Monday 16 May 2016

Poaching of old forest elephant matriarchs threatens rainforests

Scientists warn that killing of the oldest, wisest females -- the guardians of their community's forest and social knowledge- could cause cascading effects on ecosystem integrity

Date: May 12, 2016
Source: Wildlife Conservation Society

Scientists working for the Wildlife Conservation Society, the University of Stirling, and the Amboseli Trust for Elephants say that the high levels of poaching forest elephants will result in a loss of the oldest, wisest matriarchs, who are living libraries of their vast rainforest domain. The oldest females guide and teach their young where to go for food and minerals, what to eat, how to process tricky foods, and how to avoid danger. Without these mothers, forest elephant social lives and their understanding of their ecosystem will be lost. This exacerbates the ongoing loss of ecosystem function already underway by the loss of these most effective seed dispersers and forest gardeners.

Future conservation plans for the lesser known cousin of the African savannah elephant, they say, must include strategies that consider changes to elephant social structure, habitat integrity, and pressure from growing human populations.

The essay titled "Consequences for elephants and forests: poaching and anthropogenic change" appears in the online version of Conservation Biology. The authors are: Thomas Breuer of the Wildlife Conservation Society; Fiona Maisels of the Wildlife Conservation Society and the University of Stirling; and Vicki Fishlock of the Amboseli Trust for Elephants and the University of Stirling.

"We've been aware of the catastrophic decline of forest elephants since 2013" said WCS Conservationist Dr. Thomas Breuer, lead author of the essay. "But, as with savannah elephants, the impacts are greatest when we lose the matriarchs."

Scientists conducting long-term studies on savannah elephants have documented numerous and long-lasting effects of poaching and other forms of anthropogenic disruption on behavior. For instance, savannah elephants exposed to poaching become more nocturnal and more skittish outside of protected areas, which in turn can become more crowded with elephants and may be impacted by increased grazing and browsing.

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