- African forest elephants play a vital role in shaping the environment and composition of the Congo Basin rainforest, including the giant carbon-sequestering trees it is noted for.
- Without them, the Congo rainforest would lose carbon stocks and biodiversity, and the composition of the forest itself would change.
- Yet the full ecological value of this charismatic species — and the ecosystem impacts if it is lost — are not fully understood, so increased funding for study and conservation is needed, experts say.
- On this final episode of the Mongabay Explores the Congo Basin podcast season, Andrew Davies, assistant professor of organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard University, and Fiona “Boo” Maisels, a conservation scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society, detail the unique value of forest elephants, what still remains unknown, and why urgent protection is needed.
The African forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) makes the Congo Basin rainforest what it is today. As a key seed disperser, its dietary habits help construct the giant carbon-sequestering tree community that this rainforest is known for. Without them, the very composition of the forest would change, experts say.
On this final episode of the Congo Basin season of the Mongabay Explores Podcast, Fiona “Boo” Maisels, a conservation scientist at the Wildlife Conservation Society (WCS), and Andrew Davies, assistant professor of organismic and evolutionary biology at Harvard University, detail the ecological benefits of this charismatic species, why they are so crucial for forest health, and what could happen if we lose them.
The full ecological value of African forest elephants is not entirely known, but some organizations have attempted to put a dollar amount on what that would be. While recognition of the value of forest elephants is important for their conservation, Davies says, there is also intrinsic value that can’t be quantified.
“If you think of your garden, if you were to lose the gardener, you would lose the shape and the structure of that garden, which would then have many ramifications for many other species,” Davies says.
“They’re the functional glue that makes everything click together in the system,” Maisels says.
The Congo rainforest also contains unique mineral-rich clearings roughly half a kilometer in width (more than a quarter mile) that scientists say elephants depend upon for socialization and nutrients. These clearings, called bais, are visited by elephants in numbers upward of 80 per day, and also sustain a diverse array of other biodiversity. The sounds of their social interaction can be heard in this episode.
Subscribe to or follow Mongabay Explores wherever you get podcasts, from Apple to Spotify, and you can also listen to all episodes here on the Mongabay website, or download our free app for Apple and Android devices to gain instant access to our latest episodes and all our previous ones.
Listen to the previous episode in this podcast series here:
Sounds heard during this episode: Soundscape recording from the Dzanga Bai forest clearing in the Dzanga Sangha Protected Area in the Central African Republic, where elephants aggregate in very large numbers. It is likely that there were 80 elephants or more at the clearing at the time of the recording, which was shared by The Elephant Listening Project at the K. Lisa Yang Center for Conservation Bioacoustics, Cornell Lab of Ornithology.
Banner Image: Two elephants tussle at a watering hole, Dzanga Sangha National Park, Central African Republic. Image by Markus Mauthe / Greenpeace.
See related episode with more recordings at bais: