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Two elephants cool off at Skopje Zoo, North Macedonia Two elephants cool off at Skopje Zoo, North Macedonia  (ANSA)

World Elephant Day: extinction versus the environment

On August 12 the world celebrated a day dedicated to elephants. An opportunity to reflect on how the risk of their extinction affects climate change and global warming.

By Vatican News

The street value of ivory is now higher than gold.

Yet, the ivory trade is just one of the reasons why around 30,000 elephants are killed every year in Africa alone. Elephants are poached for their tusks, hides, meat and body parts which are used in traditional medicines, among other things.

The elephant effect on ecology

Another cause for concern is the impact fewer elephants are having on climate change.

Elephants graze bushes and plants, with a preference for fast-growing ones, which they trample underfoot. This increases the soil available to other, slower growing plants. Slow-growing trees have the densest amount of lignin in their bark. Lignin is an organic polymer composed of mostly carbon-based molecules.

Over thousands of years, elephants have directly contributed to the growth of age-old trees in African forests. These, in turn, have an elevated capacity to accumulate carbon by removing greenhouse gas emissions and counteracting the rise in temperatures.

Pope Francis on the effects of extinction

In his Encyclical, “Laudato si'”, Pope Francis directly addresses the dangers involved when animals and plants are threatened with extinction.

“It is not enough to think of different species merely as potential ‘resources’ to be exploited”, he writes. “Each year sees the disappearance of thousands of plant and animal species which we will never know, which our children will never see, because they have been lost forever. The great majority become extinct for reasons related to human activity”.

“We can be silent witnesses to terrible injustices”, concludes the Pope, “if we think we can obtain significant benefits by making the rest of humanity, present and future, pay the extremely high costs of environmental deterioration”.

13 August 2019, 13:00