Bringing the World Together
to Help Elephants
World Elephant Day was launched in 2012 by Patricia Sims, a filmmaker and the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation in Thailand to bring attention to the condition of Asian and African elephants and is celebrated every year on 12 August. Elephant is a sacred animal in many cultures around the world, but poaching, habitat loss, human-animal conflict and exploitation in captivity are some major threats to elephants which can push them on the brink of endangered species.
We admire elephants in part because they demonstrate what we consider the finest human traits: empathy, self-awareness, and social intelligence. But the way we treat them puts on display the very worst of human behaviorGraydon Carter
Editor of Vanity Fair
Elephant! The word elephant in Latin is divided into two words: “ele” means arch and “phant” which means huge. This giant mammal with a huge body and fan like cool ears walks in the jungle freely with no natural predator is not at all ferocious but herbivore in nature. An adult elephant can consume up to 150 kg of food in a single day. You will be amazed to know that they share their ancestral relation with the manatees, dugongs, and hyraxes.
Moeritheriums, approximately the size of a pig, were evolved into the modern day elephants. Elephants are classified under order Proboscidea which means animals with trunks/proboscis. The arrangement of trunk and tusks took several forms over the generations and are quite different from today’s modern elephant. The family Elephantidae includes the Asian elephant, African elephant and the hairy mammoths and mastodons.
Elephants are quite similar to humans due to some common characteristics such as the intelligence, close family bonds and social behaviour. Elephants do not have good eyesight but still have incredible memory to remember friends and enemies and even routes to food and water sources. Elephants are social animals’ livings in herds and they display intricate social and emotional behaviour and value their families more than other animals. Elephants also show signs of grief when they come across the remains of other dead elephants. Elephants are long-lived animals with great memory and are extremely adaptable, occupying a variety of habitats from desert to savannah to dense forests.
Elephant families have a female head; the oldest experienced female elephant is responsible to lead the herd and are called “matriarchs”. An elephant family unit ranges from 20 to 25 elephants with a mother, her sisters, daughters their babies (calves). During travel, the daughters and their calves follow the lead of the matriarch elephant, walking behind in a single file and babies follow their mothers by holding on their tails by their strong little trunks.
There are two species of elephant: African and Asian. The ears of African elephants are much larger than the Asian elephant. Elephant use ears to radiate heat to keep them cool. The trunk is a very sensitive and strong organ and they actually use it for smelling, breathing, trumpeting, drinking, and also for grabbing things. Elephants communicate in a many ways – including sounds like trumpet calls, body language, touch and scent and sometimes vibration in ground.
Elephants play an important role in maintaining the biodiversity of the ecosystems. They flatten dense grasslands, create habitat for smaller species. Elephants travel long distances in search for food and disperse the seeds contained in their waste, helps to generate new green growth.
India has a rich history of domesticating elephants. The history seals of the Indus Valley civilization also suggest the presence of domesticated elephants in India at that time. Ancient literature, such as the Rig Veda and the Upanishads has many references to trained elephants. Elephants or Gajah is a sacred animal to Hindus. Hindus believed it to be the living incarnation of lord Ganesh, an elephant-headed deity who rides on a tiny mouse. Elephants are an integral part of religion in South Asia and various in religious practices. Temple elephants are specially trained to perform in various temple activities and elephant festivals in Kerala such Thrissur Pooram, Guruvayur Keshavan. But sometimes these animals are forced and mistreated in the name of religion and culture. An award-winning documentary film by Sangita Iyer named Gods in Shackles, 2016 was an attempt to raise the awareness about this issue and bring change to the elephants’ living conditions. All religions claim the responsibility for humans to care and preserve the world and its creatures, not plunder and destroy it.
Elephant populations are dwindling at an alarming rate; around 90% of African elephants have been killed in the past century illegally. Elephants face an escalating poaching issue due to high demand for ivory. A current problem is that human beings have displaced elephants from their natural habitat. The population of elephants are finding difficulty to follow their traditional migration routes to reach water and food, therefore a significant decline has been seen in the elephant populations due to widespread development of human settlements and agricultural lands.
Shrinking habitats forces the elephants to come into closer contact with people which results in more frequent conflict over land and resources with consequences such as crop raiding and reciprocal loss of life. Human-elephant conflict has become a risk to biodiversity conservation, and the management of such conflict is a primary goal for elephant conservation.
Elephants are simply one more natural resource that is being caught up in human greed on the one hand and human need on the other. We somehow need people to become reacquainted with nature or they can have no clue as to the interrelatedness of cause and effectDr. Stephen Blake
Max Planck Institute for Ornithology