It is not only the majesty of the elephant that is so captivating – although that is, of course, part of its enduring appeal. It is also the animal’s grandeur of character, its stately intelligence, its apparent capacity for that most universal of emotions – grief – that touches us. From Ganesha the Hindu god of (among other things) wisdom, to Rudyard Kipling’s calf of “insatiable curiosity”, to the Horton who hears a Who, Earth’s largest land mammal has always held a special place in the human imagination and in the human heart.
Yet this most magnificent of species is under such threat that experts fear it may soon become extinct in some parts of Africa. At the beginning of the 20th century, there were perhaps 10 million elephants across the continent. Now, according to the latest figures from the International Union for the Conservation of Nature, there are barely half a million. Why? Because, as the world population grows – and grows richer – the elephant is being hunted down and squeezed out.
Not only are changes in the climate and the steady spread of human activity encroaching on the savannahs and forests where they make their homes. Demand for ivory from elephant tusks is also soaring. Legally, only the smallest amounts of – naturally accumulated – ivory can be traded, and only in some countries. But poaching and black market sales are increasing at an appalling rate. Some 36,000 elephants were killed last year, and the number keeps on rising. Nor is it only the elephants that are suffering. Rangers are losing their lives to poachers and the money made from the trade is helping to fund everything from terrorism to war.
Such is the background against which Space for Giants was chosen for The Independent’s 2013 Christmas Appeal. The charity works on the Laikipia plateau of northern Kenya to create a reserve where elephants can roam free from poachers and farmers both. Please do give generously. Without help, there will come a day when we will follow Kipling to the great grey-green, greasy Limpopo River, all set about with fever-trees, and – to our enduring shame – not a single Elephant’s Child will be there.