Are Elephants Going Extinct?

Written by Emmanuel Kingsley
Published: December 31, 2022
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Elephants are the largest land animals worldwide, sometimes exceeding 12 feet in height, and can weigh up to 14,000 pounds. They can be found naturally in Africa and Asia. They are used in tourism in several countries and are often gentle to humans despite their gigantic sizes.

However, the elephant population has fallen greatly in the past century, and many believe these large mammals might be going extinct, like their cousins, the mammoths. Are these worries concrete? Are elephants going extinct? We’ll find out below.

How Many Elephants Are in the World?

Elephant in Murchison Falls NP

There are about 415,000 African elephants and about 50,000 Asian elephants worldwide.

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According to the IUCN, African elephants have an estimated population of about 415,000. Three-quarters of the estimate are African savanna elephants. Over 50% of African forest elephants reside in Gabon, while most of the African savanna elephant population is spread through the Kavango Zambezi Transfrontier Conservation Area. The countries within this area include Angola, Zambia, Zimbabwe, Namibia, and Botswana.

Asian elephants have an estimated population of about 50,000. Over 60% of the population is found in India. Only four other countries in Asia have more than 2,000 wild elephants, including Thailand, Myanmar, Malaysia, and Sri Lanka.

Are Elephants Endangered?

According to the IUCN, all elephant species are endangered. African forest elephants are listed as critically endangered, while African savanna and Asian elephants have been listed as endangered.

Since 1965, about 60% of African savanna elephants have been lost, and a shocking 62% of African forest elephants were lost between 2002 and 2011. Asian elephants have not fared better, as at least 50% of their population has been lost over their last three generations, according to reports.  

Why Are Elephants Nearing Extinction?

Elephants holding tails

Human-elephant conflict, loss of habitat, and poaching are some reasons elephants are going extinct.

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Given an estimated global population of less than 500,000, it is believed that elephants are nearing extinction. Elephants are among the strongest in the animal kingdom and the second tallest after giraffes. Hence, adult elephants do not have natural predators in their habitats. So, why are elephants nearing extinction? Some of the reasons include the following:  

1. Human Conflict

Elephants are usually gentle giants. People head to the savannas and zoos yearly to see them. However, sometimes they conflict with humans, such as farmers. A herd of elephants can destroy farms, feeding on crops and uprooting trees to scrape bark, which they enjoy.

According to the IUCN, there are 400 human deaths and about 100 elephant deaths in India annually due to conflict between the two species. Another reason for human-elephant conflict is a reduction in the large mammal’s habitats. There is bound to be trouble when wild elephants wander into human settlements.

2. Loss of Habitat

With over seven billion humans and a yearly increase in industrial and agricultural development, natural animal habitats have gotten smaller. In Gabon, only about 13% of the small country is suitable for elephant habitation. In Asia, it is estimated that about 42% of the available habitats will be lost due to climate change and human pressure.

The continuous loss of habitat also means fewer areas to feed for these gigantic animals. Over the past 30 years, there has been an 80% reduction in fruits for African forest elephants. African elephants exist in about 40 range states, while their Asian counterparts occupy about 13 range states.

3. Poaching for Ivory

Ivory is one of the most sort-after items worldwide. In Asia, it is revered as a symbol of wealth and power. However, ivory is not fabricated or mined. It is acquired from elephants. The strong elephant tusks have been taken by humans for years, as ivory is quite durable and beautiful when crafted in ornaments. 

However, acquiring elephants often comes at the cost of the lives of these large animals. According to reports, the African elephant population declined greatly in the 1970s and 1980s due to the ivory trade. Thus, the international trade of elephant ivory was banned in 1989. However, illegal poaching continues to this day, with about 15,000 elephants killed annually.

4. Captivity

According to World Animal Protection, the complete welfare needs of elephants cannot be met in captivity. Elephants have social structures and dietary behaviors that might not be adequately catered to when in captivity and in restricted spaces. Adult male elephants often leave the herd when they are about 12 to 15 years of age. Such animals would not be able to do so in confinement.

Also, the forest offers elephants a variety of dietary options to choose from. These animals regulate their nutrient intake and counter digestion issues. They travel long distances, which they would be prohibited from doing if kept in small zoos or kept for entertainment. Under adequate and meticulous care, captive elephants can outlive wild elephants. However, captivity comes with a number of disadvantages for these animals which can also shorten their lifespans.   

What Will Happen if Elephants Go Extinct?

elephant charging

The extinction of elephants would affect the ecosystem greatly.

©Stu Porter/Shutterstock.com

According to reports, the ecosystem would suffer greatly from the possible extinction of elephants. These giants contribute to the lives of other animals and their habitats in the following ways:

1. Providing Water Sources

Elephants have a sophisticated sense of smell and hearing. During dry seasons, elephants can locate sources of water beneath the ground. Due to their immense strength, they can dig open the ground with their feet and tusks.

Other forms of wildlife benefit from the water sources created by elephants. Elephants also dig the ground in search of roots and minerals. Whatever is left is consumed by other animals.

2. Creating Savannas

Elephants do not have natural predators. Adult elephants are hardly bothered by predators, as they tower over all other terrestrial animals. When elephants move, they stump the ground and sometimes uproot trees to feed or clear a path. Their movement flattens shrublands, converting them to savannas.

The newly engineered environment allows predators to locate prey easily. This prevents the overpopulation of herbivorous animals, which can lead to the depletion of plants and exposure of the earth’s surface to water. 

3. Seed Dispersion

Elephants travel far distances and sometimes excrete dung far from the area they eat. Their dung usually contains tree seeds that remain intact. If untouched, these seeds will be fertilized and grow into trees. With the risk of extinction of honeybees, seed dispersion by elephants has become more important than ever. The trees dispersed by elephants provide more oxygen which is essential for plants and animals, and they also provide shelter for some animals. Baboons also eat seeds from elephant dung, while dung beetles eat the dung.

Up Next:

Different Types and Categories of Endangered Animals

What Is the World’s Largest Elephant?

Elephant Tusks: What Are They Made of & What’s Their Purpose?

Mammoth vs Elephant: What’s the Difference?

What Do Elephants Use Their Tusks For?

The photo featured at the top of this post is © JohnEGoodwin/Shutterstock.com


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Sources
  1. , Available here: https://www.iucn.org/news/species-survival-commission/202108/shrinking-spaces-worlds-largest-land-animal
  2. , Available here: https://wwf.panda.org/discover/knowledge_hub/endangered_species/elephants/
  3. , Available here: https://www.worldwildlife.org/pages/elephant-ivory
  4. , Available here: https://www.worldanimalprotection.org.au/news/three-reasons-why-elephants-dont-belong-captivity