African Elephant and The Ecosystem

There is a lot of emphasis on the need to protect the elephant. Many organizations have pointed out that The African Elephants has been endangered and their number decreasing by the day. This is due to the high demand for ivory by various markets worldwide. Hence, the world outcry for the ban of the ivory trade and harsh prison charges enforced on poachers and ivory traders. This has been received positively but not much emphasis is being made on the importance of the African elephant and the ecosystem.

African Elephants and The Ecosystem

Other than being referred to as one of the most intelligent animals in the animal kingdom. The elephant plays a very important role in the environment. Many other animals and plants highly depend on the elephant for their survival especially on access to food.

Nature in general plays out on its own without the need for human intervention. Although some of the actions of these elephants may be seen as destructive to the human eye.  In the natural world, it serves as a continuation of life for the many creatures who survive in the forests and grasslands near these elephants.

Elephants are referred to as ecosystem engineers though this is not known to them. This is due to their unique role in shaping the ecosystem. They are often called “keystone species” attributed to the vital services they provide to an ecosystem in relation to their abundance.

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Destructive Foraging

Elephants spend up to 16 hours a day looking for food. Due to the large size, they eat all kinds of plants from grass, tree barks to fruits up a tree. They are known to take their time when eating. At times may even uproot a whole tree and slowly eat it up. This may seem like they are destroying the vegetation but on the contrary, it serves different purposes which is advantageous to other animals and plants.

The forest elephants are known to clear off pathways and uproot trees as they move and forage. This destruction clears off thick bushes which helps other small animals have access paths. It also opens up for the low plants to access sunlight and space to grow.

The Savannah elephants, on the other hand, feed on trees sprouts and shrubs clearing off woodlands and opening up the grasslands for more grazing area for the Savannah herbivores. One major beneficiary of the elephant feeding habit is the vervet monkey. It highly depends on gum produced by trees like acacia. The bark stripping and branch breaking behaviour of the elephant to the acacia produce this gum.

The African Elephant

Reptiles and Amphibians’ Savior

Reptiles and Amphibians tend to be highly affected by habitat change and unlike birds. T.hey are limited by how far they can go to escape any problems that may come by. Elephants destruction really favour them in different ways. As the elephants uproot trees and shrubs, they leave small hollow ponds. The ponds are later filled with groundwater and form a habitat for frogs.

Some damaged and dead trees bulldozed by the mighty elephant in their search for food forms nesting grounds for the arboreal lizard in Kenya. These damaged areas are also known to favour insects. They also expose the insects to the surface and are the main food for most small reptiles and amphibians.

The elephant dung also forms food for algae and fungi in the soil. These algae and fungi are preferred nutrients plants for some reptiles such as the monitor lizards and the star tortoise.

African Elephants and the Ecosystem

Nutritious Excretion

Elephants feed on different plants on a continuous’ session. 50% of what they consume is not digested and they later excrete it as they move around foraging. Elephant dung is known to be very nutritious due to the variety of things they consume from grass, tree barks, fruits, leaves etc. It is hence known as a good source of soil nutrients and makes good fertilizer.

There are animals who depend on this dung such as the dung beetle. It collects the dung in small balls for its larvae. On the other hand, the larvae are food for the honey badger. Dung beetle also attracts many insectivorous birds who consider it a delicacy. The dung is also a source of food for other species like baboons, banded mongoose, birds who eat put some of the seeds excreted. The dung also provides a habitat for other species such as beetles, ants, millipedes, centipedes, scorpion, crickets, spiders and termites.

The African Elephant and The Ecosystem

Elephants are also known as seed dispersers, they are known to transport seeds in their guts for a distance as far as 50 km. Their dung is rich in nutrients to allow the seeds to germinate. This allows plants to colonize to new areas away from the mother plant hence ensuring continuous vegetation.

Waterhole Constructions

Elephants can survive in desert areas that receive little to no rainfall. They are known to smell water 5 kilometres away and use their tusk, feet and trunk to dig up a dry water bed opening up underground water. The waterhole constructed can be big enough for them to bathe in. This waterhole is then used by all other animals in the area helping the area biodiversity to grow.

Their strong sense also helps in the identification of subsoil water and natural salt licks since they require a lot of minerals in their bodies. These minerals are then shared with other animals especially herbivores whose intake of minerals from the soil is important.

African Elephants and the Ecosystem

Read more on The animal that lives in Kenya.


