The importance of forest elephants to the ecosystems where they live is as large as the animals themselves. As the gentle giants stomp through their forest homes, they are doing far more than just walking — they are also dispersing large seeds and spreading nutrients, an act which allows trees to spread their roots and grow as tall as possible. In turn, the animals shape the forest canopy in a unique and vital way.
So what if forest elephants were no longer around to perform these important jobs? Duke University assistant professor of tropical ecology John Poulsen and his colleagues recently set out to answer this question.
After studying Afrotropical flora and fauna and the ways in which elephants shape their growth, the group of scientific experts wrote about the environmentally destructive implications of forest elephant loss in the journal Conservation Biology. According to their findings, if these animals were to disappear, it would likely lead to major changes in the ecological processes at work in the forest ecosystems they inhabit.
Specifically, species composition, as well as the size and abundance of large trees, would change dramatically in this scenario. In turn, the ability of these ecosystems to store carbon dioxide would be greatly compromised, thus advancing global warming and its effects on our planet and us humans.
If we wish to prevent these potential far-reaching negative impacts, the authors of the paper emphasized that we must take greater measures to protect forest elephants in addition to their savanna-dwelling counterparts. After all, both of these species have been nearing ever closer to extinction in recent years due to the perpetuation of poaching, the ivory trade, and elephant tourism.
For the illegal ivory trade alone, it is estimated that between 35,000 and 50,000 African elephants are poached each year. Then, there are the countless elephants that are taken out of their homes in the wild and exploited for human entertainment at tourist attractions like zoos and fairs.
Clearly, the stakes are very high, and urgent action needs to be taken to preserve these majestic animals before it’s too late. With the Illegal Wildlife Trade Conference coming up later this month, now is the perfect time to raise your voice and urge world leaders to make protecting both forest and savanna elephants a top priority.
If you’d like to help get this message across, please add your name to this Care2 petition calling for an end to the ivory trade. And don’t forget to spread the word about the importance of elephant conservation with your friends and family! After all, this issue affects all of us, so everyone needs to know about it!
Image Source: Pixabay