Elephants play a key role in creating forests which store more atmospheric carbon and maintaining the biodiversity of forests in Africa
For geographic and political reasons, there is virtually no ecotourism in the central African rainforests. When people think of African elephants, they think about elephants that roam the savannas.
In fact, around 1.1 million elephants once lived in the central African rainforests. Their population has come down to less than one-tenth by deforestation and poaching. Only dedicated local conservationists and the biologists who study these animals today advocate for African forest elephants. In other words, the love for elephants alone is not enough to stop the killing.
Elephants fight climate change
A recent study says that elephants fight climate change by contributing significantly to natural carbon capture. They play a key role in creating forests which store more atmospheric carbon and maintaining the biodiversity of forests in Africa.
As African forest elephants make their way through the rainforests and forage for food, they thin out young trees that are competing for space, water, and light – by stepping on some and consuming others. The trees that are left behind unbroken and unconsumed, however, have a huge advantage over other trees in the forest.
They have much better access to water and light, thanks to the elephants’ thinning of the surrounding vegetation, which means that they grow taller and larger than other trees in the rainforest. Wherever forest elephants roam, therefore, they promote the growth of larger, taller high carbon density trees.
Gardeners of the forest
Elephants are the gardeners of the forest. They plant the forest with high carbon density trees and they get rid of the ‘weeds,’ which are the low carbon density trees. They do a tremendous amount of work maintaining the diversity of the forest, Stephen Blake, Assistant professor of biology at Saint Louis University and senior author of the paper published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, has been quoted as saying in this report.
Biologists estimate that if the population of African forest pachyderms returned to its former size and they recovered their former range, it would increase carbon capture by 13 metric tons per hectare.
Carbon capture from a recovery of these animals could be equivalent to more than 6,000 metric tons of carbon dioxide per square kilometer. The total value of the carbon capture service provided by an African forest elephant is calculated as worth more than $1.75 million.