Wednesday, 17 August 2016

Elephants on the path to extinction - the facts

The world’s population of elephants is nearing a critical point. Karl Mathiesen explains why there has never been a more dangerous time to be an elephant

Friday 12 August 201607.14 BSTLast modified on Friday 12 August 201614.15 BST

The largest of all land beasts, elephants are thundering, trumpeting six-tonne monuments to the wonder of evolution. From the tip of that distinctive trunk with its 100,000 dextrous muscles; to their outsize ears that flap the heat away; to the complex matriarchal societies and the mourning of their dead; to the points of their ivory tusks, designed to defend, but ultimately the cause of their ruin.

African and Asian elephants are more closely related to the woolly mammoth than to each other. The ears are said to be a geographical guide. In Asia, elephants have smaller India-shaped ears. While in Africa their huge ears are the shape of the whole continent.

Where do they live?
Asian elephants used to roam from the coast of Persia through India and southeast Asia and deep into China. In Africa, they could be found in almost every habitat from the shores of the Mediterranean to the Cape of Good Hope. Most common in the savannahs, elephants still inhabit a wide variety of landscapes. They can be found in the Saharan and Namibian deserts and the rainforests of Rwanda and Borneo. But their range has shrunk and they are now extinct in the Middle East, on the Indonesian island of Java, northern Africa and most of China. Almost everywhere, these great nomads are restricted to ever-decreasing pockets of land.

How many elephants are alive around the world?
In 1800 there may have been 26 million elephants in Africa alone, although it’s hard to be precise. But today, after years of poaching and habitat destruction, those numbers are a tiny fraction of what they once were.

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