Elephants as keystone species:


Nelson Mwangi, National Intern

Date Published

Elephants are the real Kings of the African Savanna. Yes, they have no natural predator but that is not what makes them King.

Elephants shape the landscape by uprooting and felling trees. Without this the African savanna would be a forest or worse, a desert. They are also very good at finding water especially during the drought and help in the survival of many more species, large and small.

Elephant dung serves as a home for many ground insects. The dung beetle uses it as breeding chambers and as a source of food.

Speaking of food, elephants consume about 200-300kgs of food (5% of their weight) per day and drink about 120-200 liters of water a day. They only digest about 40% of this.

Elephant dung therefore is a large serving of food and moisture for many birds, insects and mammals.

Last week I got to see this in Samburu national reserve where a group of olive baboons were stalking a big elephant who was dropping dung along the way after a morning of heavy eating. The baboons were picking nuts and other undigested bits from the fresh steaming dung and stuffing their mouths just in time for the next bolus drop.

Without elephants to reach to the highest leaves and fruits ant their dung many animal species would suffer and so would the soil.