In a recent study done by researchers from Saint Louis University, elephants play a key role in creating forests that store more atmospheric carbon and maintain the biodiversity of forests in Africa.
As per the study, if the already critically endangered elephants become extinct, the rainforest of central and west Africa, the second largest rainforest on earth, would gradually lose between six and nine percent of its ability to capture atmospheric carbon, amplifying planetary warming.
Elephants have the ability to be the “gardeners of the forest,” a skill that may hold the key to saving the environment from climate change, states the report.
Researchers involved with the study say Earth’s largest land animals slow global warming. They eat low-carbon density trees, creating more space for greenery that stores more.
According to Assistant professor of biology and senior author on the paper Stephen Blake, “Elephants have been hunted by humans for millennia, As a result, African forest elephants are critically endangered. The argument that everybody loves elephants hasn’t raised sufficient support to stop the killing. Shifting the argument for elephant conservation toward the role forest elephants play in maintaining the biodiversity of the forest, that losing elephants would mean losing forest biodiversity, hasn’t worked either, as numbers continue to fall”.
Elephant populations have experienced significant declines over the last century. There are now only about 400,000 left in Africa and an estimated 30,000 in Asia. A century ago, they were a common sight across both continents. Today, elephants also face added threats from habitat loss and global warming.
“The importance of forest elephants for climate mitigation must be taken seriously by policymakers to generate the support needed for elephant conservation. The role of forest elephants in our global environment is too important to ignore”, Prof Blake emphasises.
Blake, in his study, called for the protection of elephants, ‘armed with this vital information, the arguments to conserve the forest elephants of the Congo Basin and West Africa have never been greater. Populations of elephants have been eliminated from many areas of the forest, and in many areas, they are functionally extinct, meaning that their populations are so low that they have no significant impact on the ecology of the forest.