Recently CNN reported that more than 360 of Botswana’s 130,000 African elephants have fallen to a mysterious illness. The Okavango Delta where the carcasses were found is home to about 10% of Botswana’s African elephant population. About 70% were found dead around watering holes while others were found as though they had fallen flat on their faces indicating a quick death. Those that were still alive were in a weakened state, and one was seen walking around in a circle seemingly unable to walk in a straight line. The other species in the region, as well as scavengers, did not appear to be affected by whatever is killing the elephants. The Botswana goverment is researching the cause of death. Hopefully, they can get to the bottom of this mystery soon, as scientists are describing this event as a ‘conservation disaster’.
Why do we need to conserve these enormous, land animals? According to National Geographic, African elephants are “keystone species” meaning they play a “critical role in their ecosystem”. Their strong tusks can dig up dirt during the dry season creating watering holes for themselves and other animals. Their dung spreads seeds from plants that they have eaten, and in the forest, they clear pathways for smaller animals. They are sometimes referred to as “ecosystem engineers”.
African elephants are the largest land animals on earth and are slightly larger than their Asian cousins. They have a lifespan of 60 to 70 years. An African elephant’s weight can range from 2.5 to 7 tons. The African elephant’s trunk serves many uses and contains 40,000 muscles with two fingerlike protrusions at the end. Elephant herds are matriarchal and are led by the oldest and biggest female. Cows carry their young for 22 months, and when the 200 pound calf is born, it is able to walk within 20 minutes of birth. After two days, a newborn calf can keep up with the herd.
Poaching for the elephants’ tusks is the biggest threat to the survival of the African elephant population. About fifty-five elephants per day are being poached which means more elephants are poached per day than are being born. Approximately 90% of African elephants have been eliminated during the past century because of the ivory trade. Until the colonization by Europeans, it is estimated that there may have been as many as 26 million elephants on the African continent. To continue to conserve the elephant population, more still needs to be done. Show your support for the African elephant by proudly displaying one of our Stickertalk stickers!
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