This article was originally published on Mongabay.
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.
“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.Explore Earth's Bioregions