Don’t let the sun set on Africa’s elephants: The plight of the world’s largest terrestrial animals


You’re so money supermarket recently featured an advert with a guy driving an elephant. He is epic. In a sense it’s a good advert, we all find it funny how the elephant shakes its ass to the music. That’s probably what the marketing team at money supermarket thought. It looks cool and is kind of amusing.

I wonder if they though what I thought? That one day computer generated versions and fossils in a museum will be all that is left of the African elephants. The advert does not show, that possibly within the next fifty years, the elephant will become nothing more than a CGI creation like the dinosaurs.

Let me explain…

threat-categories-VUAfrican elephants have been classed by the IUCN ( international Union for Conservation of Nature ) , on the threat list, as vulnerable.This might not mean much to most people, as unfortunately, the majority of people only start to pay attention when the words ” critically endangered ” appear. A species being classed as ” vulnerable ” officially means that they face a high risk of extinction in the wild, and therefore should not be ignored.

Look what happened to the western black rhino, which in 2011, was declared extinct.

western black rhino

The rest of the species teetering on the brink under the label of “critically endangered.”

As for the elephants, I will let the numbers explain.

As recently as the 1930’s and 1940’s which is about 70 – 80 years ago, the population of African elephants was estimated to be around 3 – 5 million. The population was steadily and drastically decreased through hunting and ivory poaching. Between 1980 and 1990, the population was more than halved from 1.3 million to 600,000, with the population in Kenya declining by 85% between 1973 and 1989. The population in Chad declined from 400,000 in 1970 to just 10,000 in 2006; That’s 390,000 elephants in just 36 years, that is over 10,000 each year.

In the past, hunting was a major catalyst in the population decrease of African elephants, with an estimated 100,000 elephants killed each year through sport hunting in the 1980’s

Chad 1910








Hunting, unfortunately, is still practised by rich, ignorant businessmen and women around the world to this day.



African sky hunting – South Africa

Ivory trading was too becoming a serious factor, and in 1989 the international trade in ivory was banned to fight the massive illegal trade.

Though hunting is still practised, the majority of the population decrease is nowadays mostly contributed to the once again growing demand for ivory, particularly from Asia. In 2012, the New York Times reported a large surge in Ivory poaching, with about 70% of the product flowing to China.

“Over 80% of all raw ivory traded, comes from poached elephants.”

Elephant tusks stored in secured ivory piles, Kruger National Park, South Africa

The increased price of ivory has seen a rise in the ivory trade with the highest levels of illicit trade for over 16 years having been seen in 2011 and remaining at unacceptably elevated levels.
In Cameroon, a mass poaching incident lasting a few days in February 2012, saw 650 elephants poached for their tusks.

Thereafter, in early March 2013 in Chad, 86 elephants – which included 33 pregnant females – were killed in what was labelled ” a potentially devastating blow to one of central Africa’s last elephant populations.
By 2014 it was estimated that central Africa will be home to just 50,000 elephants.

aborted calf-horz

The gestation period of a female elephant is 22 months. Therefore, as they start reproducing around 10 – 12 years of age, and live to the age of 50, a fertile female may produce up to seven offspring.

mother and baby

Males on the other hand only start to compete for the females after they ( the males ) are over the age of twenty-five. Wild males begin breeding in their thirties, when they are of a size and weight that is competitive with other males. Most observed matings are by males over 35 years of age.
Therefore the classification of vulnerable is highly appropriate, and the fate of the species is in jeopardy if circumstances continue unchanged. Males are being killed before they can reproduce. Females are being killed during pregnancy if not before, and calves end up orphaned after the slaughter of their mothers and left, if not themselves slaughtered as well, to inevitably die days later.

One of the most upsetting facts is that humans are killing elephants directly and indirectly. With our ever increasing populations and demand for for land, we are encroaching into elephant lands, making their territories smaller and cutting off their migration routes. Farms and plantations are trampled and destroyed by elephants passing through, and as a result the elephant becomes the farmers number one enemy. The farmers which don’t take matters into their own hands through trapping and shooting, are more than happy to allow the poachers to rid them of what they view as a pest and threat to their livelihood.

Whilst National wildlife reserves may be a haven for some of the population, it is not a solution. Any given area of land can only sustain a certain number of African elephants whilst allowing it to remain ecologically sound. It is for this reason, that in order to protect the rest of the population and the other wildlife in the reserve, that excess numbers must be culled. It is an ironic twist of fate that makes the plight of the African elephant all the more dire.


I have seen this magnificent creatures in person, not at a zoo, but wild African elephants in National Wildlife Reserves. I can therefore attest that to see these incredible giants and to hear them is an awe inspiring experience. I had the pleasure to witness a few members of a herd enjoying a drink together at the local watering hole…

elephants at watering hole
Elephants at watering hole


In 2013, conservatives estimated that 23,000 African elephants were killed by poachers and that less than 20%of the African elephant population is under formal protection.  The total population now lies at just over 400,000, and if things do not change, the future does not look bright for these majestic animals.


However there are people that are making a difference, and we can help them. There is still hope, though action needs to be taken sooner rather than later.

Let’s save these iconic giants, because I cannot imagine a world where the only place I can see an elephant, is on a TV screen.

Let us not allow the sun to set on the African elephant.





5 thoughts on “Don’t let the sun set on Africa’s elephants: The plight of the world’s largest terrestrial animals

  1. Nick, beautifully created awareness. The plight of the African Elephant differs little from that of so many other species. There seems to be an increasing number of people who are giving voice to animals who have few advocates and I find this both essential and encouraging. I happen to be one and fully intend to put my money, my tie, and my energy toward animal rights activism in the coming years. I wish I could do it NOW but I’m still looking forward to being part of constructive and meaningful rights initiatives, soon. How fortunate you were to be able to travel to and see these majestic beings. Thanks for highlighting this important story. We so need to be concerned and taking action, now.

    1. Thank you Eric, I agree that there are innumerable species out there that need our voice and protection. It is my hope one day to be a more direct part of conservation. I will be attending university from September this year to study biological science in order to graduate as a zoologist. In the meantime I would still like to do all that I can, even if that is just to spread awareness to one person at a time. I actually grew up in Africa, and that is where I have been so fortunate to witness these and other amazing creatures in their natural habitat. It is also why it is so painful for me to see, to imagine that one day when I return to my home continent, it might be that much less beautiful than it once was. I hope to do more stories such as this to highlight the bleak future faced by many other species around the world. Thanks for your support for the wildlife cause, the world needs more people like you.

  2. If you don’t mind my sharing this and you’re open to a compliment, I sense a bright future for you. Your zoologist aspirations are laudable. And having grown up in Africa will only lend to your credibility and world views.

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