Threats and Predators of the Elephant
Predators in the Wild
Elephants have very few predators, and indeed are classed as having no natural enemies at all. They are possessing of great strength, enormous size and fierce tusks; when they charge they can destroy whole landscapes, and they can toss a human-sized object many hundreds of feet with a simple flick of their trunk. As a result, most of the animals who predate upon herbivores in their areas simply avoid them; you don’t want to mess with an elephant, after all. They’re big, they’re strong and they’re almost psychotically protective of their calves. They are sure to move and travel in ways that discourage potential predators, too; they keep close together in their herds, and they make absolutely certain that calves are at all times kept inside a group of adults who can protect them and deter intruders.
Sometimes, though, an elephant makes a mistake or a calf gives its family the slip or a particular predator is particularly hungry, having had several days worth of bad luck and poor hunting. Under these circumstances, there are a variety of things that will attack a baby elephant – a crocodile with whom they are sharing play space in a river, or some of the various species if big cat with whom they sometimes share a habitat. If one of these creatures does somehow manage to kill a calf, however, it then needs to get away with its prize as fast as it possibly can – as within seconds, usually, a herd of furious fully-grown elephants will thunder down upon it and attempt to exact their revenge.
Hyenas do not often actively attack elephants, but if they are made aware that one is close to death will hang around the herd waiting for them to go so that they can eat the carrion. This is a bounty of great wealth for any scavenger, but it takes a great deal of patience – after a member of the herd dies, its friends and relatives will stay by its corpse for some days. If anything attempts to interfere with the body before the end of this ‘mourning period’, it will be chased off by an annoyed, trumpeting elephant – something that no wild animal really wants to deal with!
The Predation of Homo sapiens
Of course, the cruellest and fiercest predators ever known are human beings. We are a species that kill not simply to survive, to eat dinner that day and move on – we kill for spurious reasons, for decoration or untested remedies or simply for profit. We kill more than we need, more frequently than is reasonable, and unlike every single other predator in existence we kill in unsustainable volumes that threaten to obliterate our prey rather than allowing them to reproduce, multiply and continue to exist.
Back in the 80s, the elephant population was halved by our careless slaughter – meaning that authorities now describe elephants as being ‘vulnerable’, and facing potentially imminent extinction as a direct result of the actions of humans and nothing more. The ivory trade, despite being mostly illegal in almost all of the world, is the number one reason that the elephant population continues to dwindle – though they are also killed for their leather and for various body parts used in some folk medicines. We are predating upon their land, too, moving ever outwards into places where elephants have lived for millennia. When we decide that we want to seize upon a piece of land we simply drive the existing inhabitants away, often bloodily and violently, leaving them with nowhere to go to find the plant matter and fresh water that is all they need to live.
Occasionally, a herd of elephants will fight back. They are remarkably intelligent creatures – they know how it is that their matriarch died suddenly, and who prevented them from observing their usual mourning rituals by stealing her corpse.
Protection of the Elephant
Thankfully, it’s not all doom and gloom. Elephant conservation is a hot topic and something that is much practised in many parts of the world – elephants enjoy human company when the humans in question are kind to them and don’t attempt to slaughter their babies, and as a result they’re extremely easy to keep in captivity. They also breed well in these conditions, and a combination of this and ever-stricter hunting regulations are finally being used to help reverse some of the damage we have done and restore some of these astonishing creatures to their own original habitats.