Elephants and Us: Considering Extinction

This website is based on an exhibition that was on view at the National Museum of American History from November 2019 to November 2020.

Thirty years ago the United States took a leadership role in international wildlife protection by passing the African Elephant Conservation Act. Elephants in the wild were threatened, and Americans shared responsibility for their decline by consuming vast quantities of ivory.

Today, despite decades of legislative and conservation efforts, elephants still face extinction. As we contemplate what it would mean to lose Earth’s largest land mammal, consumers the world over nevertheless still want ivory goods. Such is our enduring dilemma—both wanting to conserve nature and consume it.

Elephants and the Smithsonian: Considering Culture and Conservation

Across the Smithsonian today, we acquire and maintain collections that help us better understand elephants as well as the significance of ivory across human history. We are committed to the conservation of Earth’s biodiversity and to preserving global cultural heritage.

Elephants in Masai Mara, Kenya, 1974. Photograph by Ken Regan. [image]

Courtesy of Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute [image]