Why save the elephants?

Picture of an elephant.

An unusual war is heating up in Africa.

It is not a dispute over territory, political ideals, or religious beliefs.

Its toll in human lives, while tragic, has been tiny compared to most wars.

Yet this battle has drawn the attention of nations around the world.

It is a war over elephants.

The war pits park rangers and game wardens against poachers.

Rangers and wardens are backed by the law, their governments, and conservationists.

The poachers are backed by modern weaponry and driven by need and by greed—elephants’ tusks mean money, often wealth barely dreamed of in poorer countries.

Both sides are shooting to kill.

Why so much concern for elephants?

Is the threat against them really all that serious?

Why save the elephants?

Picture an elephant.

Rangers are dying in their attempt to defend the elephants.

Meanwhile, an international conservation effort is getting under way to stave off the extinction that may well overtake the elephants before the century is over.

But many may wonder, ‘Why all this fuss over elephants?’ Extinction, after all, is nothing new on this planet.

Dinosaurs are a famous case in point.

So why worry if elephants become extinct?

For many the answer lies in the majesty of the animal itself.

No doubt anyone who has watched a herd of elephants in the wild would feel a pang of loss at the prospect of their extinction.

The way they train and protect their young, the amazing dexterity of their trunks, even their awesome size.

But there is more.

Elephants also play a crucial role in the ecosystems in which they live.

More than any animal other than humans, the elephant changes and shapes its environment.

Unlike humans, however, elephants make the environment more habitable for fellow animals.


The key lies in their voracious appetite.

An elephant eats some 300 pounds [140 kg] of vegetation every day!

Picture of a elephant eating leaves.

In dense jungles, elephants pull down boughs and small trees, allowing more light to penetrate the dense leafy canopy.

The light spurs the growth of vegetation near the ground, thus providing food for smaller animals, from forest buffalo and gorillas to bushpigs.

On the broad African plains, or savannas, the elephants perform a similar service.

Their foraging promotes a mixture of grasslands and woodlands, which sustain a wider variety of plant-eating creatures, from giraffes and zebras to gazelles and wildebeests, than would otherwise exist.

This complex chain of interdependence is fragile, though.

It can be broken either when an area loses too many elephants or when too many of them are compressed into one area.

Humans does both decimates elephants outside of parks and promotes overcrowding inside them.

Thus, the plight of the elephants illustrates what is different about the extinctions that human causes.

They are not part of a great purpose.

Rather, they are caused by selfishness, with little regard for the consequences.

They further demonstrate that imperfect and selfish human is not fit to manage this planet.

The fight to save them

Picture of a elephant in the Savannah.

There are those who are fighting to stem the tide of slaughter.

Conservation organizations and a dozen governments are launching last-ditch efforts to protect the elephant.

But they don’t all agree on how to go about it.

Some groups have decided not to seek a ban on the international ivory trade, feeling that such a ban would only force the traffic underground and make it still harder to control.

 After all, the ban imposed on the trade in rhinoceros horn has done nothing to slow the rhino’s headlong rush toward extinction.

But if the survival of the elephants depends on human self-interest, just how safe are they?

Isn’t it human self-interest that threatens them in the first place?

After all, the ivory trade continues to flourish, sacrificing these giant creatures to supply the world with seals, trinkets, and knickknacks—an estimated 80 percent of which are made from illegally obtained ivory.

Governments have had to suspend or fire close to four dozen rangers and game wardens who allegedly could not resist the lure of all that money and secretly collaborated with the poachers.

Who would deny that this generation has seen humanity reach new depths of self-interest?

As humankind grows ever more self-obsessed, the world grows ever less secure.