Why celebrate World Elephant Day? If, like me, you may simply be in awe of this beautiful animal, not only for their majesty but for their intelligence and empathy, and that is enough to care about their survival. Their unique fabulousness aside, there are reasons to care beyond the grandeur of the individual species.

You may have heard that the oak tree is a keystone species. The majestic oak has gotten a lot of (well-deserved) press lately, but you may not know that the magical – and also majestic – elephant is a keystone species in both Asia and Africa. This means that this particular species helps define an entire ecosystem. Without its keystone species, the ecosystem would be dramatically different or cease to exist altogether.

The African Wildlife Foundation states: “As the largest of all land mammals, African elephants play an important role in balancing natural ecosystems. They trample forests and dense grasslands, making room for smaller species to co-exist. Elephants also create water holes used by other wildlife as they dig dry riverbeds when rainfall is low. Herds travel over vast rangelands, and they disperse seeds in their dung, which helps generate new green growth.” That’s the main reason for those amazing tusks.

But elephant populations are in danger.

Elephants are most at risk from poachers, who kill them for their tusks and bushmeat. In fact, 96 elephants are killed for their ivory tusks every day in Africa. They are also in danger of being hunted by farmers because they have the ability to wipe out entire harvests, in turn jeopardizing people’s livelihoods.

In Asia and Africa, they are viewed by farmers not much differently than deer and rabbits here in the United States. Fortunately, there are organizations like Conservation South Luangwa  that are working on the ground with farmers to create barriers to elephants that do nor bring them physical harm. 

In addition to the individual clashes with humans, climate change and human land use are degrading wild lands, breaking up essential elephant habitats and impeding ancient migratory corridors. “With the growth of commercial agriculture and infrastructure development, as well as extractive industry across the continent, the future of this keystone migratory species is at risk — and so are the fragile ecosystems that depend on it.” 

So, what are we to do? Here are some ideas to get you started.

  • You can sign a pledge to “support a world that protects elephants, wildlife and their habitat” at World Elephant Day.
  • Sign up for 10 Days for Elephants to receive fun and impactful actions to help them survive.
  • Do not buy coffee that is not fair-trade or shade-grown, nor products with palm-oil. These commercial crops are grown in plantations that have decimated elephant habitats. 
  • Only buy wood products that have been certified by the Forest Stewardship Council, which promotes responsible management of the world’s forests – the natural habitat for elephants and other wildlife.
  • Support organizations like Conservation South Luangwa and International Anti Poaching Foundation.
  • Share your love and start a conversation with friends and loved ones about these beautiful and vital creatures. 

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JOURNEY WITH US: The Climate Action Team is for you. Yes, you. Because you want to act on your love for the planet and because you need caring companions as you navigate these changing times. Learn all about the group here, and check out our lending library and Carbon Offset Fund. Contact Jon Reese to connect to the CAT and join us for our next meeting at 7:30 PM on Monday, August 21, using this Zoom link.