World Elephant Day: Two baby elephants holding trunks

Photo: Ishara S. Kodikara/AFP/Getty Images

"We admire elephants in part because they demonstrate what we consider the finest human traits: empathy, self-awareness, and social intelligence. But the way we treat them puts on display the very worst of human behavior." — Graydon Carter, Editor of Vanity Fair
Elephants are grand creatures that have served as a source of wonder and fascination for people throughout the ages. Sadly, this curiosity doesn't always come with the best intentions, as evidenced in the shady zoos and circuses that continue to exploit them.

Both African and Asian elephants are dealing with species-threatening challenges. One third of all Asian elephants are living in captivity — a circumstance that has been shown to significantly degrade their quality of life, both in terms of longevity and mental health. With less than 40,000 individuals worldwide, Asian elephants are also considered an endangered species. Meanwhile, African elephants continue to grapple with the deadly and illegal ivory trade as conservationists observe their numbers on a steady decline.

The state of elephants in our world isn't all bleak, of course. There are plenty of humans in the world who care strongly about their plight and act accordingly. In honor of World Elephant Day, which is observed annually on Aug. 12, here's an encouraging glimpse into the national parks, sanctuaries and orphanages where elephants are free to roam, frolic and thrive. In the photo above, a pair of elephant calves frolic in the grasses of a wildlife sanctuary located in Sri Lanka's Udawalawe National Park.

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World Elephant Day: Two baby elephants take a mud bath

Photo: Sarah Tzinieris/Flickr

Young elephants roll around in the mud at the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage near Nairobi, Kenya.

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World Elephant Day: Dust bath

Photo: arvind grover/Flickr

A group of elephants give themselves a dust bath at an elephant sanctuary in Chiang Mai, Thailand.

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World Elephant Day: Baby elephant with bottle

Photo: Clara Sanchiz/Flickr

A baby elephant drinks from a bottle at an orphanage in Kenya.

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World Elephant Day: African elephants on the plain

Photo: Ishara S. Kodikara/Getty Images

A herd of wild elephants graze in a green fields of a wildlife sanctuary in Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka.

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World Elephant Day: Baby elephants stroking a woman's hair

Photo: Chris Jackson/Getty Images

A 5-month-old elephant orphan named Tembo plays with conservationist Lucy Fitzjohn at the Mkomazi Rhino Sanctuary in Tanzania.

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World Elephant Day: Shaking

Photo: Stephanie Watson/Flickr

An elephant named Tandi shakes her head at an elephant sanctuary in The Crags, South Africa.

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World Elephant Day: Playing ball

Photo: Maritime Aquarium at Norwalk/Flickr

Happy elephants play ball at the David Sheldrick Elephant Orphanage near Nairobi, Kenya.

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World Elephant Day: Dust bath

Photo: Ishara S. Kodikara/Getty Images

A wild elephant plays in the sand at Minneriya National Park, Sri Lanka.

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Catie Leary is a photo editor at Mother Nature Network. Follow her on Twitter and Google+.