The survival and well being of elephants is threatened by escalating poaching for the commercial trade in ivory and meat, the increasing loss and fragmentation of natural habitats, and by locally increasing conflict with humans over diminishing resources. These threats are fuelled by a growing market for ivory in Asia, by poverty and civil unrest, and exacerbated by misguided public policy.
Elephants as a species and as individuals have an intrinsic right to exist. We have an obligation to protect elephants and their habitats and to ensure their well being and continued survival in the face of human exploitation, encroachment and interference. If we wish elephants to survive we must bring a halt to the commercial trade in ivory and make major adjustments in public policies so to reduce conflict and promote peaceful coexistence.
- Since the origin of elephants, about 60 million years ago, the order Proboscidea has consisted of approximately 10 families, 45 genera and 185 species and subspecies, in an extraordinary array of forms. The African and Asian elephants existing today are the sole remnants of that spectacular radiation.
- Recent classification recognizes three contemporary elephants species: Asian elephants, Elephas maximus, African savannah elephants, Loxodonta africana, and African forest elephants, Loxodonta cyclotis, however not all scientists agree on this taxonomy.
- The remaining elephants represent a tiny fraction of their former numbers, inhabiting only a small portion of their previous range; their distribution is highly fragmented. In many areas, particularly in Asia and in Central and West Africa, elephant populations have already gone extinct or are highly endangered.
- Fuelled by poverty, political instability, civil unrest and the demand for luxury consumption of ivory products, elephants in their natural habitats are threatened by poaching for the commercial ivory and game meat trade.
- Poaching is the cause of enormous losses to the species as well as suffering to individuals, fragmenting populations and destroying families. Among Asian elephants, where only a small percentage of males have tusks, even sub-adult and juvenile male tuskers are targeted causing trauma to elephant families. In African elephants, where the tusks of males average seven times the weight of female tusks, poaching is focused on males, though in heavily poached populations females and even sub-adults are killed for their tusks, disrupting families. Older elephants are prized for their heavier tusks; the removal of older males impacts sexual selection, while the removal of older females impoverishes social and ecological knowledge, thereby reducing individual reproductive success and survival.
- Compliance with international treaties and enforcement of national laws and regulations are essential to the control of illegal movement and trade in ivory and other elephant products.
- Rapidly growing human populations, rising levels of human consumption of natural resources and ongoing destruction and fragmentation of traditional elephant habitat are the source of conflict between elephants and people.