Kaieteur News – Elephants are mammals of the family Elephantidae, and the largest existing land animals. Three species are currently recognized: the African bush elephant, the African forest elephant, and the Asian elephant. Elephantidae is the only surviving family of the order Proboscidea; extinct members include the mastodons. The family Elephantidae also contains several now-extinct groups, including the mammoths and straight-tusked elephants. African elephants have larger ears and concave backs, whereas Asian elephants have smaller ears, and convex or level backs. Distinctive features of all elephants include a long proboscis called a trunk, tusks, large earflaps, massive legs, and tough but sensitive skin. The trunk is used for breathing, bringing food and water to the mouth, and grasping objects. Tusks, which are derived from the incisor teeth, serve both as weapons and as tools for moving objects and digging. The large earflaps assist in maintaining a constant body temperature as well as in communication. The pillar-like legs carry their great weight.
Elephants are scattered throughout sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, and Southeast Asia and are found in different habitats, including savannahs, forests, deserts, and marshes. They are herbivorous, and they stay near water when it is accessible. They are considered to be keystone species, due to their impact on their environments. Elephants have a fission–fusion society, in which multiple family groups come together to socialize. Females (cows) tend to live in family groups, which can consist of one female with her calves or several related females with their offsprings. The groups, which do not include bulls, are led by the (usually) oldest cow, known as the matriarch.
Males (bulls) leave their family groups when they reach puberty, and may live alone or with other males. Adult bulls mostly interact with family groups when looking for a mate. They enter a state of increased testosterone and aggression known as musth, which helps them gain dominance over other males as well as reproductive success. Calves are the centre of attention in their family groups and rely on their mothers for as long as three years. Elephants can live up to 70 years in the wild. They communicate by touch, sight, smell, and sound; elephants use infrasound and seismic communication over long distances. Elephant intelligence has been compared with that of primates and cetaceans. They appear to have self-awareness, and appear to show empathy for dying and dead family members.
African elephants are listed as vulnerable and Asian elephants as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). One of the biggest threats to elephant populations is the ivory trade, as the animals are poached for their ivory tusks. Other threats to wild elephants include habitat destruction and conflicts with local people. Elephants are used as working animals in Asia. In the past, they were used in war; today, they are often controversially put on display in zoos, or exploited for entertainment in circuses. Elephants are highly recognizable and have been featured in art, folklore, religion, literature, and popular culture.
The poaching of elephants for their ivory, meat and hides has been one of the major threats to their existence. Historically, numerous cultures make ornaments and other works of art from elephant ivory, and its use rivalled that of gold. The ivory trade contributed to the African elephant population decline in the late 20th century. This prompted international bans on ivory imports, starting with the United States in June 1989, and followed by bans in other North American countries, western European countries, and Japan. Around the same time, Kenya destroyed all its ivory stocks. CITES approved an international ban on ivory that went into effect in January 1990. Following the bans, unemployment rose in India and China, where the ivory industry was important economically. By contrast, Japan and Hong Kong, which were also part of the industry, were able to adapt and were not badly affected. Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia, Zambia, and Malawi wanted to continue the ivory trade and were allowed to, since their local elephant populations were healthy, but only if their supplies were from elephants that had been culled or died of natural causes.
The ban allowed the elephant to recover in parts of Africa. In January 2012, 650 elephants in Bouba Njida National Park, Cameroon, were killed by Chadian raiders. This has been called “one of the worst concentrated killings” since the ivory ban. Asian elephants are potentially less vulnerable to the ivory trade, as females usually lack tusks. Still, members of the species have been killed for their ivory in some areas, such as Periyar National Park in India. China was the biggest market for poached ivory but announced they would phase out the legal domestic manufacture and sale of ivory products in May 2015, and in September 2015, China and the United States said, “they would enact a nearly complete ban on the import and export of ivory” due to causes of extinction. Other threats to elephants include habitat destruction and fragmentation. (Source: Wikipedia)
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