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African elephants graze in a national park in the Democratic Republic of the CongoReuters

Today marks World Elephant Day, an international event held annually on 12 August, dedicated to the preservation and protection of the world's largest terrestrial animal.

Conceived in 2011 by Canadian filmmakers Patricia Sims and Michael Clark, of Canazwest Pictures, and Sivaporn Dardarananda, the secretary-general of the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation, the day was officially launched in 2012.

It is now supported by over 65 wildlife organisations across the world, to raise awareness of the urgent plight of African and Asian elephants and to spread knowledge about the conservation of the creatures.

Facts about Elephants

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Baby elephant "Nhi Linh" eats vegetables on her first birthday at the Rotterdam Blijdorp ZooGetty

Female elephants live in a herd of around 10 individuals led by the most experienced matriarch, whereas the males are normally solitary and move from herd to herd. The females in each herd help each other find food and care for calves.

Elephants, humans and Neanderthals are the only animals known to have death rituals. If an elephant becomes unwell, members of the herd will bring it food and help to support it as it stands. If it dies, elephants often dig a shallow grave and cover the body with soil or branches, and can show signs of depression.

A typical elephant brain weighs 5kg and has more complex folds that other animals, with the exception of whales, which is thought to be a factor in their intellect. They have a more developed hippocampus, a brain region responsible for emotion and spatial awareness, showing grief, cooperation, self-awareness and humour.

The trunk of an elephant is particularly dexterous and in captivity can even be used to open locks.

Elephants can be distinguished by the number of toes on their feet. The African forest elephant and the Asian elephant both have five toenails on the front feet and four on the back. The larger African bush elephant has four or five on the front and three on the back.

Threats to Survival

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Park ranger Stephen Midzi patrols a section of Kruger National Park, in northern South Africa, scouting for possible poachersAFP

Both African and Asian elephants face extinction, with African elephants classified as "vulnerable" and Asian elephants "endangered" on the International Union for Conservation of Nature's Red List.

The current population estimates are about 400,000 for African elephants and 40,000 for Asian elephants, although some organisations say these numbers are, in reality, too high.

The demand for ivory on black markets, of which China's is one of the largest, is a predominant reason for the illegal poaching. In Kenya, poaching has spiked sevenfold between 2007 and 2010, and since 2012, over 400 elephants have been killed. According to figures obtained by the Guardian, poachers have slaughtered 51 of the animals between January and the end of April this year.

Conflict with humans is also a significant concern, as human populations increase and forest-cover decreases, forcing elephants into close proximity with human settlements.

Habitat loss, due to deforestation, mining and agricultural activities, has also led to the depletion of elephant populations. The fragmentation of their habitats makes breeding difficult and allows poachers to more easily find the animals and set traps.