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Elephants in the Wild

Elephants in zoos typically live long, healthy lives, while current statistics show elephants in the wild die at a rate of 96 per day. The number one cause of death is poaching -- the illegal hunting of wild animals. If poaching were to end today it would still take 100 years for the African elephant population to recover.

Unfortunately the opposite is happening; poaching is growing in scale and sophistication. Poachers supply elephant tusks to the ivory trade, a $1 multi-million dollar illegal industry. The ivory is then sold as trinkets or carvings in markets around the world.

Another threat to the wild elephant population is conflict with villages. Elephants are herbivores feasting on grasses, tree foliage, twigs, roots, fruit and bark. An adult can eat between 200 and 600 pounds of food a day. Unfortunately, with the growing human population, elephants have less space to search for food, which means they resort to raiding farmers’ crops. As a result, farmers retaliate and kill the elephants.

Other threats include illegal logging and encroachment of the extractive industry. Illegal logging is a multi-million dollar industry that destroys 80 percent of the world’s plants and trees. Encroachment of the extractive industry is the removal of metals, minerals and aggregates from the earth. Both destroy elephant habitats.

Today, there are an estimated 450,000 to 700,000 African elephants left in the wild. Because of these dwindling wild populations, in suburban and urban communities, AZA-accredited zoos are some of the only places for children to connect with wildlife firsthand. Quite likely, a zoo is the only place they will ever see an elephant. Elephants in zoo settings serve as living ambassadors for their wildlife counterparts. People can read about elephants facing endangerment, but often times a visual representative serves to motivate people to act and seek more knowledge and information.

As an AZA-accredited facility, the Milwaukee County Zoo has a strong elephant care program that meets the high standards of accreditation and includes nutrition, exercise and enrichment. By visiting AZA-accredited zoos and aquariums, visitors are helping contribute to the fight against poaching and saving the elephants’ decreasing numbers. The Milwaukee County Zoo contributes financially and through cooperative research to help wild elephants; and believes it’s a privilege to care for them here, and to work to save them in nature.

Visitors can get up-close and personal with the Milwaukee County Zoo’s African elephant representatives, Ruth and Brittany, in May 2019, through Adventure Africa.