At the turn of the 20th century, some 10 million wild elephants roamed Africa. That only around 400,000 remain — another one is killed about every 15 minutes — tells you all you need to know about the dire situation these iconic creatures face. African elephants could be all but wiped out within our lifetime, thanks to poachers who supply surging global demand for illicit ivory that in turn helps fund organized crime and terrorist networks.
Whether humanity can turn the tide against elephant poaching remains to be seen. But one thing is certain: These animals are worth more alive than dead. A recent study estimated the tourism value of an elephant at US$ 1.6 million throughout its lifetime. On World Elephant Day, here’s a look at how elephants are a crucial element not just of ecosystems but of economies.