Elephants are among the most intelligent of the creatures with whom we share the planet.  Across Africa they have inspired respect from the people that share the landscape with them, giving them a strong cultural significance. They are icons of the continent. They are also a keystone species, playing an important role in maintaining the biodiversity of the ecosystems in which they live.  If something happens to a keystone species, the entire ecosystem is hurt.  So…….. what would happen if the elephants were gone, if they were only “once upon a time”?

“Once upon an elephant, the sun beat down on the hot, cracked earth. Rivers ran dry. The animals of the savanna risked dying from thirst. But the elephants were there.”

Linda Stanek – Author
Shennen Bersani – Illustrator

From slowing wildfires to planting seeds, one animal is the true superhero that keeps the African savanna in balance. Elephants dig to find salt that other animal lick, their deep footprints collect water for small creatures to drink, and they eat young trees to keep the forest from overtaking the grasslands. In every season, the elephants are there to protect the savanna and its residents but what would happen if the elephants were only once upon a time ? Read along to discover the important role this keystone species plays in the savanna and explore what would happen if the elephants vanished.


Once Upon An Elephant


An important book…

“She is the Queen. The matriarch.
She leads her daughters and their daughters.
Inspiring text and striking illustrations follow the empowering journey of an elephant matriarch as she leads her family through the wilds of Africa. With facts about African elephants on every spread and a message that will encourage young girls to be the trailblazers of their generation, She Leads offers an incredible story and an unforgettable tribute to the strength of a true leader.”
National Geographic – ELEPHANTS


 Sunset on the Savannah – Art Project

Materials:  Watercolors or crayons for sunset, gray pastel, brown paper bag or construction paper for elephant, sharpie , pencil, scissors and glue.  Note – the texture of a brown paper bag mimics the worn look of elephant skin.

1.  Use watercolors or crayons to create your sunset landscape background. IF you have watercolors, your sunset will feel softer and dreamy.

ELEPHANT’S PROFILE – Use a pencil (NOT a pen!) 

1 – Begin by drawing a circle for the head.

 2 – Now draw two long, curving lines, coming down from the head for the trunk. Join them at the end.

3 – Draw a tusk coming from the bottom of your elephant’s head, curving across the trunk. Add the tip of the other tusk to the left of the trunk.

4 – Erase the overlapping lines inside the trunk and tusk. Draw the ear.

5 – Add lines for wrinkles on your elephant’s trunk, ear, knees and tummy. Give the ear a wiggly edge, add toenail shapes to the feet and give your elephant an eye and lower lip.

6 – Use your Sharpie to trace over your pencil lines.  A grownup may want to help with this step, since it requires a steady hand.

7 – Add gray pastel for shadows…..use your imagination.

8 – Cut out elephant profile and glue to sunset background.








Image – African Wildlife Foundation

The rapid decline of Africa’s keystone species over the last few decades is devastating not only to national economies that depend on wildlife tourism but also to ecosystems that provide resources to other species and vital services to growing human populations. As wildlife habitats become increasingly fragmented, securing Africa’s wild lands gives them a fighting chance to survive.”    African Wildlife Foundation

A Rich Tradition of Conservation – In 1961, African Wildlife Leadership Foundation, Inc., later African Wildlife Foundation (AWF), was established to focus on Africa’s unique conservation needs.