Nature is always surprising scientists in its elegant ways of restoring balance, including mitigating climate change. As it turns out, elephants have a lot to do with fighting global warming. Researchers have found that these large animals increase the forest’s carbon sequestration abilities.
When elephants make their way through the rainforests and forage for food, they thin out young trees that are competing for space, water, and light. They step on some of those trees and eat others. The trees that are left behind unbroken and unconsumed are called late-succession trees. They have a huge advantage over other trees in the forest as they have the capability to store more CO2 in their biomass.
That happens because late succession trees have greater size and height than others so they capture more carbon in their tissue than those that would have grown slowly with their own pace and dominated the rainforest.
Thanks to their natural behavior, elephants actually increase the amount of carbon stored by the rainforest as they tilt the biological balance in favor of certain types of trees. That would make carbon capture investors think twice about investing in expensive new technologies and more about enhancing natural carbon sinks like preserving wildlife to help the environment and cut emissions.
According to the International Union for Conservation of Nature, the African forest elephant population had declined by more than 86% over three decades, and the species is now considered critically endangered.
Researchers back in 2019, have estimated that the disappearance of elephants in the whole of Africa’s forests would result in a 7% loss of vegetation which is the equivalent of 3 billion tons of carbon storage. The carbon sequestration service elephants provide was also valued at $43 billion.
As forest elephants promote the growth of large trees that excel at storing carbon – a newly discovered carbon sequestration method, they turn into a valuable player in climate change mitigation efforts. However, they also release methane emissions pretty much like cows and other animals. Further research is needed to estimate the exact carbon footprint from pachyderms and the part they play in tackling the pressing climate change issue.