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Once widely distributed through Africa and Asia, elephants are the world’s largest land animals. Among them, the African elephants are the largest, weighing up to eight tonnes, while the Asian elephants aren’t much smaller weighting up to four tonnes. These huge mammals are instantly recognisable thanks not only to their size, but also their long trunks, large ears and protruding tusks.

The Problem

The conservation story of elephants is an ever-developing tale. In the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, elephants were widely hunted for their ivory and populations declined with habitat loss and fragmentation. This situation often leads to human-elephant conflict; elephants may destroy crops and cause damage to human-made structures, which exacerbate the problem. With increasing conservation efforts and bans on the trade of ivory, these issues have been partially tackled.

Environmental Consequences

Populations of African elephants are generally stable, with some even steadily rising, but the animals remain vulnerable thanks to the ever-present threat of poaching, habitat destruction and human-wildlife conflict.

Asian elephants are listed by the IUCN as endangered, with populations continuing to decrease, largely due to habitat loss and human-wildlife conflict.

Elephants are ecosystem engineers. This means that they have notable effects on ecosystems, impacting the habitats of many other species. Because of their large size and behaviours, elephants can completely transform areas of their natural habitats. The animals knock down trees to feed on the branches they can’t reach and regularly peel off tree bark to consume.

Elephants also dig deep holes when they are looking for water, have an important role in improving soil condition, and are fundamental in the dispersal of some types of seed.

If African or Asian elephants were to go extinct, there would be serious environmental consequences, likely impacting on numerous species of both flora and fauna.

Possible Solutions

Elephants have been a focus of conservation organisations around the world for decades now, and for African elephants in particular, the work has been paying off. Nevertheless, the threats to elephants are evolving and new approaches need to be taken to protect the remaining populations.

To combat poaching of elephants for their tusks, international trade in ivory was banned by CITES in 1989. In some parts of the world, however, the illegal trade of ivory is still an issue.

Organisations are also working with governments and non-governmental groups in Africa and Asia to reduce habitat loss caused by construction. Most elephant populations now live in protected areas but consideration is also being given to transboundary conservation areas, where elephants can roam free.

Many recent efforts have focused on the need to reduce conflict between humans and elephants. Conservation organisations are testing innovative ways to protect crops from being raided by elephants, such as warning systems and new fencing options.

Outreach programmes are also underway to educate children and instil conservation values in local communities

WSO's Activities and Initiatives

WSO Friend of the Earth carries out the following activities to protect elephants:

–           raise awareness about the threats facing these species.

–           launch a petition on Change.org

–           raise funds for elephants’ protection.

–           Certify as Friend of the Earth and promote products from sustainable agriculture

Call to action

Help conserve Earth’s elephants in their increasingly fragmented habitats.

  • Choose only Friend of the Earth certified products.
  • Sign Friend of the Earth petition on Change.org
  • Donate to Friend of the Earth for elephants’ conservation.
  • Be sure to get involved with World Elephant Day on 12th of August!

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