Impact Trunk Full of Tales


Elephant Environmental Impact

With today's shrinking wild lands, the impact of the elephant on its environment is a topic which can not be ignored. This page attempts to raise some of the issues of concern. In the future there will be case studies, and other related elephant impact information to better educate us on this topic and avoid the generalizations formed by not being properly informed.

One article of particular interest can be found in the "Real Stories" section of the web page. It is on the Impact of Elephants in Tsavo, Kenya by Daphne Sheldrick. I highly suggest reading this article.

"Conserving elephants, then becomes much more than an issue about how to protect a single species. It is about protecting one of the forces that shapes ecosystems and helps sustain the wealth of wildlife found across much of the continent. It is about saving the creative power of nature."

Douglas Chadwick in The Fate of the Elephant

  1. Elephant Conservation: A question of management?
  2. Elephant Environmental Impact

Elephant Conservation
A question of management?

One of the hottest topics facing elephants today is the question of management. With every year passing, the amount of viable habitat for the big giants is shrinking constantly. As it continues to decline, and people squat on the buffer zones between the parks and developed land the amount of room for the elephant to roam unhindered is becoming very small.

Due to our 'superiority' of knowledge we attempt to prevent and control disasters that would normally occur in the wild through the form of food shortages. An example of this would be a group of animals that have grown beyond the carrying capacity of the particular land they are living on would starve to death and a balance would be found after some very tough times. However, we try to circumvent this process by controlling numbers through a number of different processes. For the elephant this means the "C" word. In the past entire family groups of elephants have been culled (or killed) under the auspices of protecting the overall habitat. Did you know that they have to slaughter entire families because the younger ones will become so traumatized and will spread the word about our actions, and if they survive will have countless nightmares from their experiences?

The most publicized place that culling has taken place in the past is in Kruger National Park in South Africa. Ironically, a meat processing plant nearby relies in part on the killing of these animals to stay in business. Although,

This is where the problem arises. There are so many different pressures and reasons that can be underlying for the killing of elephants (i.e. ivory, meat, money, etc.) that will push a program of culling into full force instead of properly considering other methods or if it is absolutely necessary to even do it.

There are two very important questions that need to be asked in any management program

  1. Why are we really killing the animals? (if this is possible to be objective)
  2. Is it really absolutely necessary or are there other methods or ways to proceed?

Both are important questions that focus our minds on issues that may be uncomfortable to consider. It seems all too easy to have a narrow/focused look at the local vegetation that a herd of elephants has just foraged on and assume in any one place that there are too many of them.

Other methods that can be used are translocation and birth control. The first method in the past has been deemed expensive and with the lack of suitable places to take the elephants difficult to implement. The second method is starting to be tested today, but has not been made mainstream fro a few reasons. The first and the most obvious reason for this is a monetary standpoint. Clearly, the people that stand to gain from the culling of elephants would not like this idea very much.

Elephant Impact On Environments

Elephant Environmental Impact
A super keystone species

For elephants modifying the environment their foraging is termed destruction, but for for man this is called development.

Not surprisingly, our narrow opinion of seeing elephants only as living bulldozers of destruction is far from the case. As well as having an impact on the land, elephants have a huge effect on the overall ecosystem.

As much as 80 percent of what elephants consumed is returned to the soil as barely digested highly fertile manure.

  • Elephants provide a vital role in the ecosystem they inhabit.
  • They modify their habitat by converting Savannah and woodlands to grasslands
  • Elephants can provide water for other species by digging water holes in dry riverbeds
    • the depressions created by their footprints and their bodies trap rainfall
  • Elephants act as seed dispersers by their fecal matter. It is often carried below ground by dung beetles and termites causing the soil to become more aerated and further distributing the nutrients
  • Their paths act as firebreaks and rain water conduits
  • An Elephants journey through the high grass provides food for birds by disturbing small reptiles, amphibians or insects.

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