Elephants are under threat with the African savanna elephant classified as endangered and the forest elephant as critically endangered. However, a living elephant in its natural habitat has the potential to generate well over US$1.5 million through tourism in its lifetime, which is a staggering 76 times more than the average ivory value of its tusks ($21,000). This value more than doubles if we add ecological value estimations: a single African forest elephant is worth more than US$1.75million in carbon offsets. From a biodiversity and ecosystem viewpoint, elephants serve as an umbrella species, helping to conserve large areas of landscape, ensuring the survival and evolution of numerous other species. As megaherbivores and keystone species, elephants play a crucial role in maintaining ecological processes and providing resources to other species. As example, elephants can create water wells in dry riverbeds, providing critical water sources to other species when it is most needed.
Elephants migrating between protected areas aid in distribution and strengthening of genetic diversity and repopulating sink habitats devoid of elephants or with low population densities and in the process, they also ensure that the genes for large tusks are perpetuated across subpopulations. By flagging where we need to declare habitat corridors, elephants can play a vital role in long-distance seed- and nutrient distribution, promoting both tree inhibition and regeneration over vast landscapes in a dynamic cycle. If we allow elephants as constant gardeners to create a network of interlinked natural landscapes, they will in the process increase access to new feeding grounds and other resources (i.e. water, mineral supplements and micro-habitats) for numerous other wildlife.
The existence of elephants is intertwined with the survival of all species reliant on these ecosystems. If we also take into account immaterial and moral values, like socio-cultural or spiritual benefits of living elephants, it becomes obvious that we need to ensure the survival of this flagship species.