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