Celebrate World Elephant Day

Looking for ways to celebrate World Elephant Day with your kids? Our team has curated some elephant educational resources in an effort to raise awareness about African and Asian elephants, as well as inspire actions to protect them and their habitats. Read on to check out these fun and engaging elephant resources for kids.

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An African elephant standing in a grassland with a bird perched on top of it's head

My son adores elephants. One of his favorite stuffed animals is an elephant, and he’s always loved learning about them.

Like my son, most children are fascinated by large, majestic animals that they initially meet in books, on screen, or through play with toys. I’ve loved introducing my son to the animal kingdom but also feel it necessary to incorporate ways in which we can support their health and survival.

In honor of World Elephant Day, which occurs annually on August 12th, our team at Raising Global Kidizens curated some educational resources to explore with your children. We hope these resources raise more awareness about African and Asian elephants, as well as inspire actions to protect them and their habitats.

Facts about Elephants

Elephants are the largest land animal on Earth, reaching average heights of three meters.  A wild elephant’s lifespan is approximately 60-70 years, during which time they can grow to weigh over 6 tonnes. They eat only plants, making them the largest vegetarian animals to walk the planet. 

Elephants possess unique features that make them stand out from other land animals. When asked to draw an elephant, my son always begins with one distinct body part – a trunk! An elephant’s trunk serves as a giant straw to suck up water. That water may be used to drink or to bathe themselves on a hot day. The trunk of an elephant can hold up to 8 liters of water, making it a fantastic portable showering device! 

The skin of an elephant contains lots of wrinkles and folds, but that’s not because they’ve reached old age. The folds in their skin trap moisture, helping them to stay cool in the warm climates where they reside. 

Elephants live in the wild on two continents: Africa and Asia. Two distinct sub-species reside in Africa, the savannah elephant and the forest elephant, while only one species lives in Asia. Distinct differences exist between the species of elephants that reside in these areas.

Asian Elephants vs. African Elephants

Three main visual distinctions exist between Asian and African elephants.

  • Only male Asian elephants possess tusks, while both sexes of African elephants have this feature. This characteristic makes African elephants more susceptible to poaching. 
  • Asian elephant trunks have one appendage at the end, while African elephant trunks have two finger-like projections. 
  • Asian elephants have smaller, more cylindrical ears, while African elephants’ ears are larger and pointier. Some researchers describe Asian elephant ears as resembling the shape of India, while African elephant ears look more like the continent on which they reside.
An Asian elephant’s ear (photo credit: UWERP)
An African elephant’s ear

Both African and Asian elephants are under severe threat. In the past 100 years, we have lost approximately 90% of wild African elephants. As of late March 2021, the African forest elephant is critically endangered, and the African savanna elephant is endangered. We have even fewer Asian elephants remaining in the wild so they are on the endangered species list as well.  Scientists estimate that there are approximately 400,000 wild African elephants and 50,000 wild Asian elephants left on Earth.

Why are elephants endangered?

Habitat loss and fragmentation threaten elephant populations. Land development disrupts elephant movement patterns, causing them to enter areas populated by humans. Once arrived, elephants may damage agricultural assets and infrastructure, creating conflict between them and the people that reside there. Oftentimes this conflict ends in shooting or further displacing the elephants.

Elephant reproductive rates are slow. Elephants do not become sexually active until 10-15 years of age, and females reproduce only every four to five year, due to a two year gestation period and a two year weaning cycle.  Researchers recently discovered that African forest elephants’ reproduction begins even later, at around 23 years of age, birthing calves every five to six years.

Poaching elephants for their tusks and hides is an additional threat to their survival. Poaching rates of African elephants are higher than Asian elephants, as both sexes possess ivory tusks. However, in some regions, there is a growing concern of poaching Asian elephants for their hides.  

Why does it matter? Why are they important to their ecosystem?

Researchers consider elephants a keystone species to their ecosystems. Being a keystone species means that their presence is essential to the health and wellbeing of many other species of the area. The loss of a keystone species drastically changes the dynamics of an ecosystem. 

Elephants rely on an entirely vegetarian diet. To maintain their size, they must eat a substantial amount of plants! Constant ingestion of plant materials means a constant excretion of natural fertilizer, returning essential elements to the soil. Elephants also scatter seeds of local plants in their excretions, as well as blaze trails through dense forest underbrush and grasslands, providing paths for other species to find food and navigate the landscape.

Some elephants dig holes in the ground to obtain water. These holes create microhabitats for smaller species, such as frogs, to lay their eggs. Plants grow around these aquatic areas, creating cover for small amphibians to grow and avoid predation. Insect larvae hatch in the water, providing a food source for the frogs, as well as other species. Elephant footprints also serve as microhabitats during the rainy season. The footprints fill with water and provide access to an often limited resource. 

Elephants and the Sustainable Development Goals

Elephant conservation and education support numerous sustainable development goals. 

Goal 4: Quality Education

Providing quality education to current and future generations creates an understanding of the critical role elephants play in their ecosystems. 

Goal 8: Decent Work and Economic Growth

Creating and supporting responsible wildlife tourism bolsters the economy for entire communities. Assigning an economic value to preserving and protecting elephants and their habitats is crucial to the survival of the species. 

Goal 12: Responsible Consumption and Production

Avoiding the purchase of products made of ivory or elephant skin supports the goal of responsible consumption and production. 

Goal 15: Life on Land

Protecting elephants and their habitats preserves various other species of plants and animals. Soil regeneration, seed dispersion, microhabitat creation, and path formation are just a few of the benefits elephants provide to their ecosystem.

