Gardeners of the Forest

Gardeners of the forest
Forest elephants playing with each other. Central African Republic. Republic of Congo. Dzanga-Sangha Special Reserve.

Gardeners & Seed dispersal

Elephants disperse more seeds of more species of trees and over greater distances than any other animal on this planet.

In addition, some species of seed need to react with the acids in an elephant’s digestive system. Such seeds will therefore ONLY be dispersed as a result of having been eaten and having passed through the stomach of an elephant.  This is demonstrative of an incredible symbiosis between the elephants and the forest – the forest sustains the elephants and the elephants sustain and grow the forest.  The stories of the elephants and the forests are one.

Considering that it is only in the last two hundred years or so that elephant populations have plummeted to fatal levels, since the invention of modern firearms, and that before this decline it is estimated there were around 10 million elephants spread across Africa alone, that means that before mankind decimated elephant populations in the last two centuries, there were ten million tonnes of this nutrient-rich fertiliser enriching the soils of Africa every week.  These ten million tonnes of fertiliser per week all also spreading the seeds of the forest itself.

With ten million tonnes of fertiliser enriching African soils every week – or the Congo Basin and central Africa to consider only forest elephants – for tens of thousands of years (and longer if we consider other elephant species now extinct), is it any wonder that the tropical rainforest of the Congo Basin – the home of forest elephants – is one of the most biologically diverse eco-systems in the world, with dense forests sprawled out like a blanket across the continent as far as the eye can see?

Ecological importance

The importance of African elephants in the ecology of their natural habitat needs to be brought to public attention if we are realistically going to be able to turn the tide of the devastating decline of Africa’s elephant populations – and in particular the largely unreported decline of African forest elephants.  Forest elephants, as ‘gardeners of the forest’, have an ecological role far beyond their potential value in tourism, and they are a crucial factor in the existence of the tropical rainforests of Africa that exist today.

The Earth’s forests have a vital and irreplaceable role in maintaining climate stability, producing the ozone which forms the protective barrier layer at the edge of the Earth’s atmosphere which shields us from the radiation of the sun and allows all life, and human life itself, to exist.  Tropical rainforests are also pivotal factors in global weather patterns and generating the rainfall which sustains the animal and plant life upon which we all depend to survive.  The Central African forest and it’s elephants, have an importance from a local to global scale and we must save them.