Zoos Are Folding 35,000 Origami Elephants to Raise Poaching Awareness

Wildlife Conservation Society
Wildlife Conservation Society / Wildlife Conservation Society

An average of 96 African elephants are killed every day as part of the illegal ivory trade, according to the Wildlife Conservation Society, the organization that runs all of New York City’s zoos and aquariums. This year, in honor of today’s World Elephant Day, the WCS’s anti-poaching campaign 96 Elephants is looking to raise awareness in a different way: with folded paper.

Next month, 96 Elephants is trying to beat the Guinness World Record for the largest display of origami elephants, collecting folded paper elephants from origami-focused nonprofits and some 40 participating zoos around the country. The goal is to eventually display 35,000, the approximate number of African elephants killed each year for their tusks. The current record—set by the UK's ZSL Whipsnade Zoo in 2014—is 33,764 paper elephants.

Elephant origami at the Bronx Zoo. Image credit: Julie Larsen Maher

Earlier this summer, the U.S. banned almost all ivory sales in an effort to protect dwindling elephant populations. The U.S. currently considers African elephants "threatened" rather than "endangered," but populations are still in decline. Though there has been a slight decrease in poaching incidents over the past few years, the international organization that monitors elephant poaching, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora, said in a report earlier this year that poaching levels “remain unacceptably high.”

Don't worry—the elephant origami stunt is not a marathon. The WCS will be collecting paper art over the course of a month. You can volunteer your paper folding skills, following one of four set patterns of varying difficulties, and mail in your work anytime before September 16. However, the organization notes that “your origami elephant MUST resemble an elephant,” so a tiny bit of skill is required.

The origami elephants will be on display at the Bronx Zoo on September 22, which is National Elephant Appreciation Day—because one day is not enough for the majesty of elephants

Know of something you think we should cover? Email us at tips@mentalfloss.com.