Quantcast

Elephants and Monkeys Are Working to Protect You From Climate Change

Animals
A herd of elephants. Pixabay

By Marlene Cimons

Mother Nature has it figured out. She's designed a master scheme that connects plants and animals, all working in concert to keep every living thing in balance. Imagine a stack of dominoes — knock down one of them, and the rest will tumble. The same can happen in nature.


This is especially evident in places like central Africa and in South American tropical rainforests where certain animals — from the world's largest to its smallest — help keep trees safe and healthy, which is critical as trees absorb vast amounts of planet-warming carbon pollution.

Recent research warns that losing the creatures that nurture trees puts forests in danger. This, by extension, is helping to accelerate dangerous climate change.

In central Africa, for example, elephants eat fast-growing trees, making room for those that grow more slowly. The slow-growing trees — with their very dense wood — store more carbon than their thinner, faster-developing counterparts. Without elephants, more carbon would accumulate in the atmosphere, worsening climate change, according to a new study that used computer models to project what could happen if elephant populations continue to dwindle or become extinct.

An elephant fuels up.

Pixabay

"Africa may once have contained 10 million elephants from the Mediterranean to the Cape, in every habitat except extreme desert. In 1970, there may have been a million left. By the end of the 1980s, there were half that number, mostly killed for the ivory trade," said Stephen Blake, assistant professor of biology at St. Louis University, and author of the study, which appears in the journal Nature Geoscience.

Despite an international agreement created to protect them, they face extinction as hunters persist in illegally killing them for ivory. Blake said that the price of ivory is so high that poachers will kill elephants of any size for their tusks, and go to gruesome lengths to remove them.

"How many cuddly [elephant] toys will be purchased this Christmas around the world?" Blake said. "Children everywhere will take them to bed, play with them, love them and be enchanted with the notion of these massive, gentle, humbled, wrinkled old animals… How many hearts touched?… Yet, as we do all these things, we live at a time when the last members of a once global and diverse lineage of these huge animals are being slaughtered."

African elephants.

Pixabay

By killing elephants, poachers rob slow-growing trees of their guardian. They also slow the growth of new trees. Elephants blaze trails and disperse seeds as they forage. "Elephants are basically the gardeners of the forest," Blake said. "They disperse over 100 species of seeds, and disperse more of them over longer distances that other dispersers."

"Without the restorative powers of the elephants, the forest becomes a broken shadow of its former glory," he added.

Similarly, some of the world's littlest creatures also help replenish forests, although they don't face the grave risks that elephants encounter. Tiny tamarins that live in Peruvian rainforests eat fruits from trees, then poop out the undigested seeds in degraded former pastures — land cleared by humans for grazing water buffalo — effectively planting trees.

A female emperor tamarin.

Brocken Inaglory

Scientists showed that two types of these squirrel-sized monkeys — moustached and black-fronted tamarins — are seeding new forests. This is vital because — like the forests of central Africa — tropical rainforests also store carbon, and are home to a vast number of plants and animals.

The scientists tracked seeds from the animals' feces deposited in the new forest and identified eight different plant species found in the main rainforest. "Tamarins can play a role for the natural regeneration of disturbed areas," said Eckhard W. Heymann, a scientist at the German Primate Center, who reported his findings in the journal Scientific Reports.

However, their contribution, while important, usually isn't enough to regenerate large tracts. "So it is better to protect the forests — which also protects the animals living there — than to rely on the services [of tamarins]." Moreover, climate change may be altering the plants that tamarins eat, changing when they produce leaves, flowers and fruits. This could limit tamarins' ability to seed new forests.

A baby tamarin.

Brocken Inaglory

Tamarins do not face extinction, like elephants, but are not without their own risks. While hunters usually reject them because they are too small to provide meat, "they are sporadically hunted or captured to obtain infants as pets," Heymann said. There is also the fact that forests are shrinking, meaning tamarins could lose their home. "The more serious threat at the moment comes from increasing deforestation," he added.

Blake, who has spent nearly 20 years in Africa working in elephant research and conservation, laments their fate, describing them as "a complex society of intelligent, caring, emotional animals who respect their grandmothers and mourn their dead," and condemns those who neglect their duty to save them.

"We will go to Mars — there is no doubt — humans are too smart not to," he said. "Yet we do not have the wisdom to protect elephants and their forest environment that do so much for our physical, spiritual and emotional well-being."

Reposted with permission from our media associate Nexus Media.

EcoWatch Daily Newsletter

Ocean pollution concept with plastic and garbage. Anton Petrus / Moment / Getty Images

Nestlé cannot claim that its Ice Mountain bottled water brand is an essential public service, according to Michigan's second highest court, which delivered a legal blow to the food and beverage giant in a unanimous decision.

Read More Show Less

A number of supermarkets across the country have voluntarily issued a recall on sushi, salads and spring rolls distributed by Fuji Food Products due to a possible listeria contamination, as CBS News reported.

Read More Show Less
Sponsored
Birds eye view of beach in Green Bowl Beach, Indonesia pictured above, a country who's capital city is faced with the daunting task of moving its capital city of Jakarta because of sea level rise. Tadyanehondo / Unsplash

If you read a lot of news about the climate crisis, you probably have encountered lots of numbers: We can save hundreds of millions of people from poverty by 2050 by limiting global warming to 1.5 degrees Celsius above pre-industrial levels, but policies currently in place put us on track for a more than three degree increase; sea levels could rise three feet by 2100 if emissions aren't reduced.

Read More Show Less
A U.S. Border Patrol agent gathers personal effects from immigrants before they are transferred to a McAllen processing center on July 02, 2019 in Los Ebanos, Texas. John Moore / Getty Images

Poverty and violence in Central America are major factors driving migration to the United States. But there's another force that's often overlooked: climate change.

Retired Lt. Cmdr. Oliver Leighton Barrett is with the Center for Climate and Security. He says that in Guatemala, Honduras and El Salvador, crime and poor economic conditions have long led to instability.

"And when you combine that with protracted drought," he says, "it's just a stressor that makes everything worse."

Barrett says that with crops failing, many people have fled their homes.

"These folks are leaving not because they're opportunists," he says, "but because they are in survival mode. You have people that are legitimate refugees."

So Barrett supports allocating foreign aid to programs that help people in drought-ridden areas adapt to climate change.

"There are nonprofits that are operating in those countries that have great ideas in terms of teaching farmers to use the land better, to harvest water better, to use different variety of crops that are more resilient to drought conditions," he says. "Those are the kinds of programs I think are needed."

So he says the best way to reduce the number of climate change migrants is to help people thrive in their home countries.

Reporting credit: Deborah Jian Lee / ChavoBart Digital Media.

Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.

Chris Pratt arrives to the Los Angeles premiere of "Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom" on June 12, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. Michael Tran / FilmMagic / Getty Images

Chris Pratt was called out on social media by Game of Thrones star Jason Momoa after Pratt posted an image "low key flexing" with a single-use plastic water bottle.

Read More Show Less