"The elephant is loved, revered, and respected by people and cultures around the world, yet we balance on the brink of seeing the last of this magnificent creature," says the official website for the day, which was created by Canadian conservationist Patricia Sims and the Elephant Reintroduction Foundation of Thailand.
More than a hundred organizations around the world celebrate World Elephant Day with events and media campaigns, which have involved millions of people.
Elephants and their ancestors once roamed much of the Earth, but wild populations are now confined to decreasing swaths of land in Africa and Asia. Hunted mercilessly for their prized ivory tusks, they are under threat in most of their range from poaching, habitat loss, and human encroachment and are listed as threatened by the IUCN. (Read: Who Buys Ivory? You'd Be Surprised.)
"We admire elephants in part because they demonstrate what we consider the finest human traits: empathy, self-awareness, and social intelligence," Vanity Fair editor Graydon Carter has said. "But the way we treat them puts on display the very worst of human behavior.”