5 startling statistics about elephants on World Elephant Day

August 12, 2015, 12:45 p.m.
Elephants have a tight family structure and deep emotional connections to those in their herd.
Photo: Philip Ellard/Shutterstock

Today is World Elephant Day, an international day of recognition for one of the most iconic species on the planet, a species that brings simultaneously a sense of wonder, and a sense of tragedy. We are losing elephants at a catastrophic rate to poachers. Here are the facts:

1. Elephants around the world are disappearing. African elephants are classified as vulnerable to extinction, and Asian elephants are classified as endangered. There are only about 40,000-50,000 Asian elephants left in the world today.

2. Since 1950, African elephants have lost over 50 percent of their range. They once roamed the continent, but they are now relegated to a few small areas. Less than 20 percent of this remaining habitat is under formal protection, according to World Wildlife Fund.

3. Poachers killed 100,000 African elephants for their ivory from just 2010 to 2012, National Geographic reported last year. According to a study, roughly one of every 12 African elephants was killed by a poacher in 2011 alone. There were around 1.3 million African elephants alive in 1980. In 2012, there were only an estimated 420,000 to 690,000 elephants left.

4. Most poaching today is not done by poor farmers needing an income for their family. Instead, poaching is done by well-organized and well-funded criminal traffickers. The money gained from poaching and selling ivory funds wars and criminal organizations.

5. Elephants play an important ecological role, including creating trails that work as fire breaks during brush fires, fertilizing the soil with manure, digging holes that create access to water for other animals, and much more. Without elephants, ecosystems are thrown out of balance.

Today's day of recognition can also be one of action. 96Elephants.org has multiple ways for you to help, from supporting ivory bans to taking action in your state, by making a donation or downloading a toolkit to spread the word, and more. Please take a moment on World Elephant Day to see how you can help keep this amazing species around for future generations. You can also visit Save The Elephants to learn more.

Would you like your photo to be featured as Photo of the Day? Join our Flickr group and add your photos to the pool!

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Jaymi Heimbuch is a writer and photographer at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter, Google+ and Facebook.