At the turn of the 20th century, there were 10 million elephants in Africa. But decades of poaching and habitat loss have taken a heavy toll on these smart, highly social creatures. Today just 415,000 remain.
August 12 is World Elephant Day, celebrated to honour the iconic animals, to spread awareness about the critical threats elephants are facing, and to support solutions that will help ensure their survival.
To mark World Elephant Day today, the United Nations Environment Programme's (UNEP) Wild for Life campaign has rolled out an immersive online experience that allows you to walk with these gentle giants.
The virtual journey gives netizens a chance to explore Tanzania's Serengeti National Park, a famous home of the African elephant and several other rare animals, including lions and the eastern black rhinoceros.
The expedition is one of three treks that visitors can take across savannah ecosystems around the world. They can also delve into Northern Australia - home to kangaroos, wallabies and medicinal eucalyptus trees - and the Cerrado region of Brazil, a vast World biodiversity hotspot equivalent to the size of Germany, France, England, Italy, and Spain. While geographically far apart, the three unique ecosystems have a multitude of similarities and all face threats such as climate change and human activity.
The virtual journeys will showcase what makes savannahs unique, the species that live on the habitat, how humans benefit from them, and how they are being threatened.
The savannah journeys are part of a larger effort to raise awareness about ecosystems under threat. The UNEP-hosted Intergovernmental Science-Policy Platform on Biodiversity and Ecosystem Services found that 1 million animal and plant species are facing extinction, many because of habitat loss as a direct result of human activity. It says countries have a short window of time to reverse decades of environmental degradation and preserve what it calls the "web of life."
Along with the savannah journeys, the #WildforLife campaign allows users to explore marine ecosystems. By September, it will also release expeditions covering peatlands and forests. All the expeditions will highlight how biodiversity delivers vital goods and services to humanity, how ecosystems are in peril and what people can do to help.