The terrible ivory trade in Sub-Saharan Africa has dealt a massive blow to elephant populations, and while their numbers are slowly recovering, the message still has to be sent out. Ivory is used for all sorts of things such as billiard balls, statues and piano keys. Though the charismatic and beautiful elephants that are killed for ivory are priceless, and they’re worth a lot more than money or some stupid piano keys.
Geoff Mayes definitely thinks so, which is why he came to an elephant sanctuary to cover just that.
He also decided it’d be great to have a partner come on camera for some visual aid, and it went about as well as it sounds.
Komo the baby Elephant joined him on camera, and given that elephants age and live about as long as humans, this means Komo would be the equivalent of a pre-toddler. That seems about right based on what we’re about to see.
The scene begins with Geoff providing us some overview and context on the state of Elephant populations in Africa. “The problem facing African Elephants…..”, and he manages to get about 5 words out before Komo interrupts. Geoff can’t help but giggle.
Settle down, Komo. I have lines to read!
Just to be clear, baby Elephants about Komo’s age already weigh more than a grown person. Even fresh out of the womb, a newborn African Elephant already tips the scales at 150 to 350 pounds (or 68 to 150 kilograms!). That’s a whole lot of baby for one reporter to handle.
The elephant caretaker watching off-camera tries again and again to get the feisty, not-so-pint-sized pachyderm to behave. While elephants can be nearly as intelligent as people, I don’t think Komo is getting the message. He is a baby, after all.
“At the moment, elephants are facing a war against poaching.”, Geoff is barely able to get this sentence out before Komo nudges him again.
Maybe Komo was happy to meet someone worried about him and his species.
“You still recording?”
“Hi, my name’s Geoff Mayes and I’ll be doing the Plains Rally this year to raise awareness for the poaching problem that Africa is facing at the moment.”
Or maybe Komo just loves making new friends, also like a human toddler. Geoff doesn’t mind one bit, though. He even tells the handler that he doesn’t mind Komo’s nudges and displays of playful affection. His species is vulnerable anyway so he could use some friends and stress relief, right?
“We are currently losing a vast number of elephants to poachers, and elephants are very close to my heart.”
It’s pretty funny how Geoff says they’re very close to his heart, just as Komo is ramming and nudging against his chest. Don’t think that’s what he meant, Komo.
Now to address the elephant in the room : How are things looking for elephants?
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Photo by @pedromcbride | The famous bull elephant, Matt, is one of the largest 'tuskers' remaining in northern Kenya. He frequently hides in the arid brush, often concealing his tusks from view. He is monitored daily via GPS and protected thanks to the work of @nrt_kenya and @savetheelephants to keep this iconic giant roaming in the wild. To see more, follow @pedromcbride. #conservation #kenya #africa #elephants #nature #petemcbride
There were an estimated nearly 27 million Elephants in Africa during the early 19th century. That’s as many elephants as there are people in Australia. Seems pretty hard to imagine in our post-poaching world, but this is the reality of how horrible poaching is.
In the late 1970s alone, a rough estimate of over 200,000 elephants (this number is taken from knowing the weight of a pair of tusks relative to one elephant) were killed for Ivory. As of present day, there are about 415,000 left in the wild. They are listed as vulnerable species by the World Wildlife Fund and the IUCN.
Although it’s not popularly known, the African Elephant isn’t just one species. There are in fact, two!
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Photo by @joelsartore I As the largest mammal on land, the African elephant is hard to overlook, but much of the attention they've received in the last few decades has been catastrophic, with poachers hunting them relentlessly for their tusks. The habitat of African elephants is also shrinking, which means they come into contact with humans more frequently–encounters that don't often end well for the elephants. Ultimately, the survival of this species will depend on humans learning how to peacefully coexist alongside their wild neighbors. @indianapoliszoo, where this elephant resides, supports projects in West Africa, where thousands of children and teachers living near elephants learn about local elephant herds and are empowered to share the importance of protecting these iconic animals with their communities, saving this species in the wild. To see more species featured in the Photo Ark, follow me @joelsartore. #PhotoArk #savetogether
Though it really is hard to tell from just looking at them. To be fair, most people don’t go any further than knowing that they’re big, grey, have giant ears and a trunk. However, elephant genealogy is remarkable to learn about.
The one we all know and love is the African Bush Elephant, aka Loxodonta africana. Bush elephants are absolute units, tipping the scales at over 6 metric tons (13,227 pounds). They are the biggest land animals on Earth today.
It’s hard to believe that one day, Komo might get to be this big too.
Then there’s their forest-loving brethren, the African Forest Elephant aka Loxodonta cyclotis. They are much smaller, about 2/3 the size of the Bush elephant with straighter tusks. Both species are extremely vulnerable, with over 30% of their population lost in just the last 6 years or so.
While bans on hunting and ivory trade have been made, these are only the first steps to helping elephant numbers return to stable amounts. They’re definitely not out of the woods (or the forest) yet.
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Photo by Jennifer Hayes @JenniferHayesIG | An African elephant uses its trunk to blow bubbles as it rests on the bottom of a tannin-rich river in the Okavango Delta, Botswana. The elephants rolled about on the bottom, scratching their skin and pushed their tusks in and out of the soft sand until the ivory was polished to a rich creamy, white color. Watching these incredible, intelligent beings underwater is an emotional gift that stays with you long after you put the camera away. Despite an international ban on ivory trade the black market for ivory leads to the poaching of over 30,000 elephants a year. for #MoreOcean follow @jenniferHayesIG. #Elephant #JOY #BlowingBubbles #OkavangoDelta
We definitely hope Geoff, and every other person echoing the same message, is getting to people’s ears. We may find it easy to undervalue the charismatic and beautiful animals like Elephants when we have our own everyday distractions keeping us occupied.
But we don’t own nature or exist outside of it. We’re part of it, and we depend on the Earth just as much as elephants do. Large, mega-herbivores like elephants should be numerous.
They are vital parts of the ecosystem. When herds of elephants make their way through the Sahara and the forest, their grazing, peeing, pooping and trampling enriches the surround soil and plant life.
Many smaller animals also benefit from elephants. The paths cleared through forests let the smaller critters access shortcuts to other areas. The ecosystem is a complex working machine, with elephants as an important part of its engine.
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Photo by @andrewesiebo | A visitor feeds an elephant a maize husk at the Maiduguri city zoo in northeast Nigeria. On a continent where people come from all over the world to see some of the planet’s most magnificent animals in their natural habit, it is interesting to observe that there are still zoos all over the continent. While some of these zoos are successful commercial ventures or receive public and private funding, many of these zoos are desperately underfunded. This has a terrible impact on the animals, not to mention the people who are employed to look after them. In the Nigerian city of Maiduguri, for example, Boko Haram has been waging an insurgency for almost ten years. The zoo is still open but in a deplorable state: the animal cages are full of litter and plastic bags left by visitors and the animals look emaciated and unhygienic.
What good is a beautiful home is there’s no one to share it with?
If Geoff and Komo struck a chord with you, there are ways you can help. Talk about problems like this more, spread the word. Help people get smarter about it. Call for laws and regulations to protect elephants and other vulnerable animals and ecosystems.
With enough effort, we could make things better by the time Komo is all grown up. If you’d like to see whose future you’re fighting for, you can watch the video below.
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