Elephants are an iconic species who play a vital role in the ecosystem than most people realise. However, the population of these animals has constantly been on the decline and this is attributed to the illegal ivory trade fueled by the ever-growing demand for ivory.
Around 90% of African elephants have been wiped out in the past century – mainly due to the ivory trade.WWF
Poaching for ivory isn’t the only threat to elephants, though. Elephants also face the risk of habitat loss and degradation. Humans are destroying the natural habitats of elephants, paving the way for farming, settlements, and infrastructure.
Around 20,000 African elephants are being killed every year for their ivory – that’s around 55 every dayWWF
The good news is that many countries are now moving towards implementing laws and conservation campaigns to protect these animals. And as strong advocates for stopping the ivory trade, we’ve prepared this post to help people understand the unique role of elephants in their natural habitat.
Help seed the forest
Elephants are mega gardeners of the forest, as they help with dispersing seeds for a wide range of fruits. By their very nature, elephants consume large amounts of fruits. After digestion, they drop the seeds out in large dungs where they have more chances of sprouting and growing. What’s more, the animals disperse seeds over long distances, typically between 40 and 57 kilometres.
A decline of the elephant population can lead to a catastrophic loss of some tree species, which are a fundamental part of the ecosystem. The little seed-spreading act goes a long way in keeping the population of forest plants healthy and providing new habitats for other animals.
Elephants dig waterholes
When the hot season kicks in and riverbeds dry up, the lives of many animals are usually threatened. However, there’s something unique about elephants that makes it possible for them to survive the harsh living conditions brought about by the drought. They are naturally equipped to smell water close to the ground surface and then dig waterholes, which can also be used by other animals.
Elephants use their powerful trunks, feet, and tusks to dig. Well, the trunk alone consists of about 100,000 different muscle fascicles. With these great assets, they can enlarge waterholes to bathe and wallow comfortably. This creates a bigger water source that can be used by many animals.
Create new pathways in the forest
Elephants eat a huge amount of food every day, and this usually falls between 5 to 10 per cent of their body mass. They spend most of their time looking for food and eating.
When navigating the densely wooded vegetation trying to fill their stomachs, the elephants break stems, branches, uproot or pull plants and trees aside. While many people might think this is destructive, it indirectly helps create natural clearings and pathways for smaller animals.
What’s more, it keeps the plains open to allow for more natural sunlight to reach the forest floor. This is essential for the new lower-lying plants to thrive. It simply reduces competition for young plants.
Elephants provide food for other species
As mentioned, the eating manners of elephants involve breaking branches. Low-level eaters in the ecosystem can also benefit from fruits and leaves on the branches or trees brought down by the elephants.
That’s not the only contribution in regards to food. Dung is also an essential source of food for other species, such as the ground hornbills, vervet monkeys, and baboons. Please keep in mind elephants digest about 50 per cent of what they eat, so these other species dig through the dung to extract the tasty morsels of fruits or seeds that have not been digested.
Unsurprisingly, the elephant dung plays a significant role in the lives of dung beetles, as it stores food for their larvae. This also becomes a source of food for the banded mongooses and honey badgers.
Elephants offer enormous economic value
Protecting elephants makes economic sense because a single elephant contributes tens of thousands of dollars when it comes to wildlife tourism. According to a University of Vermont study, the current poaching problem costs African countries a whopping $25 million worth of tourism revenue annually.
Considering the fact that elephants can live up to 70 years, advocating for stronger conservation efforts to protect the elephant population is a critical move.
As you can clearly see, elephants are worth saving. They are regarded as a keystone species within the ecosystem for a reason. By protecting them, we also prevent the loss of other species and natural habitats. Without them, biodiversity and landscapes would look completely different.
What can I do to help?
Firstly, you’re hopefully not purchasing any ivory products. However, this alone isn’t enough. Elephant and wildlife conservation charities need our support to actively stop the ivory trade.
Jolly Elephant is a carbon-negative and sustainable clothing brand, donating 10% of our profits to support the work of these charities. You can shop our products and directly support our efforts in stopping the ivory trade, educating locals and restoring natural habitats occupied by elephants and endangered species.