s carers said: “In the wild, his mother’s warm body would provide a place to rest his trunk; at our Nursery, blankets recreate this sensation with an elephant carer standing behind offering a tempting bottle of milk secretly from underneath.”
The image is a sad reminder of what humans have done to this majestic species. When an elephant is killed for their ivory, it affects not only the particular elephant involved but also their entire family. Babies such as Loboito are cruelly deprived of their mothers while older elephants are deprived of their children, sisters, or brothers. The bond between elephant mothers and their babies is akin to that of human mothers and children. Elephants are highly intelligent and emotional animals who love and care for one another just as strongly as humans care for one another. When a member of an elephant herd is lost – for any reason – they have been known to mourn and grieve their loved ones.
Elephants naturally live in matriarchal groups, headed by an older female elephant who is usually replaced by her eldest daughter when she dies. The group typically comprises of the matriarch, her daughters, and their calves. The females assist one another with the care and rearing of their young while adult males roam in separate “bachelor” groups. The deep, loving bonds between elephant families and herd members persist until death … but as this image of Loboito and his blanket demonstrates, when the family is torn apart by poachers, those bonds are tragically lost forever.
To find out how you can play your part in the fight to save elephants, check out some of the resources below:
- David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust’s Elephant Conservation page
- World Elephant Day
- World Wildlife Fund’s African Elephant Program
- Save Elephant Foundation
Image Source: David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust/Facebook