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    This video takes an up-close look at African elephants in their natural environment. Viewers will gain insight into the structure of elephant matriarchies—communities made up of related females—and learn about how members communicate to coordinate movement, care for one another, and mourn the deaths of family members. 

    The video also provides a brief overview of the physical characteristics that make African elephants so unique—including their tusks. The illegal poaching of elephants for their tusks and the resulting black-market trade in elephant ivory has pushed the elephant population to the lowest levels ever recorded.

    Produced to accompany the National Geographic film Battle for the Elephants, which explores the history of and economics behind the brutal slaughter of African elephants for their tusks, this short video takes us into the world of the African elephant—a world where survival is increasingly at risk.

    1. Soila Sayialel, the naturalist in the video, describes elephants' outstanding memory. What role do students think elephants' memories may play in their survival?


      Elephants’ good memories help the entire community find sources of food and water—places they have been before at different times of the year. This is especially important in times of drought, and is a key reason for protecting the matriarch, who has lived many years and experienced cycles of drought and plenty.

    2. In what ways do students think elephant communities are similar to and different from human families?

      Answers will vary! Elephant communities are similar to human families that are close-knit and formed around a strong social structure. Elephant communities are families made up of related females, and some human families, like elephant families, are headed by females. One difference may be that elephant family structures don’t vary as much as human families. Human families can take many forms, and can be made up of related and unrelated individuals—male and female.

    3. How do students think poaching—the illegal harvesting of elephant tusks—affects the remaining elephants in a family? How do they think poaching might impact the ultimate survival of the community?


      Elephants feel real grief at the death of a family member and go through mourning similar to what humans may experience. The elephant community also has a close-knit social structure, and the loss of part of that social structure has a negative impact on the whole community. Elephants may suffer negative physical impacts that could weaken their health and reduce their chances of survival.

  • Term Part of Speech Definition Encyclopedic Entry
    conservation Noun

    management of a natural resource to prevent exploitation, destruction, or neglect.

    Encyclopedic Entry: conservation
    coordinate Verb

    to work together or organize for a specific goal.

    ivory Noun

    hard, white substance that forms the teeth or tusks of some animals.

    luxury Noun

    expensive item.

    matriarchy Noun

    family, society, or community led by women.

    mourn Verb

    to express sadness over a person's death.

    poach Verb

    to hunt, trap, or fish illegally.

    savanna Noun

    type of tropical grassland with scattered trees.

    survive Verb

    to live.

    tusk Noun

    very long tooth found in animals like elephants and walruses.