Books About Elephants

Education is the first step in becoming a champion for elephant conservation. We’ve curated a short list of titles that we think you and your children will love.

A Note on Buying and Borrowing Books

We’ve included affiliate links to each of the books below. If you purchase through one of these links, Raising Global Kidizens earns a very small commission that has no impact on your purchase price.

If you can find the books from your local library, from a friend, at an independent bookstore, or through a used book shop, those sources are ideal. Using the library is zero waste, saves money, and saves space in your home because you can read all the books without storing all the books on your bookshelves. If you’re not sure of the best way to use your local library, check out these tips to make the most of your local library. With a little exposure, your kids will learn to LOVE the library!

All About Asian Elephants Activity Book

Trunks & Leaves recently created an activity book to educate and raise awareness about the conservation of endangered Asian elephants and their natural habitats. Your budding wildlife warriors can color, count, solve mazes, create crafts, and practice their words and numbers. All proceeds go towards work to protect Asian elephants! If you want a sneak peek before buying, you can also download a FREE sample activity kit. 

A Passion for Elephants: The Real Life Adventure of Field Scientist Cynthia Moss by Tony Buzzeo

Explore the world of elephants through the eyes of Cynthia Moss, a naturalist who studied African elephants in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park.

Cynthia has spent years learning everything she can about elephants and sharing these fascinating creatures with the world. She is a scientist, nature photographer, and animal-rights activist, fighting against the ivory poachers who kill so many elephants for their tusks.

The Elephants Come Home: A True Story of Seven Elephants, Two People, and One Extraordinary Friendship by Kim Tomsic

This book shares the true story about a herd of wild African elephants and their journey to relocate to a wildlife sanctuary. The book highlights the relationship they had the people at the sanctuary and how that relationship developed over time.

She Leads: The Elephant Matriarch by June Smalls

Follow a mother elephant as she guides her family across the African savannah, demonstrating selfless love and leadership. 

Natumi Takes the Lead: The True Story of an Orphan Elephant Who Finds Family by Gerry Ellis

Meet Natumi, an orphaned elephant rescued by dedicated individuals from the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, a sanctuary for orphaned elephants. 

We also love a few favorite books that aren’t about elephant education specifically but have lovable elephants as main characters. 

Elephant and Piggie Series by Mo Willems

This young reader series includes many books all about the friendship between an elephant and a little pig. The stories are funny but also share great lessons about friendship and kindness. A couple of our favorites are I Am Invited To A Party and Are You Ready To Play Outside? See the entire set of Elephant and Piggie books

Little Elliot Series by Mike Curato 

Little Elliot is an elephant with a mouse friend who experiences adventures through the city, out in the fall, at the circus and more. They have lovely illustrations, and are sweet stories about the importance of friendship and family.

 

How Kids Can Help Elephants

Children can help elephants in a variety of ways. We’ve curated a list of six ideas to assist kids in turning their compassion for elephants into action.

Learn and Teach Others about Elephants

Education is the first step in elephant conservation. Encourage your child to read or listen to books about elephants or watch documentaries about these large land animals. Our kids especially loved the Wild Kratts episode on Asian Elephants, which highlights important elephant characteristics. 

Donate their Birthday to Trunks and Leaves

Trunks and Leaves is an organization created by Dr. Shermin de Silva to support Asian elephant behavioral and ecological research. Their mission is to “raise awareness about Asian elephants and their habitats, globally and locally, compiling resources and tools for education, research and conservation”. Consider requesting donations for elephant conservation in lieu of gifts for your child’s next birthday bash. Create elephant themed decor and provide facts about these majestic animals to help your guests understand why assisting elephants is important.

Adopt an Elephant

Through Trunks & Leaves’ Adopt-an-Elephant program, you can virtually adopt an elephant who needs help. Each animal available for adoption represents an actual individual from the population in Udawalawe, Sri Lanka. Adopters receive a certificate of adoption, adorable plush, and exclusive information and updates about the elephant. 

Never Purchase Ivory

Avoid buying products made from wildlife, such as ivory. Decreasing demand for wildlife products deters poachers from illegally killing species for profit. 

Start an Elephant Study Club

The International Elephant Foundation has created free educational materials for elementary-aged students focused on elephant conservation. These resources guide learners through elephant biology basics, as well as problem-solving strategies to assist in the species’ survival. 

Take the Responsible Wildlife Tourism Pledge

Trunks & Leaves created the Ethical Elephant Experiences campaign to raise awareness and encourage travel companies and travelers alike to engage in responsible tourism practices when viewing and interacting with wildlife. Take the Pledge today and share the link and resources with your friends and family. Join the growing list of voices committed to ethical elephant tourism and be a responsible traveler in your next adventure. 

Do you have any other ideas to help elephants in honor of World Elephant Day? Please share them in the comments below to inspire others to take action!

About The Author

image of Jess Purcell, co-founder of RGK

Jess Purcell

Jess Purcell, a co-founder of Raising Global Kidizens, is a science educator who is dedicated to making the science of sustainability accessible to all learners. She creates sustainability science lessons and nature activities written for students of all ages to be done in the classroom or at home to foster critical thinking skills and a love of the natural world. You can find more of her work at Thoughtfully Sustainable.

Jess lives in central Pennsylvania with her husband, two kids, and two cats and can usually be found outside, working out the kinks of an experiment, upcycling trash into “treasure”, hiking with her family, or attempting to read a book while being cajoled into a game of hide-and-seek.

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