World Wildlife Day: recovering key species for ecosystem restoration | Earth.Org – Past | Gift
The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) lists more than 8,400 species of wild fauna and flora as critically endangered, while nearly 30,000 more are considered endangered or vulnerable. World Wildlife Day 2022 aims to steer public and political debate towards the urgent need to reverse the fate of the most threatened species and support the restoration of their habitats and ecosystems.
Conserving the habitat of keystone species has a positive impact on the population of many others because they depend on and share the same type of habitat necessary for the long-term survival of the keystone species in question.
One such example is the conservation of forest habitats to benefit the declining Asian elephant population and the positive benefits this can have on the conservation of other species that also depend on forests for their survival.
Asian elephants inhabit the dense forests and grassy plains of India, Sri Lanka, Myanmar, Thailand, Cambodia, Vietnam, Malaysia, and Sumatra. Gregarious in nature, they roam in family herds, feeding on the grass, leaves, twigs and bark of over 100 species of plants.
Elephant families roam wide areas to find food and water, but their habitats are shrinking dramatically due to habitat loss and encroachment. Since 1979, African elephant habitat has declined by more than 50% and Asian elephants only have 15% left from their original range. This means they are finding it increasingly difficult to find enough food and water to survive.
Habitat loss also means that elephants and humans come into conflict. As elephants struggle to find food and come into closer contact with humans, they have turned to feeding on crops that have encroached on their former habitat. This has resulted in many human deaths and injuries as farmers seek to defend their property. The humans retaliate by attacking the elephants, causing their numbers to drop further and causing immense suffering from inhumane and prolonged deaths.
Elephants are also threatened by poaching. Elephants are killed so that their tusks and, in some cases, their skins can be sold in the illegal trade. Although the international ivory trade was banned in 1989, there are still thriving markets around the world.
This huge loss of habitat and the impact of poaching in Asia has caused Asian elephant numbers to drop by at least 50% over the past three generations, and they are still in decline today. With only 40,000–50,000 left in the wildthe species is listed as endangered.
This large scale destruction has taken place despite our supposed love and respect for them and many cultures revere them as symbols of strength and wisdom.
For World Wildlife Day, read on to find out: What are the main causes of biodiversity loss?
The loss of elephants is catastrophic for elephants as a species, but also has an additional negative impact on the habitat they once inhabited.
Elephants are ecosystem engineers, their activities helping to promote the growth of vegetation essential to maintaining healthy forest habitats, which in turn increases carbon sequestration and helps mitigate climate change.
Elephants play a major role in seed dispersal, soil aeration and nutrient cycling. As forest architects, they provide an invaluable service by uprooting trees and creating holes in the forest canopy that allow light to reach plants closer to the ground, thereby promoting growth. This helps open up areas of dense forests for generations of plants to thrive and provide food and habitat for many species.
Lots of tall trees rely on large vertebrates like elephants for seed dispersal and regeneration. Elephants travel great distances and play a key role in spreading tree seedlings. They consume fruit, depositing their seeds in their droppings and providing the perfect environment for the seeds to germinate and flourish.
The dependence of healthy ecosystems on elephants has been demonstrated in forest elephant populations in Central Africa, with more than a dozen elephant-dependent tree species suffering catastrophic population declines in new plant growth after forest elephants were nearly wiped out of their ecosystems. Indeed, fruit trees all rely on forest elephants as their primary means of seed distribution.
Elephant dung is also an important food source for a host of different types of dung beetles. The beetles both benefit from the nutrients it contains and they bury the droppings under the soil where their larvae can feed and grow. In doing so, dung beetles loosen compacted soil and help deposit crucial nutrition in the dung into the soil where it is needed most to positively impact plant growth.
Helping dung beetles thrive is a good thing in itself, but in doing so they also become an important food source for many other species of birds and small mammals helping to support many other species.
Studies have also demonstrated that the presence of elephants increases the concentrations of carbon, nitrogen and phosphorus in the soil, essential elements for a healthy ecosystem. The presence of elephants can even reverse the negative effects on soil health caused by the presence of livestock, helping to not only maintain but also restore ecosystems.
With this in mind, we can see that elephants are truly essential to the health of the ecosystems they inhabit and, therefore, to the survival of the millions of plant and animal species that also inhabit these ecosystems.
On the occasion of World Wildlife Day 2022, it is the perfect opportunity to support organizations that work to conserve elephant populations around the world and, in doing so, help maintain biodiversity crucial which, in turn, will help us mitigate the negative impact of global warming on our own lives.
Image by: Nguyen Phong Son. Courtesy of Animals Asia
Wildlife protection efforts
Animals Asia is one such organization currently doing work to not only improve the welfare of individuals on Asian elephants in Vietnam, but also to help the government conserve the wild elephant population in the region.
Wild elephant populations in Vietnam have been decimated by poaching, habitat loss and, historically, capture for tourism and work. The numbers have fallen below 100, a figure that conservationists consider unsustainable for their survival.
Animals Asia campaigns to end elephant riding and the cruel and unethical use of wild animals in tourism and entertainment. Wildlife site surveys are conducted to identify animal welfare issues, which are reported to authorities and used to influence positive regulatory change.
The organization has also signed a memorandum of understanding with the government of Dak Lak in 2021 to end the riding of elephants, which will not only have huge benefits for the elephants who are already suffering in this industry, but will also contribute to conservation efforts by reducing the demand for wild baby elephants. be poached and trafficked in this trade.
Animals Asia has already rescued 12 elephants as part of the ethical elephant touring program – the first in the country – at Yok Don National Park, while continuing to work with mahouts and authorities to promote the shift to a tourism model more sustainable and elephant-friendly, and educate schoolchildren and communities about animal sensitivity and conservation.
The article is written by Dave Neale, Director of Animal Welfare, Animals Asia
Image selected by: Nguyen Phong Son. Courtesy of Animals Asia