When a matriarch is killed by poaching, the older daughters of the herd step up to fill her place. Although they have big shoes to fill, they do so swiftly, something beautifully and naturally wired within them.
Alloparenting within a herd is instinctive for elephants. Sometimes cousins will lend a hand- or trunk- to take care of a little one, accompanying them into the bushes to have an explore, or ensuring they don’t stray while the herd moves together. Perhaps more importantly, they will guide them to ancient migratory routes, or to sources of water during times of drought, or how to handle predators.
However when the mother is killed, and there are no older elephants to follow, and worse, no herd to follow, the orphan is left alone. The lucky ones may be found and picked up by organisations such as Save The Elephants or the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust, but the unlucky ones, of which there are many, are left alone to die.
The price that is paid for ivory extends far beyond that of the matriarch that is killed- the orphan is at high risk of premature death and there are lasting effects on the entire herd and their ability to survive.
With only 470,000 elephants left in Africa and 100,000 killed in 3 years, their expected time of extinction is a couple of decades. We just cannot afford to lose any more.