Elephants and Us: Considering Extinction

Image courtesy of The Smithsonian Museum

By Angela Hickey

Located in the National Museum of American History, Elephants and Us: Considering Extinction, is a peek into the relationship between America and elephants as it has evolved over the centuries, and what society must do in order to enforce wildlife protection. The exhibit highlights the beauty of the African elephant, one of the world’s largest land animals, which is now experiencing low population rates due to illegal killing and trade practices.

With animal extinction rates across the globe rising, awareness for the illegal hunting of wildlife is at an all-time high. With many animal species falling onto the endangered species list, and even becoming extinct altogether, more and more people have begun fighting for animal rights.

Historically, the hunting of elephants was a rather common practice, mostly due to the high demand for the ivory found in their tusks. According to The Rainforest Alliance, there were approximately 3 to 5 million elephants roaming the wild between 1930 and 1940. Now the number has greatly decreased to only about 40,000-50,000 left according to the World Wildlife Federation

Reasons for the rapid decline of the elephant species is not solely due to illegal hunting for ivory, but also rapid habitat loss in Africa and Asia. As elephant numbers decrease, habitat loss increases due to the role elephants play in protecting not only wildlife but the earth itself. 

“Studies have shown that elephants help protect forest health in central Africa by distributing the seeds of trees”, according to Conservation International, “Because they roam over such great distances, elephants play a key role in spreading tree seedlings far and wide,” 

The introduction of this exhibit comes in light of the 30th Anniversary of the African Elephant Conservation Act, which was signed in 1988 in order to perpetuate healthy populations of African elephants. The exhibit features ancient elephant fossils as well as the opening and signature pages from the 1988 African Elephant Conservation Act on loan from the National Archives and Records Administration.

Elephants are very hard workers and are essential in maintaining our current ecosystems and fighting many of the natural issues plaguing the planet. With the launching of this exhibit, the public  will be able to not only raise awareness for this beautiful creature, but will also be able to protect the earth for generations to come.Elephants and Us: Considering Extinction was opened at The National Museum of American History on November 1, 2019 and will be featured at the Museum until September 30, 2020. The museum is open from 10:00 AM to 5:30 PM., and the exhibit is available for viewing on the east side of the 2nd floor of the Albert H. Small Documents Gallery.

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