Two species of elephant, right? Asian and African. Wrong! This is what I love about science. There’s always room for improvement. Theories, new discoveries, new theories. Until recently, biologists believed there were just two elephants. A recent study by Fauna and Flora International and the South Sudan Wildlife Service included DNA tests and led to the classification of a distinct species, smaller, with straighter tusks and rounder head and ears.
The new species was initially thought to be a subspecies of the savannah elephant but DNA eventually showed that approximately 2.5 million years ago, two genetically different strains of elephants evolved in Africa. The forest elephant lives in the forests of central and western Africa. Genetically and smaller in size than the savanna elephant, it has lived hidden and virtually forgotten. But even in remote central African forests, it faces the same threats as it’s bigger cousins: poaching, illegal logging and war. In fact, between 2002 and 2013 populations declined 62%. New species or not, conservationists believe it may be only five years before elephants are completely extinct. Better take the kids to the zoo!
New York Post Nypost.com/2015/12/11/the-greta-garbo-of-elephant-species-photographed-for-the-first-time
Seen any mammoths lately? Like modern elephants, they were contemporaries of Homo sapiens, and therein lies the problem. Threats to the largest land mammal on earth include the loss and degradation of habitat, and poaching for ivory. In 1989 international trade in ivory was banned, but underground markets still thrive in some countries, with a growing demand from Asians, particularly Chinese, who consider car ownership and ivory decorations the ultimate signs of affluence.
Surprisingly, the greatest threat to the beasts is conflict with human farmers. Voracious elephant appetites conflict with humans trying to feed their own families. The World Wildlife Federation is attempting to eliminate conflict between people and elephants, mobilizing and educating communities. Protecting crops requires proper land use, allowing for seasonal movement of herds. WWF is attempting to educate populations in proper land management and techniques for protecting crops. Additionally, they are instilling an appreciation for wildlife tourism as an economic resource. Efforts include training park guards, monitoring elephant movement and developing techniques to protect crops.
You and I can participate in the effort to preserve these magnificent creatures through World Wildlife Federation’s Adopt an Elephant Program. Eighty-four percent of the program’s spending goes directly to conservation efforts. Charity Navigator gives a high rating to the 501C3 charity. Gift options range from $25 to $250. An adoption certificate is included with each gift package. Next time you’re shopping for a birthday present, why not adopt an elephant?
A second, fun way to help elephants is through The Nature Conservancy’s #elegram Project. Doodle, draw, sculpt, paint, or sew an elephant and post it on social media, matching your #elegram with a donation. Learn more about the plight of elephants at The Nature Conservancy . CLick for written elegram instructions
Now sit back and celebrate World Elephant Day, August 12, 2015, by watching a 30-minute documentary, Return to the Forest , and take pride in knowing you’ve helped conserve an amazing species.
Picture Credit: EarthKids.com/ek-elephants.aspx