An elephant never forgets – and you never forget an elephant

In AFRICA, TRAVEL TIPS etc. by Janice and George26 Comments

They plod slowly across yellow grasslands to the Zambezi River – a jumble of grey trunks and broad flapping ears and magnificent curved tusks. Babies after mothers. Heads down. Their daily ritual of returning to the life-saving river to drink and bathe, as the afternoon sun scorches the African bush.

Our plane rises above, and they get smaller, smaller, smaller. Soon, they’re but an indistinguishable blur on the landscape. An aching memory only.

It’s been several months now since we returned from our trip to Africa and our safari in Zambia’s Lower Zambezi National Park.

But we can’t stop thinking about the elephants

an elephant never forgets

An elephant never forgets – photo Derek Keats, Flickr

Across the African continent, elephants are being slaughtered in record numbers for their ivory tusks. It’s estimated that 32,000 elephants were killed last year. According to World Elephant Day, more elephants are still being killed for ivory than are being born in Africa.

Add to that the loss of their habitat due to people wanting land for houses and farms, and you have a terrible crisis.

Conservationists fear elephants could soon become extinct

Elephants could become extinct within our lifetime, says National Geographic (see this short YouTube video).

Others say within just 12 years.

an elephant never forgets

photo Mara 1, Flickr

Many African safari camps do their utmost to help conservation efforts.

The Cumings family, for example, who own and operate Chiawa Camp in the Lower Zambezi National Park (where we stayed), helped establish Conservation Lower Zambezi. This organization supports the Zambian Wildlife Authorities’ anti-poaching efforts in the park. (Zambia’s elephant population plummeted from 35,000 in the 1970s to only 6,000 in the 1990s.)

We’ll never forget

It would be an unthinkable tragedy if the elephants were to disappear. And become just aching memories…

In the words of actor Bill Murray at the end of Larger than Life:

“You know … they say an elephant never forgets. What they don’t tell you is, you never forget an elephant.”

an elephant never forgets - photo Pierre Mouton

A giant footprint… which could soon become extinct – photo Pierre Mouton

Update April 5, 2016

We’ve updated this post to include the 2015 YouTube video by National Geographic mentioned above and the 2016 statistic by World Elephant Day.

How do you feel about the impending loss of elephants from our planet?

Janice and George Signature


  1. I certainly agree with Bill Murray: ““You know … they say an elephant never forgets. What they don’t tell you is, you never forget an elephant.”

    Having had the opportunity to be around elephants in Chiang Mai, I have an even greater appreciation for these majestic creatures.

  2. So sad. I can’t wait to go to Africa next year. I’m planning a mountain bike trip in Ethiopia but also want to go on a Safari with a company that supports conservation. Do you have any tips / links / recommendations?

    1. Author

      Biking Ethiopia followed by a game-viewing safari sounds like a terrific trip! Chiawa Camp in Zambia works with Conservation Lower Zambezi. Wilderness Safaris, Ker & Downey and andBeyond all have good reps for supporting conservation efforts. We look forward to reading about your trip!

  3. Elephants are one of my favourite animals, so big but they can look so vulnerable too. It would be tragic if they were wiped out, people can be so cruel and selfish.

  4. Botswana is famous for its wilderness and wildlife areas, but every year thousands of elephants are killed only for their ivory tusks. It’s very brutal. Elephants will disappear if the ivory trade can’t be controlled.

    Very tragic story.

  5. What amazing photos of truly amazing animals.South Africa is on our wish list of destinations – just haven’t been able to fit it into the budget, though. The flights are crazy expensive for a family of 4.

  6. As I finish my book about elephants, I try to interpret the lives of elephants so that readers will understand how amazing elephants are as a species. An intelligence as fine as any human intelligence sharing this planet. You’ve written a wonderful post about them. I’m sharing and subscribing. Here’s to more sand in your suitcases!

  7. I can’t imagine a world without these gentle creatures. Having grown up in Botswana, we had many encounters on our camping trips. The best memories of my life. I can even say we saw a pair of rhino in the wild back then. That was 30 years ago and look where we are now. Someone is allowing this slaughter to happen by not taking the appropriate action. Greed is the problem here. When ‘someone ‘ says that it is only a fool who owns a dog and walks it on a lead; well all I can say is ” ignorant”, if you understand my meaning.

    1. Author

      What a childhood you must have had in Botswana! And to see wild rhino! (Most of the remaining rhinos are probably in fenced parks now for their protection, and yet they still get caught by poachers.) It’s unfortunately a cultural desire, largely by the Chinese, for ivory tusks. (We’ve been told that some Chinese believe the tusks regrow like teeth, so they aren’t aware that elephants are being killed when their tusks are removed.) Education is one way to combat the problem – and a willingness on behalf of governments to back anti-poaching efforts.

  8. I hadn’t appreciated that elephants were being killed in the numbers you suggest. What a tragedy!! I had an up close and personal elephant experience in Botswana which still sends shivers down my spine – in a good way – when I think about it.

  9. What a fantastic post, Janice and George. I’ve actually read a lot on the slaughter and poaching of elephants and other great beings that roam Africa (i.e. the rhino). I find it horrifying and horribly sad beyond belief. I’m a huge animal lover and it infuriates me that those committing these horrific acts have no concept of right or wrong for animals’ right to live freely. An elephant’s eyes are are always so soft and deep in my thought. And the babies are beyond priceless. Thank you so much for sharing! :)

    1. Author

      It is tragic. The next generation will miss out on so much if this generation doesn’t find ways to co-exist with other creatures on this earth. Unfortunately, the problem is quite complex (at least in so far as the land-for-human-habitat vs land-for-animals issue). The poaching issue is clearer. Thanks for taking the time to comment…

  10. So impressive are these giants and their social structure which we could learn from but first need to teach the importance of their existence over the need for their ivory. I will never forget the elephants seen in South Africa and return in January to watch them again. Nice post.

    1. Author

      Elephants form strong bonds with each other (like us). They live in such close-knit herds that, when an elephant dies, the rest mourn their death. It’s heartbreaking to think how much grief they must suffer with so much of their kind being killed. On a happier note – lucky girl to be seeing wild elephants again in January!

  11. You are so right (and Bill Murray) – you never do forget an elephant.

    It is scary to think we could let something like this happen – more effort has to be put into prosecuting poachers period.

  12. Totally agree! We did an amazing elephant interaction in Botswana that was absolutely one of the highlights of my life! It makes me so sad that they could become extinct. The world would be less special without these magnificent creatures.

    1. Author

      When you see elephants in the wild in their natural habitat, you realize their full magnificence… and what a loss it is for the world for their numbers to be decreasing so rapidly.

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