Why Everyone Needs Wild Elephants

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Elephants are a “keystone species”.  Cast your mind back, if you will, to history class, where you learned that the keystone is the final piece put in place to complete a stone arch.  Without the keystone, the arch cannot be self-supporting.  An arch with no keystone will not look like an arch anymore; it will be sight more akin to the aftermath of a great tragedy than a triumph of the human collective.

Without elephants, the African savanna would not be the savanna anymore.  Mega herds of wildebeest, for example, play a great role in keeping down the scrub and trees to maintain the grasslands, but none play so big a part as the elephant.  Consuming copious amounts of vegetation – at least 200-250kg of food per day – roaming across vast distances, the elephant spreads seed and fertilizer like no other, not to mention their penchant for scratching against anything resembling a post until it is reduced to mere twigs.

It is believed that the savanna without the elephant would be overtaken by scrub and trees (despite the wildebeest) and would cease to be grasslands altogether, causing the whole eco-system to collapse and the decimation or outright extinction of a number of other species.  It is estimated that at least 30% of forest tree species would be affected (i.e. die out) by the disappearance of the elephant and its nutrient-rich turd, in turn reducing biodiversity and changing the very face of the landscape.

Allan Savory argues that thousands of years of our herding animals has led to the desertification that plagues us today, with modern technology and crop rotation science ultimately accelerating the process.  He sees the only answer to be in humans learning to manage their livestock to mimic nature.  It is no accident that animals keep down the grass and spread seed.  It is not a happy coincidence that the wind catches the feathery seeds of dandelions and scatters them far and wide.  There are no “a-ha!” moment to be had by humans, rather “oh, I see” realizations.  Mother nature had it all figured out long ago.

The debate rages over whether or not any elephants should be kept in captivity at all, no matter if that is the last refuge for the species on this earth; you could argue that there are fates far worse than extinction.  And the fact is, captivity has been proven unsustainable.  On the other hand, a certain amount of captive elephants can help to maintain the overall peace between humans and elephants, and these trained animals can even play a useful role in the protection of their wild counterparts.  I honestly don’t know which is the better answer and would like to think that one day we will fence off millions of acres of connected, protected land where elephants can be contained and safe from poaching.  However, the capacity to achieve that remains beyond the scope of todays thinking.

But what of tomorrow?  What I do know is this: if there are no elephants left, the world will literally not be the same anymore, and for reasons far greater than the absence of the sight of elephants held by human eyes.  The knock-on effect will be massive and devastating for animals and humans who operate in those vast ecosystems.  You cannot imagine a world without elephants because that world is unprecedented.

As a human race we need to put our energies into fighting for the conservation of the wild elephant.  There are many captive elephants who are suffering but, no matter what we do for them, their fate is inextricably linked to the survival of elephants in the wild.  Now that you’re all fired up and ready to dash from your chair to knock together the heads of ivory poachers, let me advise on what you can do first.

The power lies in the hands of lawmakers and governments.  To lobby them is no small feat.  Add your voice to as many organisations working to change the face of global animal rights and conservation policies as you can until you are hoarse.  Don’t stop there.  Seek out the ones with quantifiable results, challenge them to improve.  Tell these organisations you would like to see them working together to make their voice stronger, their base more stable.  No matter what their own individual mission, all have set out on the noble quest to save the elephant.  Let us speak of how the world is a better place with elephants in it, of how economies and lives rely on them in a more direct way than we realise, of the things elephants can teach us about our own humanity.  Let us not give power to evil deeds by allowing grief to overcome us.  Much more than elephants are at stake.

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One response »

  1. Pingback: Hunter & Prey | The Elephant Question

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