Solutions for Saving Elephants on World Elephant Day

Aug 11th, 2016 | By | Category: Environment/Sustainability

By Suzanne York.

[photo credit:]

[photo credit:]

One elephant is killed every 15 minutes for its ivory.

Perhaps it is appropriate that World Elephant Day (August 12) follows Earth Overshoot Day, the date when humanity exceeds the carrying capacity of the planet.

This is because human beings are doing a good job of wiping wild elephants off the face of the Earth, most of which are killed for their ivory tusks that are hacked off to fuel a multi-billion dollar illegal wildlife trade.

In the 20th century, there may have been as many as 3-5 million African elephants. But according to World Wildlife Fund (WWF), there are now around 470,000. More African elephants are being killed by poachers than are being born each year and some populations may be perilously close to extinction.

Human Pressures

Poaching is the biggest threat, but loss of habitat, along with human population growth, are also threatening elephant survival, leading to an increase in human-elephant conflicts.

In an article in the journal BioScience, 43 scientists reported that without immediate changes, many of the Earth’s most iconic species will go extinct.   In addition to calling for “bold political action and financial commitments from nations worldwide,” the experts call for comprehensive action, including expanding habitats for the animals and changing conservation policy.


Africa's Elephant Population [image credit:]

Africa’s Elephant Population
[image credit:]

In the above report, the scientists mentioned that the situation is particularly dire in sub-Saharan Africa – precisely where most of the world’s population growth will occur. The United Nations World Population Prospects for 2015 stated the following:

Africa continues to experience very high rates of population growth. Between 2015 and 2050, the populations of 28 African countries are projected to more than double. By 2100, ten African countries are projected to increase by at least five-fold: Angola, Burundi, Democratic Republic of Congo, Malawi, Mali, Niger, Somalia, Uganda, United Republic of Tanzania and Zambia.

Also consider that in Africa as a whole, 60 percent of the population is age 24 and under. Meeting their reproductive needs (access and education) is paramount.

Banning Ivory and Beyond

Reducing and ending consumption of ivory is critical if elephants are to be saved. Organizations such as WildAid seem to be having some success in changing attitudes in high ivory consuming nations like China. Recently, China and the U.S. – another high ivory consumer – have both committed to end commercial ivory sales. Many other countries have also instituted bans.

Will that be enough? Briefly, here are some other solutions for saving elephants that should get more support:

Empowering Local Communities and Indigenous Peoples

Last month a new report by IUCN, TRAFFIC and other large organizations highlighted the need for indigenous peoples and local communities – the ones who live side by side with wildlife – to be a key part of the strategies to combat the illegal wildlife trade.

“There is a clear need to raise awareness of examples where sustainable use of wildlife benefits local communities and engages them in conservation and protection against outsiders who would exploit these assets for their own gain,” said Roland Melisch, Senior Director for Africa and Europe with TRAFFIC.

Empowering Women

Addressing the needs of women can benefit families, communities and ultimately the environment, especially when it comes to family planning. A 2014 Guttmacher Institute analysis found that in Africa, one in four married women of reproductive age have an unmet need for contraception (women who want to delay or stop childbearing but are not using contraception).

The Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) is one of the world’s fastest growing countries, with a total fertility rate (the average number of children per woman over the course of her lifetime) of 6.6 children per woman. Very few women use modern contraception in the DRC: 8% of women in the entire country and as little as 4 to 5% of women in rural areas. Read here about how the Jane Goodall Institute’s integrated population, health and environment approach is addressing family planning and wildlife protection in the DRC.

Of course, poachers tend to be men, and males with little education or few job prospects need to find ways to survive and feed their families.  Men need to be invested in and empowered too, to overcome poverty and a lack of quality jobs, and to have the right to an education.  Ultimately it comes down to empowering all people.

Advocating for Rights of Nature

Earth does not exist for humans alone. There is a growing movement around recognizing rights of nature that acknowledges that nature in all its life forms has the right to exist, persist, maintain and regenerate its vital cycles. Under this thinking, nature is not viewed as property and something to be exploited by humans.

Ecuador, Bolivia and New Zealand all have in place some legal rights or instruments for recognizing rights for nature that can be a guide for protecting endangered species. In the face of 33,000 elephants poached for ivory every year, it’s hard to say that traditional conservation efforts are working.


Take Action to Help Elephants

Elephants are intelligent, sentient creatures and have a complex social structure. Yet unbelievably, we might soon reach a time when there are no elephants left in the wild.

Until our world takes bold action, here are a few easier ways for individuals to support protecting elephants:


Suzanne York is Project Director of Transition Earth.

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