Conserving elephants is vital to understanding human development

Researchers say elephants offer a priceless opportunity for us to understand how human intelligence may have developed.

According to The Economist, the fact that elephants “hold a scientific mirror up to humans” is one good reason to conserve them. Researchers say there is “no species on Earth [that] has a more complex society than that of elephants.” Elephants have displayed high levels of organization, including intricate social relationships and “a capacity for solving problems by thinking about them in abstract terms.”

Losing elephants would undermine efforts to understand the development of their intelligence, and therefore, the intellectual evolution of humans.

The Great Elephant Census undertaken in August 2016 showed that the population of elephants had been reduced by 140,000 over the previous decade. Elephant extinction isn’t only threatened by “humanity’s relentless expansion,” says ‘The Economist.’ There are also the “poachers, who want their ivory,” the farmers protecting their crops, and the cattle herders who compete with elephants for forage land, who make it necessary, for “the focus of almost all elephant researchers,” to shift “from understanding the animals to preserving them.”

Existing understanding of elephant behavior has been critical to creating a bridge between humans and elephants. The use of satellite tracking has helped to ensure land decisions take into account the places that elephants “prefer to live.” Utilizing elephants’ natural dislike of bees has led to the development of bee-fenced farms which have been found to reduce elephant raids by as much as 80%.

However, “all the bee fences in the world … will not help if the problem of poaching remains unsolved,” The Economist points out. If China’s ivory ban set to come into effect by the end of 2017 “really does stick,” it could “prove a tipping-point in the fight to preserve elephants.”

Learn more about the essential role elephants play and why we must conserve them by reading "Conserve elephants. They hold a scientific mirror up to humans " by Samburu and originally published by The Economist on June 17, 2017.