The Bleak Future of African Elephants
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September 30, 2013
By Bev Pettit
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After returning from safari in Tanzania in July of 2013, I began to look through my many photos from that trip. I was astonished by how the animals had revealed almost human expression and gestures in my photographs. Spending time close up with the baboons at Manyara, the cheetahs and lions in the Serengeti, and the elephants at Ngorongoro Crater I began to "develop" these images and marvel at their emotional expressions.

While in Tanzania, I was fortunate to be able to spend enough time to watch the herds of elephants and observe their close family ties and loving characteristics as shown by mothers and fathers for their young. I can truly say that I was not prepared for the emotion that I witnessed amongst the elephant families. I was amazed at how babies clung to their mother's sides, how parents would guide their babies and keep them close to their sides to protect them and teach them how to behave as the new members of the family. How siblings would help by also teaching and guiding their younger brothers and sisters as the faimly went about their daily routines in the wild. I so appreciated the struggles and playfullness exhibited by the babies, just like human babies do.

This amazing emotion that elephants portray I feel is best described by Dame Daphne Sheldrick, founder of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in Naifobi, Kenya, in this article from the trust's website:


By Daphne Sheldrick D.B.E.: 1992 UNEP Global 500 Laureate.

Why is it that most people feel such empathy for Elephants, even if they have never had close contact with them?

Is it because of their size, their quaint characteristics, or the the fact that they are so incredibly endearing as babies, tripping over little wobbly trunks that seem to serve no useful purpose other than get in the way? Or is it, perhaps, because Elephants are "human" animals, encompassed by an invisible aura that reaches deep into the human soul in a mysterious and mystifying way.

Of course, Elephants share with us humans many traits - the same span of life, (three score years and ten, all being well) and they develop at a parallel pace so that at any given age a baby elephant duplicates its human counterpart, reaching adulthood at the age of twenty. Elephants also display many of the attributes of humans as well as some of the failings. They share with us a strong sense of family and death and they feel many of the same emotions. Each one is, of course, like us, a unique individual with its own unique personality. They can be happy or sad, volatile or placid. They display envy, jealousy, throw tantrums and are fiercely competitive, and they can develop hang-ups which are reflected in behaviour. They also have many additional attributes we humans lack; incredible long range infrasound, communicating in voices we never hear, such sophisticated hearing that even a footfall is heard far away, and, of course they have a memory that far surpasses ours and spans a lifetime. They grieve deeply for lost loved ones, even shedding tears and suffering depression. They have a sense of compassion that projects beyond their own kind and sometimes extends to others in distress. They help one another in adversity, miss an absent loved one, and when you know them really well, you can see that they even smile when having fun and are happy. .........

Animals are indeed more ancient, more complex, and in many ways more sophisticated than man. In terms of Nature they are truly more perfect because they remain within the ordered scheme of Nature and live as Nature intended. They are different to us, honed by natural selection over millennia so they should not be patronised, but rather respected and revered. And of all the animals, perhaps the most respected and revered should be the Elephant, for not only is it the largest land mammal on earth, but also the most emotionally human.


As you read this an elephant is being killed by poachers. An elephant is killed once every 15 minutes in Africa, every day. These sentient creatures are slaughtered for their tusks in sorder to supply an insatiable appetite for ivory in China and other parts of Asia. The ivory is then carved into trinkets and sold to the ever growing Chinese middle class. These majestic animals, who can live far beyond 60 years, are being slaughtered at a rate of 35,000 a year for a senseless population of people who are more concerned about a meaningless social status than the lives of these feeling animals.

At this rate, poaching will cause the extinction of elephants in the wild in less than 10 years. Terrorists hire poachers to kill the elephants. They sell the ivory to Asia in order to fund their devastating activities, causing the deaths of humans and animals alike.

---------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------------Why are Elephants so Important?

Elephants are nations unto themselves. They graced the Earth long before we arrived and deserve to live, just as we do. Elephants are the guardians of forests, if they disappear, so will a myriad species of trees. Forest eco-systems depend on elephants; elephants are master “seed dispensers”, they are traveling gardeners; they are the mighty and majestic keepers of the great green cathedrals of Earth. ( 

Please also visit Big Life Foundation


Stop the Killing         Don't buy Ivory



All photographs © Bev Pettit Photography, 2013