Science 3 min read

Elephant Extinction Could Lead to More Global Warming

Elephant extinction doesn’t bode well for the planet’s climate, which we messed up in the first place, so we have to save them.

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

Image courtesy of Shutterstuck

Humans of the Anthropocene Era have come a long way since their early days as cave-dwelling hunters and gatherers.

But our fossil-fuel-powered civilization is leaving indelible scars on the face of the Earth.

As far as human-induced threats to wildlife, like poaching, can go, nothing is quite like climate change in scope and impact. A new mass extinction event is in the making, endangering millions of species.

Something that would eventually all come back to us.

We are optimistic enough to believe in resurrection biotech‘s ability to bring back extinct species that would help the planet heal itself a bit. Scientists could even revive the cell of a 28,000-year-old wooly mammoth. Mammoths and elephants are distant cousins.

However, before thinking of resurrecting the former — that’s already been extinct for thousands of years — maybe we should prevent elephant extinction from happening first.

Read More: Breaching the Carbon Threshold Means Mass Extinction

Elephant Extinction and the Global Thermostat

Cows are said to be a major source of methane emissions, thus contributing to the rising levels of greenhouse gases in the atmosphere. But, it isn’t the cows’ fault because they aren’t supposed to be that many as we keep farming them for their meat.

Elephants, on the other hand, play an important role in maintaining ecosystems. As they dig for water and eat through vegetation, they give a hand to other animal and plant species in their habitat.

But the world’s largest land mammal has a more substantial ecological impact.

Biologists at Saint Louis University show how elephants help curb the levels of atmospheric carbon through their diet habits. The team, who studied elephant populations in central African forests, found that elephants favor the growth of big trees that sequester more carbon.

Elephants spend around 80% of their day time feeding. They browse forest and end up eating 330-375 lb of small plants, grasses, bushes, and other fast-growing vegetation. As they do so, they leave the field open for slow-growing trees with high wood density to grow.

Researchers warn that “the collapse of forest elephant populations will likely, therefore, causes an increase in the abundance of fast-growing tree species at the expense of slow-growing species, and reduce the  ability of the forest to capture carbon.”

To answer the question ‘What would happen to the composition of the forest over time with and without elephant browsing?’ the team developed a mathematical computer model.

“The simulation found that the slow-growing plant species survive better when elephants are present. These species aren’t eaten by elephants and, over time, the forest becomes dominated by these slow-growing species. Wood (lignin) has a carbon backbone, meaning it has a large number of carbon molecules in it.”

As it turned out, there’s more to saving the elephants from extinction than the scenery in the savanna and in the forests.

Elephant extinction, as well as other species extinctions, shouldn’t happen. We can spend money to show more love to elephants than contemplating them in captivity, like the zoo or circus, or buying elephant plush toys.

Read More: Study Claims Climate Change Could Soon Eradicate Clouds

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Zayan Guedim

Trilingual poet, investigative journalist, and novelist. Zed loves tackling the big existential questions and all-things quantum.

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