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Mace & Crown | March 22, 2018

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A celebration for elephants

Alyssa Branch | Contributing Writer

National Elephant Appreciation Day promotes the understanding and admiration of these beloved giants. Every year on Sept. 22, people can come together to observe the beauty and importance of elephants. The holiday was founded in 1996 by Wayne Hepburn, who became fascinated by the animal after his daughter gifted him a paperweight elephant. Despite its insignificant origins, the holiday still provides a day to bring conservation to awareness.

Elephants are elegant creatures spanning the plains and jungles of Africa and Asia. They are highly intelligent, social animals and extremely important to the forests and ecosystems surrounding them. These giant creatures maintain ecosystems for other species, manage composition and density by creating clearings and reducing bush cover, and distribute seeds throughout forests – being responsible for nearly a third of Africa’s trees.

The biggest and most commonly known threat to elephants and many other species of Africa and Asia, is poaching. Elephants are poached for their highly valued ivory tusks, which are used for fancy artwork, ornaments and jewelry. Nearly 8 percent of the elephant population is poached per year in Africa. With only 415,000 remaining and the advances in poaching (automatic weapons, motorized vehicles and airplanes) elephants are more at risk than ever.

Other threats to the species include human settlement and habitat loss. Farmlands are destroyed by roaming elephants, instead of taking action to repel the giants they are shot on the spot. Palm oil is also a huge threat in Asia and the islands surrounding it, not only to elephants but numerous other species as well. Despite the reserves, land is cleared illegally for palm oil plantations, reducing habitat for many animals.

After half of the elephant population was lost to poaching in the 1980s, the numbers plateaued between 470,000 and 690,000 until the late 2000s when the demand for ivory intensified in China. “Between 2002 and 2011 Maisels et al (2013) estimate that the world’s forest elephant population was reduced by 62 percent” and “research estimates that the number of elephants killed for their ivory between 2010 and 2012 was 100,000.” The wholesale price of raw ivory in China reached a dollar price of 2,100 per kilogram.

There are various organizations supporting conservation for the elephants and other endangered or vulnerable species. The most common way of showing support is donating or “adopting an elephant.” It may feel pointless to spend money on conservation but every dollar goes to aiding the people responsible for the preservation of these animals. These organizations help reduce conflict between people and elephants, strengthen anti poaching initiatives, protect habitats and stop illegal ivory trade.

To show support for the elephants on this national day you can donate to help the sustainability of this meaningful species, spread the importance of supporting this movement and visit the zoo to admire and honor these animals. Unfortunately our Norfolk Zoo recently moved the long term residents, “the Golden Girls” — Lisa and Cita, but their memory still lives there along with numerous photos and artwork done by the elephants themselves.