95% of the world's elephant population has been killed in the last 100 years, by poachers wielding guns, spears, and poison.
In 1900, there were an estimated three million African elephants and 100,000 Asian elephants in the wild. In 2015, there are an estimated 450,000 - 700,000 African elephants and between 35,000 - 40,000 wild Asian elephants remaining. The massive demand for ivory across Asia has pushed poachers to brutally murder elephants across Africa, sometimes hacking off their tusks while they are still alive. The technology has become more and more advanced; poachers in helicopters herd elephants and shoot them with high-powered rifles. Then people on the ground cut off their faces with axes, for their tusks. From 2011 to 2014 alone, 100,000 African elephants were killed by poachers.
If poaching is not reduced dramatically, African elephants could be extinct in a decade.
Elephants are one of the most intelligent species on earth. They retain memories that span years, and hold extremely close family bonds, lead by matriarchs (generally the oldest and largest female). They're socially complex in similar ways to humans; some are introverted, others are extroverted, some are popular, others are not. They are playful and have a sense of humor. They exhibit empathy and altruism, and they mourn their dead -- and not just elephants they knew. Elephant herds are considered one of the most loyal societies of any animal; females won't leave unless they die or are captured by humans.
Elephants have no natural predators. Their only predators are humans.
What you can do:
There are a number of incredible organizations fighting to save wild elephants from poaching deaths, and all could use your help. Here are a few of our favorites:
The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Kenya provides a safe haven for orphaned elephants and rhinos. They run a successful Orphan's Project, which allows donors to foster (for $50 a year) orphaned baby rhinos and elephants. The animals are rehabilitated at DSWT's orphanage, and reintegrated into the wild herds of Tsavo. They also run an anti-poaching project in Tsavo National Park, whose teams work to destroy snares and other poaching devices, and patrol areas where poachers hunt for elephants and rhinos.
We like DSWT so much that we donate 15% of the proceeds of our ceramic elephants to them.
Save the Elephants runs the Elephant Crisis Fund, along with the Wildlife Conservation Network, which funds projects that work to stop poaching, thwart trafficking, and end the demand for ivory. 100% of donations to the Elephant Crisis Fund go towards anti-poaching and anti-trafficking efforts. They have a vibrant conservation education program, and conduct research to help minimize human-elephant conflicts. They also work to count elephants, which in turn helps map safe zones and demonstrates the importance of protected areas.
Space for Giants is a UK-run, Kenya-based charity that seeks to minimize human-elephant conflict, which "can cause an immediate subsistence crisis resulting in enormous resentment and anger among rural people," which in turn can lead to retaliation killings of wildlife. When a community resents wildlife, conservation projects are difficult, if not impossible, to implement. Their projects include passive and active deterrents like chilli fences and loud horns, and GPS tracking of known crop-invading elephants. When one of these individuals approaches a farm, farmers receive a text messages and can mobilize in a non-violent way to scare the elephant away.