Death and Starvation: The Fate of the Planet’s Remaining Forest Elephants Is at Risk

“Even in a place like Lopé National Park, where we have very little human pressure and very low density of population, wildlife cannot escape the impact of human activities — that being climate change,” said Robin Whytock, an environmental scientist at the University of Stirling in Scotland and one of the authors of a 2020 paper describing these findings in Science Magazine.

Photo: YouTube/BBC

In one of the last strongholds of African forest elephants, at the Lopé National Park in central Gabon, you will be surprised and saddened by the appearance of surviving forest elephants. Many of them are undernourished and bony — struggling to remain alive to the point that they have become a serious headache to the locals who live near the park.

Most of the fruit trees from where these forest elephants source their food are gone. Rising temperatures are killing the trees, which slowly die from lack of rainfall and increased evapotranspiration.

Photo: YouTube/BBC

There are particular trees that bear fruits only for African forest elephants such as the Omphalocarpum procerum. Its fruits are doughnut-shaped and protected by a tough shell that most animals find indigestible.

But the fruits are available for the cousins of the African savanna elephants, who in turn disperse the seeds as they consume the fruits and significantly contribute to the propagation of the Omphalocarpum procerum.

Such is the special relationship of Gabon’s forest elephants with these fruit trees.

Photo: YouTube/BBC

However, the sturdy fruit trees are now also in the decline due to climate change. They are bearing less fruits due to the rising temperatures, which remain high even at nighttime with an increase of about 1.5 degrees, based on decades of monitoring.

Since the forest elephants are starving, the giants now attack the vegetable gardens and orchards of nearby communities. The locals understand the plight of the forest elephants, but they also want to protect their crops.

But there is no solution in sight since climate change is a global problem that needs every person, every country to act.

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