Habitat loss is one of the key threats facing elephants. Additional threats putting the future of these animals in jeopardy include the increasing conflict that elephants face with human populations taking over more and more of the elephants’ habitat, as well as ivory poaching.
Over the centuries, elephants were able to roam freely over the plains of Africa and Asia. As they eat approximately 200 pounds of food a day and damage about 1000 pounds in the process, it is clear that they require extensive grazing areas. The elephants need to forage over large areas so that the vegetation has a chance to repair itself. Due to the urbanisation of more and more land, the elephant’s habitat is increasingly threatened. Even more importantly, because of the close proximity of humans to these animals, elephants frequently come into contact with farmers who then shoot the animals destroying their crops. Confining elephants by means of fences is also not the solution as these giant creatures are able to push over boundary walls and fences and go where they please quite effortlessly. Some nature reserves have had a measure of success using electrified fencing. However, the logistics and cost of providing this to protect the elephant throughout Africa is astronomical and not viable.
Another threat is the poaching of ivory. The selling or trade of any ivory has been banned internationally until 2016. However, there is still a black market for this valuable and beautiful product. The elephant is killed and the bodies left to rot in the sun. As older elephants have the largest tusks, these are the first to be shot, leaving defenseless juveniles behind to raise themselves. The poachers thus leave behind a wake of destruction. The combined memory and experience of the matriarchs is passed on to the younger generation, making their survival more successful. However, with the killing of these older ones, this information is not passed on, thereby making the future of the remaining elephants bleak. This has also led to a generation of juvenile delinquents as no discipline is implemented.
Elephant hide and hair is another product that may be poached, but not to the degree of ivory. The hide is used for luxury items and the hair for jewellery products.
The shooting of elephants for sport is another major threat. Likewise, the illegal capture of elephants, especially in Asia, for use in circuses, tourist sports and as work animals features as another threat. Animals are captured and used in servitude, to move logs, etc… as well as to perform for tourists. They are often maltreated and do not live long lives.
Illness is common amongst elephants and can be a serious threat to the survival of the herd. Elephant pox seems to be a strain of normal cow pox and is one of the most dangerous diseases for elephants. Most often, it is spread to the elephants from rodents. It is lethal, and was responsible for the death of many elephants until vaccination programmes became available. Rabies is a disease one would not associate with elephants, but this is another fatal disease they face. Fortunately, it is not passed on to the other members of the herd. Other serious illnesses that affect elephants include tetanus, tuberculosis, anthrax, Encephalomyocarditis (EMC, EMCV), salmonella poisoning, muscular-skeletal disease, periodontal disease, locomotive disease and digestive disease, especially colic.
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