Celebrating World Elephant Day Through Pictures

Today we celebrate the third annual World Elephant Day.

The holiday was created in 2012 by Canadian filmmaker and elephant advocate Patricia Sims, along with the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation in Thailand.

Elephant activist and filmmaker Patricia Sims with an older female elephant. Click to enlarge

The holiday was started to draw awareness to the plight of elephants around the world.

Asian elephants are an endangered species, with only about 40,000 left in the wild.

A 6-day old newborn Asian elephant meets some of the other elephants in its herd at Whipsnade Wild Animal Park in England. Click to enlarge (Photo: Dan Kitwood/Getty Images Europe)

In their traditional home of Thailand, only about 4,000 Asian elephants remain today, down from over 100,000 at the beginning of the 1900s.

In the past 50 years alone, their range has shrunk by nearly 70%:

Asian elephant range. Click to enlarge

African elephants are considered threatened, with a little under 400,000 remaining.

Other than habitat loss, one of the main threats facing African elephants is the extremely lucrative worldwide ivory trade.

July, 2011: Kenyan President Mwai Kibaki lights a bonfire of confiscated illegal ivory at the Tsavo East National Park in southeast Nairobi. Kibaki destroyed some 335 tusks and 42,553 pieces of ivory carvings. Click to enlarge (Tony Karumba / AFP – Getty Images)

Ivory is extremely valuable, meaning that modern day poachers are often very well-funded by wealthy ivory traders.

This high level of sophistication allows them to target even some of the most famous and well-protected elephants in the world.

Satao, one of the world’s last great tuskers (elephants with tusks weighing 100+ pounds each), was killed by poachers in Tsavo East National Park early in June of this year.

Satao had a reputation for being highly intelligent, and was even known to hide his massive tusks in bushes, seemingly aware of the danger that they brought upon him. Click to enlarge

But the news isn’t all bad.

In February of this year, the Fish and Wildlife Service banned all imports and exports of elephant ivory within the U.S. (with extremely narrow exceptions).

The U.S. actually has one of the largest illegal ivory markets in the world, second only to China.

Most ivory passes through Malaysia, Vietnam, Hong Kong and the Philippines before ultimately ending up in China. Click to enlarge

And just last month, we got to hear the touching story of Raju.

This asian elephant spent 50 years being tortured and mistreated, all while sharp chains and spiked shackles cut painfully into his legs.

But in early July, a group of animal charity workers pulled off a daring rescue, freeing Raju from his nightmare. He was visibly emotional during the rescue, and even wept.

Raju the elephant wept when he realized he was being rescued. Click to enlarge

They delivered Raju to an elephant sanctuary in India, where he is already making new friends.

Raju is clearly enjoying his new home, friends and life. Click to enlarge

There are plenty of things to be optimistic about, but we have to keep reminding ourselves that the illegal ivory trade is still a big problem, and one that is actually getting worse.

More ivory was confiscated last year than in any of the previous 25 years. The problem is that poachers can get anywhere between $100-000 to $200,000 for a single tusk, which is a massive incentive to any would-be poacher.

The graphic below shows the relationship between elephant poaching in Africa and ivory seizures in Asia. Click to enlarge:

The problems facing elephants are serious indeed, but today is a celebration of the majestic creatures.

In light of that, I think it’s only fair that I finish this post off with three of the cutest baby elephants ever.

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