The African elephant is a majestic creature that also plays an important role in the ecosystem. They are divided into two subspecies, the forest elephant, and the savanna or bush elephant. The savanna elephant can be distinguished by its long outwardly curving tasks. Both species have a long trunk and large ears that allow them to radiate heat in the extremely hot environment where they live (World Wildlife Fund, 2017). The savanna elephant is in danger of extinction due to human threats. One of these threats is poaching to harvest the ivory in their tusks (World Wildlife Fund, 2017). Another reason for their declining numbers is habitat loss and fragmentation due to commercial logging, biofuel plantations, conversion of land for agriculture, settlement, and human development (World Wildlife Fund, 2017). The expansion of the human niche and its invasion into the elephantsÆ niche is the topic that will be explored in this research.
African elephants are important for the maintenance of suitable habitats for other species. For instance, up to 30% of all African tree species require elephants to help in the germination process of the seed, and to disperse them (World Wildlife Fund, 2017). They also have impacts on the local management of freshwater, and vegetation that other species depend on for their ecological niche. (World Wildlife Fund, 2017). The African bush elephant is an herbivore with a long trunk that allows it to access many different types of vegetation. The ears are large and have a heavy supply of blood vessels that allows them to dissipate heat in the hot, dry climate (Sedgewick Zoo, 2017). Their tusks can be up to 11 feet long and are used for marking, digging, fighting, and obtaining food (Sedgewick Zoo, 2017). The trunk is the most useful appendage, and elephants use it to pick up food, examine objects, move objects, suck up water and spray it into their mouth it over there back, and to throw dirt onto their backs protect them from the sun and biting insects (Sedgewick Zoo, 2017). They are predators to none and are prey to top predators such as lions, crocodiles, and humans (Sedgewick Zoo, 2017). However, humans typically do not hunt them for food, but rather for their ivory
One of the advantages of human beings is that they have been able to expand their biological niche to include many extremes of environmental conditions through the use of technology (Net Industries, 2017). Technology has allowed humans to control their competition, predators, parasites, diseases, food availability, and ability to adjust to their climate in such a way that they could expand into many niches that overlap with other species (Net Industries, 2017). This has meant an abundance for humans, but it has also meant hardships for other species that are not able to adapt to changes in their local ecology as well is humans do. When humans come in contact with other species, human activity can have a detrimental effect on a number of species within the ecosystem. For the African elephant, human encroachment on the elephantsÆ niche environment has meant human encroachment on migration corridors, which can lead to damage to crops and villages in the area (World Wildlife Fund, 2017).
Humans now exist in an ecological niche that was once only occupied by the elephants. The elephant territory was inhabited by only a few humans until technology allowed humans to expand their territory. Often, when an elephant causes problems for a village, it will be exterminated (World Wildlife Fund, 2017). The number of human and elephant conflicts continues to grow as the number of humans in the natural territory of the elephants continues to increase (Thekaekara, 2017). New sustainable practices need to be developed that will allow elephants to live in protected sanctuaries away from the potential for human interaction. Currently, only 20% of the total elephant habitat in the world is in a protected status (Thekaekara, 2017). This means that nearly 80% of all elephants in the world are in danger due to the potential for them being targeted for harm due to destructive interactions with humans.
As the human niche continues to expand, it will encroach at an increasing rate on the ecological niche of the elephants. This means that human and elephant interactions will continue to increase. The elephant can only go so far in adaptation to its environment, unlike humans that have developed technology which gives them an advantage in the ability to adapt to new and changing circumstances. As the human population increases, the need to consume more resources will grow as well. Humans are the ones with the ability to adapt and must be the ones to develop sustainable practices concerning human and elephant interactions that will result in the best outcomes for both species.
The problems that have led to African elephants becoming endangered are a result of the increased adaptability of the humans and their ability to assimilate into an increasing ecological niche. Unfortunately, the ability of humans to adapt to their environment is to the detriment of other species that do not have the ability to do so. It has become a struggle for survival between the elephants and the humans. Elephants see humans as a threat and an invader to their traditional migration routes and territories. Attacks on human villages and individual humans themselves are a result of a natural instinct to protect their territory (Thekaekara, 2017). However, due to technology, the human has the advantage in their ability to protect their continued encroachment on elephant territory.
The key to resolving the issue is to engage in planned development and regulation of human activity that includes providing for the needs of the elephant and protecting their ranges from human encroachment of all types. Humans are the only ones that can change their behavior to protect the African elephant. The specificity of the African elephantsÆ ecological niche is its greatest threat to its survival.
- Net Industries. (2017). Niche û What Is the Niche of Humans? Retrieved from http://science.jrank.org/pages/4664/Niche-What-niche-humans.html
- Sedgewick County Zoo. (2017). South African Bush Elephant. Retrieved from https://www.scz.org/animal_exhibits-animal.php?a_id=407
- Thekaekara, T. (2017). Can elephants and humans live together? Guardian. 6 March 2017. Retrieved from https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2017/mar/06/can-elephants-and-humans-live-together
- World Wildlife Fund (2017). African Elephant. Retrieved from https://www.worldwildlife.org/species/african-elephant