Elephants are ecosystem engineers: South Asia should be proud of them (August 12 is World Elephant Day)

“Elephants, because of their size, appetite, and migratory habits, disperse more seeds of more species further than any other animal

Rajendra Shende Aug 12, 2020
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“Elephants, because of their size, appetite, and migratory habits, disperse more seeds of more species further than any other animal.  They have been described as ecosystem engineers and mega-gardeners of the forest.  We from South Asia should be proud that we also produce mega-size engineers! They prune branches as they feed, fertilise the soils of Africa and Asia with their dung (about 1 tonne per week per elephant) and so maintain the health of globally important forests and savannah-woodlands. Thus we must protect the gardeners of the forest today so we have more trees tomorrow to prevent dangerous climate change,” Ian Redmond, a British tropical field biologist and conservationist, who is renowned for his work with great apes and elephants.

Can one imagine that elephants help in mitigating climate change by dispersing the seeds through their large dung? Research on wild animals has emerged from a passionate study like what Redmond has accomplished. No wonder he has been UNEP’s Ambassador for more than a decade now.

Redmond has famously said: "I am a naturalist by birth, a biologist by training, and a conservationist by necessity.  

"But conservation for me isn’t just about saving species. On a larger scale, the planet needs us to save functioning eco-systems; on a smaller scale, we must also recognise that species are made up of individual animals. For me, it became personal when I had the privilege of getting to know individual wild animals in the wild... I can truthfully say that some of my best friends are gorillas, and I care passionately about them and the future of all life on Earth."

I first met Redmond in Gandhinagar, Gujarat  in COP of CMS (Conference of the Parties to the Convention on the Conservation of Migratory Species of Wild Animals.) in February 15-22, 2020. We had jointly organised an event in which India and China participated, and the topic was conservation of wild animals. It was the first of its kind event. Chinese speakers participated virtually from Beijing due to COVID-19. 

It was a privilege for me to sit with him on the dais during the event.  Redmond is designated as OBE (Order of British Empire ) and had introduced the gorilla to Dr. David Attenborough, an English broadcaster and natural historian, who later produced with the help of Redmond a number of documentary films on wild animals. Attenborough's work on behalf of animals was recognised in 1996 with the presentation of the PAWS Humane Achievement Award at a ceremony in Hollywood, California and a Lifetime Achievement Award at the New York Wildlife Conservation Film Festival in 2013. 

Interestingly, in the Gandhinagar’s event jointly moderated by us, speakers from  the Chinese NGO called China Biodiversity Conservation Global Development Foundation (CBCDGF) took a pledge not to trade in wild animals, which is considered as a possible origin of COVID-19.

Redmond told the audience that “we all have seen the elephants and their pictures in the jungle. But do you know that elephants that live in caves?’  He has researched underground elephants - elephants living in the caves of Mount Elgon in Kenya. He had helped Attenborough to film them for the acclaimed BBC series ‘Life of Mammals.’ 

Redmond shared with me interesting and important reading material written by him in the National Geographic and the Guardian. This World Elephant Day, an international annual event on August 12, dedicated to the preservation and protection of the world's elephants, I will read them to truly celebrate the day.

I am sharing the reading material with all the readers: 

The ivory trade isn’t just a disaster for elephants. It threatens our future too | Ian Redmond

https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2016/aug/12/ivory-trade-elephants-future-forest-poachers  

Ecological Effects - Geographical Magazine

http://geographical.co.uk/opinion/item/1870-ecological-effects  

https://blog.nationalgeographic.org/2016/08/12/for-the-day-of-the-elephants-a-crash-course-in-conservation/

(The writer is Chairman TERRE Policy Centre and former Director, UNEP. He can be contacted at shende.rajendra@gmail.com)