Many an elephant has been spotted ambling through the mopane woods of the Kruger National Park, but did you know that other planets have ellies too? Scientists have spotted what is the strange image of an elephant on Mars. The image was captured by the HiRISE camera of NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter earlier this month. The rounded forehead, wrinkled trunk and even angular hint of an ear-flap all go together to make up the uncanny profile of an elephant (complete with a realistically positioned eye).
NASA has explained that the elephant has actually been sculpted on the surface of the planet, in a plain called Elysium Planitia, from rivers of lava. Why do we see an elephant? This can be attributed to a phenomenon called “Pareidolia”. Pareidolia is a response of the brain wherein it attempts to look for the familiar in the unfamiliar – like seeing the face of Elvis in a slice of toast.
But maybe the giant image of an elephant, looking down on us with that one disappointed eye, is just the thing we need to remind us of how precious the elephants on earth are. Far from being any illusion, 2011 was one of the worst recorded years for the world’s elephant population, with a boom in poaching fuelled by the rapidly growing economy of the Far East. The demand for ivory is escalating and Africa’s elephants are in real danger.
Around 278 elephants were killed in Kenya, where authorities are attempting to discourage poachers through electronically tagging animals in Tsavo National Park. The debate on how to resolve the poaching crisis rages on amongst those who are pro/anti-legalization of the trade. Perhaps what is really needed is a call to the Chinese government to extend its legendary system of justice to anyone involved in the trade of animal horns.
With more than 2,500 animals confirmed killed and thousands of kilograms of tusks seized last year, and following the news that their endangered friends, the rhinos, may be extinct by 2015, one thing is absolutely certain: if we don’t get some control of the situation soon, the Mars elephant may be the only one the future generations of earth will ever see.