Elephant Alert!

What makes elephants so fascinating, why they're in danger and how you can help.

April 15, 2013
Courtesy IFAW 2013


For centuries, elephants have captured our admiration and imaginations, and it's easy to see why.  The planet's largest land animals can stand up to 10 feet tall and weigh up to 13,200 pounds.  But they're not just about brawn.

With their complex brains, elephants are incredibly clever and sensitive: caring for their families and capable of remembering faraway places and old pals. In fact, when elephants spot friends, they often show affection by wrapping their trunks together or resting them on each other's foreheads.

Trunks come in handy for more than just greeting. (An elephant trunk has tens of thousands of muscles; the entire human body has fewer than 650).  For instance, elephant babies suck their trunks for comfort, just as human babies suck their thumbs.  Trunks are also handy for reaching high hanging food. 

Courtesy IFAW 2013

And chewing is no problem for these herbivores!  Elephants have back teeth the size of small bricks and, of course, elongated incisor teeth called tusks. They use tusks to carry things, pull bark off trees, clear paths, dig for roots and water, fight enemies and impress other elephants.  Unfortunately, it's those amazing tusks that put elephants' lives at risk.  The desire for tusk ivory is the reason so many elephants have been slaughtered.

White Gold

From the days of ancient Egypt and Rome, elephant tusk ivory has been a valuable commodity.  More recently, it's been used to make billiard balls, piano keys, and decorative ornaments.  In order to get the ivory, elephants are killed and their tusks are sawed off.  In 1979, there were an estimated 1.3 million elephants in Africa. By 2007 that number had dropped to between 472,000 and 690,000.

Today, in many parts of the world, ivory or "white gold" remains a symbol of wealth and status, especially in Asia.  With the spending power of a growing middle class in countries such as China, the demand for illegal ivory is increasing.  You can read about this problem-and what conservationists are doing to help-in the April 19 issue of TIME For Kids.

A Way You Can Help

Did you know these startling facts about ivory? Seven out of 10 people in China don't know it comes from a dead elephant?  Forty percent of people in the United Kingdom don't think elephants need to be harmed to take their tusks. And the United States is still the second largest market in the world for elephant ivory.

The International Fund for Animal Welfare, or IFAW, is working with governments and communities to help stop this illegal trade in tusks-and to conserve these magnificent animals in the wild in Africa and Asia.  Part of the effort involves education.  If more people knew that every piece of ivory comes from a dead elephant, fewer people might want to buy ivory products.  And less demand for ivory means more elephants will survive.

Courtesy IFAW 2013

This is where you come in.  Elephants communicate by grunting, whistling, snorting, bellowing, rumbling, trumpeting and stomping.  Some of these sounds may travel 20 miles or more through the ground.  Now's your chance to be heard around the world and help elephants!

What would you say to convince people not to buy ivory?  How would you tell them that the desire for tusks leads to the killing of thousands of elephants? Tell us your idea in 100 words or less and send it to our mailbox  We'll post a few ideas in the coming months.

Join the Green Wave

Are you looking to do more for the overall well-being of the planet? Encourage friends and family to take part in the CBD Green Wave, a global campaign to educate children and youth about biodiversity.  Visit

Links to Lesson Plans, Activities, and IFAW's Site.

When an elephant looks in the mirror it knows that it's seeing itself.  Most animals can't do that.  These lesson plans and links can help you see an elephant hero the next time you look in the mirror! 

For teachers: Elephants Never Forget Teaching Guide and Lessons, Elementary Edition

For students: "More Space, Please!" and "Ready to Write...About Elephants", student worksheet

For classroom viewing: "Elephants Never Forget" video (20 minutes)

Visit for more information.









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