Elephants have long been potent cultural symbols worldwide, assuming prominent positions in Buddhist and Hindu lore. They are also a frequent target by poachers looking to harvest their tusks and sell them on the black market, leaving behind the bodies of the animals.
Friday is World Elephant Day, a celebration of the animal and also a clarion call for the protection of the giant creatures. Here is what you need to know about the holiday and the animal.
What Is The Purpose Of World Elephant Day?
Unlike other national and international made up holidays, World Elephant Day is less about selling hamburgers or Chick-Fil-A chicken sandwiches and more about promoting the conservation of elephants worldwide.
With the street value of a single elephant tusk running at approximately $15,000, elephants are a prime target of poachers and the main market is China. Countries in Africa and elsewhere where elephants can be found largely ban killing them, but that doesn’t stop the trade. Instead, the largest confiscation of ivory in the past 25 years was relatively recent, in 2013.
Are There More Than One Type Of Elephant?
There are at least two main species of elephants and researchers believe that there may be a distinct third as well. The two well-known species are the African elephant and the Asian elephant. They’re super similar in physiology but can’t interbreed, though.
They are both in danger. The Asian elephant is endangered and there are less than 40,000 remaining in the world. The African elephant is classified as threatened and there are less than 400,000 of them alive in the world today.
How Big Are They?
They’re huge! African elephants, the bigger of the two, weigh roughly 22,000 pounds each and are the largest land animal known to man. Roughly half as big, the Asian elephant weighs about 10,000 pounds.
Are They Smart?
They’re smart enough that the Huffington Post once wrote a misleading headline identifying them as people in 2014. As the Post recognized, they’re of course not people but they do share some very human aspects: a sense of self, feelings of empathy, grief for lost loved ones, an understanding of teamwork and an ability to use tools.
Any Other Random Facts?
Sure. From the World Elephant Day website:
"An elephant’s trunk has more than 40,000 muscles, more than all the muscles in the human body. They can tear down trees or pick up a blade of grass with their trunks.
Elephants have the longest gestation period of any animal at almost 22 months. A newborn elephant can weigh up to 260 pounds.
At 11 pounds, the elephant has a brain that is larger than any other land animal in the world."