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14 Responses

  1. coolbudgetfamilyholidays says:

    Thank you for your educational article Anita,

    I have had the pleasure of being up with elephants on two occasions where I have fed them once in Cambodia and the other occasion in Spain (I was also joined by one in a bar in Thailand once but that’s a different story). 

    Despite their size, I found them to be remarkably gentle and timid creatures and the fact they are still hunted for items such as Ivory in this day of age is absolutely ludicrous. I had not realised what a positive effect they have on the Ecosystem and  which again reiterates the ridiculousness of hunting this beautiful animal.

    Keep up the good work and spreading the message.

    • Anita says:

      Thank you for the encouragement. It only takes one to relate to these big animals to learn how gentle, loving and intelligent they are. It is not fair that they have to die just to fulfill mankind greedy desires.

  2. Netta says:

    A very interesting post, Anita.  Thank you.  It never ceases to amaze me how true the cliche about the “Circle of Life” is.  Every creature forms a part of the web and has a part to play in keeping it working well.  The effort to preserve the species that are faltering in the world is most amazing.

    • Anita says:

      This is true, but sometimes mankind gets too mean and only thinks of themselves. Killing such crucial creatures in the ecosystem just to make some ornaments to please oneself is really selfish not considering other animals and plants that will be affected by this.

  3. Paul says:

    Mind-blowing! It’s inspiring to see such a well written blog that highlights an aspect of the need to save the elephants other than they are majestic and intelligent. Seeing how much the ecosystem, the other animals rely on the habits of the African elephants is another notable reason we all need to do our part in help save them from extinction. Other than the increased enforcement and charges currently in place, can you suggest other ways someone like me in Canada can help save the African elephants?

    • Anita says:

      Yes, elephants have such vital roles to play in the ecosystem, other animals cannot do without them. As someone in another country, you can get involved in elephant conservation through donating to the very many organisation working to ensure elephants take charge of their habitats like Save the Elephant. One notable organisation in Kenya that has had great results for many years in elephants is The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust which cares for young orphaned elephants and rehabilitates them back to the wild. They have a program which allows people to adopt the little elephants for a year at $50 and keep the foster parents informed on how the adopted elephant is doing till it goes back to the wild. You also get a chance to mingle with your foster babies when you visit Kenya.

  4. charles39 says:

    The African elephant is one of the big five found in the plains of Africa it’s ecosystem is being endangered every single  day by human in many ways that includes poaching for it’s prized tusks it can be only wise to say things need to change. And this comes from you with articles like this will put things into perspective and find the way we can protect the elephant  ecosystem 

  5. Nuttanee says:

    Wow I did not know that the elephants do eat the whole tree! The ones that I see in Thailand are picky eaters lol they eat grass and Thai banana. I bet if they are out in the wilderness they will eat the whole tree and clear up the path. They are smart though, some of them that are well trained in Thailand can draw and the care takers sell their arts lol. We also have the big toilet, so that the elephants in the sanctuary can use it and after we use their dungs into making paper and also books. Have you noticed that the biggest animals are usually harmless? Look at elephants and whales? Great read!

    • Anita says:

      Well when they are left in the wild, they have to fend for themselves hence cannot afford to be picky. In Thailand they behave the way they have been trained and exposed from childhood. Yes, big animals are harmless unless provoked especially by humans.

  6. Evald says:

    Hello Anita,

    thanks You for such informative and interesting article, I’ve really enjoyed reading it and learning something new today! As far as African elephants and ecosystem goes, I’ve discovered a lot of captivating facts today and some of them caught a lot of my attention. I was pretty surprised to discover that they have such big & important role in ecosystem and are referred to as ecosystem engineers. At first I would think that by clearing paths and uprooting trees elephants don’t bring any benefits to the nature, however it turns out that they are creating new paths and roads for smaller animals as well as allowing sun to access low plants, which is so cool! I also couldn’t even imagine that the small hollow ponds which elephants create after uprooting shrubs and trees can form into habitat for frogs after being filled with water. Wow, who would have thought, haha! I was pretty shocked to learn that elephants can smell water to up to 5 km, that’s incredible.

    All in all, thanks for such engaging article Anita, keep up the great work! 😉

    • Anita says:

      Am glad you found the article worth your time and you learnt a lot from it. It goes to show that other animals thrive well in the presence of elephants, the more reason we should not watch them go extinct.

  7. African elephants are world famous, ecosystem is the cycle of different species, if the elephant are destroying plants, grasses and bushes and other hands these are supportive for soil, and other living species.

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