Hi everyone! Caleb with the Elephant Care Team here, once again! August 12 is World Elephant Day, an international event dedicated to preserving and protecting the world’s elephants. Around the world and throughout history, elephants have been held in wonder by humans. Prominent in literature, films, pop culture, and more, elephants are one of the most recognizable and beloved animals on the planet.
But why? And why do we celebrate World Elephant Day?
Dating back to the Stone Age, our relationship with elephants is ancient. Early cave drawings depict humans facing ancient mammoths and straight-tusked elephants, both of which are extinct. Ancient civilizations integrated elephants into their folklore and religion. Even today, some cultures honor elephants and treat them with great respect. Over centuries, elephants were brought into human care and became instruments of war, machines in forestry and agriculture, and objects of religious significance. In the late 1700s, African and Asian elephants were brought to the United States and have since become staples within modern zoos. However, in the wild, due to increased poaching of elephants for their tusks and habitat loss, elephants face rapid population declines and rely on conservation efforts in the wild and in human care to survive.
Our history and connection with elephants go beyond awe and wonder. In many respects, an elephant’s life history is very similar to that of humans. Young elephants, like humans, are born after a lengthy gestation period and remain close to their mothers for over 10 years. Long childhoods associated with learning, tool use, complex social structures with extended families, the ability to occupy a wide range of habitats, minimal predators, relatively naked skin, cardiovascular diseases, arthritis, and longevity are a few of many biological similarities between elephants and humans. By studying elephants, researchers may even extend their knowledge of other long-lived mammals, like humans.
We have only begun to understand elephants: their behavior, their role in the ecosystem, and specifically, what we need to do to ensure elephants’ survival. Elephants are keystone species, meaning an ecosystem largely depends on them and would be drastically changed or even destroyed if they went extinct. Whether it’s dispersing seeds via their waste, distributing and recycling nutrients, providing watering holes by digging up the ground, or creating new habitats by converting woodlands to grasslands for other species, the list of an elephant’s role in its environment is endless. They are vital components of their ecosystems and will continue to be necessary for generations.
Zoo Atlanta is committed to the survival of elephants. In addition to providing superior care for African savanna elephants at the Zoo, we support the conservation of African savanna elephants in the wild through our partnership with Conservation South Luangwa in Zambia. We invite you to join us on Friday, August 12, at Zoo Atlanta as we celebrate the world’s largest living land animals and unite to ensure their survival for generations!
Keeper II, Elephants