On World Elephant Day, we entreat the world to stand up for elephants, as they try to find their place in a world changed by humans. It falls to us to act, not just for the creatures of today, but for all those who follow in our footsteps, to ensure we always know a world that has elephants.
Raising a baby elephant is a labour of love, one that begins long before they even take their first steps on earth. An elephant’s gestation period is 22 months, the longest of any mammal. For the better part of two years, mothers nurture their baby from within, all while braving droughts and floods, traversing great distances, and contending with the daily challenges that mark any wild animal’s existence. Within minutes of being born, a baby elephant is helped to their feet by their mother and nannies. This is but the first supportive gesture among thousands that will unfold over the coming months, years, and even decades. This elephant will spend the rest of their life knowing the loving embrace of a family.
This family structure has been honed over millennia, as deeply ingrained in their being as the migratory routes that their ancestors have carved through the generations. While elephants have carefully forged their place in this world, humans threaten to unravel all that. As reported this week by the UN's Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, whose findings are endorsed by the world’s governments, our actions are causing temperatures and sea levels to rise, driving weather extremes including soaring temperatures, unseasonal floods, and devastating droughts. Meanwhile, habitats are being destroyed at record rates to make way for farms, factories, and human settlements.
It is wildlife who must grapple with the consequences of our actions. For elephants, the struggle is particularly great. They are a large species, with carefully tuned instincts and needs. They are trying their best to find their place in a changing world, but it is a formidable challenge. We have witnessed this firsthand, through both our field work and the orphans we have rescued in recent years: Emoli, a victim of the drought, was found baking under the hot sun; when she was just a newborn, Lemeki was washed away from her family on a wave of floodwaters; the human-wildlife conflict Ziwadi experienced left her physically wounded and psychologically traumatised for months. Every orphan in our care has a story like this — and they are the lucky ones, rescued in time to have a second chance.
And so, our task is twofold: to rescue Kenya’s orphaned elephants, and to secure a viable, wild future for them and their kin. All being well, an elephant can live upwards of 70 years. Just as we think about the world we want to create for our children, so must we think about the world we want to create for elephants. Through our extensive field projects, we are securing critical habitats, stamping out threats to conservation, providing lifesaving treatment to wildlife, and creating solutions to mitigate the impact of our changing climate. These measures make a tangible difference, each and every day.
It is absolutely vital that we forge ahead with optimism and ambition. As the ivory poaching crisis taught us, humans are capable of enormous disruption, but also of extraordinary progress. In 2012, when it was at its peak, 384 elephants were killed for their ivory in Kenya. Every orphan we rescued that year lost their family to poachers. The crisis reached truly precipitous levels, but the world took notice and took action. Legislation was enacted, ivory markets were closed, stockpiles were burned, and on-the-ground conservation efforts received global support. Year over year, progress was made. In 2020, the KWS reported a record low of 11 ivory poaching victims. That is still 11 lives too many, lost forever to human greed, but a 97 percent decline in poaching in less than a decade shows remarkable progress.
On World Elephant Day, we entreat the world to stand up once more and bring that same commitment to conservation. It is not just for the creatures of today, but for all those who follow in our footsteps. We have seen time and again how elephants look after their own. Now, once more, they need our help. It is up to us to answer that call, to forge a future for orphans like Emoli, Lemeki, and Ziwadi, and to ensure we always know a world that has elephants.