Life Lessons from Elephants on World Elephant Day

“If elephants didn’t exist, you couldn’t invent one. They belong to a small group of living things so unlikely they challenge credulity and common sense.” – Lyall Watson

Elephants are as unique and amazing, as they are necessary in our ecosystems. Descended from the mammoths, elephants today are the largest land mammals on the planet. They can live to over 60 years of age and they travel in matriarchal herds, led by the oldest female. Elephants also have a positive symbolic meaning in different cultures all over the world and are considered a symbol of good luck, power, success, wisdom and experience. Because elephants are highly social animals, they are also considered to be a symbol of loyalty, companionship and unity. Let’s explore a few life lessons we can learn from elephants…

1. Connectedness and community
The core of elephant society is the matriarchal unit, led by the oldest female and other female elders. These females are able to maintain cohesiveness amongst the herd in a way that seems almost miraculous. This is because they are expert communicators, with most of their communication taking place as infrasonic vibrations not detectable by the human ear. The herd remains connected through this and other audible communications, and the wise matriarch keeps all the individuals of the group focused on the common goal at hand, whether it be trekking to a distant waterhole, digging up edible bulbs or supporting a younger female giving birth for the first time.

2. Treading lightly on the planet
Even though elephants can weigh several tons, they manage to walk very softly and quietly. The grace with which elephants move is mesmerising to watch, and reminds us to walk through life gracefully, leaving as gentle a footprint as possible on our planet.

3. Empathy and teamwork
Elephants are known for their cooperation and working effectively as a team. They are intelligent. They can sense when another elephant needs help, and they know how to work together. For example, adult elephants have often been documented using teamwork to rescue a baby elephant that has become stuck in mud.

4. Embrace your individuality
Although elephants are highly social animals, studies have found that they are also self-aware. These studies found that elephants are able to recognise themselves in a mirror, an ability shared only with great apes (including humans) and bottlenose dolphins. This reminds us that we can embrace our individuality, our personal gifts and talents, while remaining connected to our family and community in a healthy way.

5. Enjoy life!
Elephants remind us of the old adage, “Enjoy life!” Elephants often take time out for enjoyment, especially at waterholes where even the adults splash around in the water with youthful abandon. To anyone who has watched elephants engaging in such activities, it is obvious that the elephants are purely having fun! Elephants truly remind us that it’s often the small things that count, and to enjoy them whenever we can!

Recommended books about elephants:

• Elephantoms – Lyall Watson
• The Elephant Whisperer – Lawrence Anthony

Worldwide Experience offers incredible programmes dedicated to elephant conservation:

Conserving Asian Elephants

Based in beautiful Sri Lanka, this project works tirelessly in addressing human elephant conflict in the rural areas with several projects making a tangible difference such as the EleBus. The EleBus is funded through the project and provides a safe way for children to get to and from schools, avoiding the risk of coming across elephants on foot. Through volunteering here, you can help increase public awareness as to the plight of the elephant and help garner the communities’ support for its conservation. After eighteen years this project still stands out as one of the most successful attempts to resolve Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) in Sri Lanka in an area where humans and elephants share space. Today the Department of Wildlife Conservation in Sri Lanka is applying concepts developed for this project as a strategy in their efforts to resolve the increasing human-elephant conflicts. Not withstanding the intensity and magnitude of HEC in general, at the project sites, human elephant interactions occur practically every day without conflict. Massive bull elephants munch away placidly while people on foot & vehicles move through the area.For more information, click here.

Conserving Desert Elephants

Located in Namibia, this project focuses on human wildlife conflict mitigation, environmental education in local communities and elephant research. In the 1990’s there were less than 50 of the desert-adapted elephants in the Damaraland region, and today there are over 600, with less conflict incidents reported, all thanks to the dedication of our brilliant team and volunteers. Subsistence farmers husbanding mainly cattle, goats and sheep, traditionally occupy this region. As a result competition for water and grazing has escalated tremendously causing conflict between farmers and elephants. Depletion of the natural water table with increasing human use has led to less available surface water for consumption. Therefore, man-made water points located close to the riverbeds have become the target for elephants in their quest for fresh water.
In their search for the source of such points elephants cause extensive damage to windmills, dams, reservoirs, hand-pumps and wells. As the farmers homesteads are normally located close to the water source, secondary damage is also caused and the lives of humans and livestock are threatened. Through assisting these communities by constructing protective structures around water points, educating community members about elephant behavior, creating alternative drinking points for the elephants and promoting tourism in the affected areas, we can assist in alleviating the current pressure facing communal farmers. This helps to promote the future of the desert dwelling elephants. For more information, click here.