Scientists from the Wildlife Conservation Society caught a rare glimpse of an elephant appearing to blow smoke when they checked their camera traps in Nagaharole National Park in India. The elephant was blowing ashes off of wood charcoal, a snack that acts as a laxative and helps get rid of unwanted toxins.

Populations of wild elephants across Africa and Asia are dwindling at alarming rates. Due to fragmentation, isolation, habitat loss, and illegal killing, Asian elephants currently exist in a mere 10 percent of their historical range.

Elephants play an important role in the ecosystem, dispersing seeds that help maintain large tree species and spreading nutrients that keep soil rich. These gentle giants, who are highly intelligent and capable of feeling strong emotions, are critical to biodiversity.

Humans are the biggest threat to elephants, senselessly slaughtering them at alarming rates for their ivory, which holds an extremely profitable value. Several countries have taken steps in recent years toward ending the ivory trade. In 2016, the Obama administration imposed a near-total ban on selling ivory in the United States. China and Hong Kong imposed bans on domestic ivory sales in 2017. This month, Britain will enact one of the world’s strictest bans on ivory trading.

Despite this progress toward change, more must be done to protect elephants. In total, 182 countries have agreed that the trade needs to be banned, rather than regulated; however, the agreement is not legally binding. The European Union plays a big role in the consumerism of ivory, recently prompting over thirty African countries to call upon the EU to enact legislation against the trade.

When it comes to preserving elephant populations, time is of the essence. It’s imperative to do everything possible to protect these beautiful creatures.

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