EleFact Friday: Maintaining the Ecosystem

In last week’s EleFACT, we shared about the impressive nature of the elephant species’ in their ability to seemingly “know” what plants around the sanctuary or in the wild are poisonous or, even more impressively, how their bodies seem to react to toxins in less harmful ways than other species. As a follow-up, we thought it would be interesting to look at a study about how the foraging patterns of elephants fully shape the wild environments that they inhabit. 

A study from earlier this year examined Asian elephants in a Malaysian forest as they foraged alongside their human neighbors, who lovingly refer to the animals as “forest cleaners.” The free-roaming elephants proved that by selectively feeding on their preferred food plants, like grasses, palms, liana vines, and fast-growing trees, they actually influence plant and tree diversity through the forests, shaping the entire ecosystem of nature structure of the peninsula. 

The elephants were observed showing some previously undocumented behaviors as they pulled down vines from the overhead forest canopy and unearthed roots of tuberous plants. In the more mature forests, they preferred the palms ( like the lovely Lady we know), but in the younger forest areas where palms were not as prevalent, they preferred tree saplings. Researchers calculated that a single adult elephant could snap or uproot at least 39,000 tree saplings per year in a mature forest – an impressive feat. These foraging tactics, along with being able to strip leaves from branches, debark trees, or even harvest fruit by shaking the trees themselves, allowed for the elephants to “engineer” their own environment. By stopping the development of the more mature forests in open areas, they could maintain a more steady supply of their faster-growing foods which, in turn, provide food for many smaller herbivores. 

In relation to the sanctuary elephants and life here, the environmental impact of putting an elephant sanctuary on this piece of land was certainly a concern for some before building. Biologists were reluctant and expressed their worries about how the elephants would impact the local flora and fauna of the previously existing cattle farm. After a few years of being on the property, SEMA returned and did their own assessment and determined that the elephants actually positively impacted the land: like the study mentioned above says, the sanctuary elephants loved vines and only helped in the growth of the mature forests and trees on the property. In the years since the sanctuary’s fruition, many environmentalists and state agencies are pleased with the diversity that exists on sanctuary land.

This is just another example, like many we have shared before, about how imperative elephants are to their environments in the wild. Their success as a species directly correlates to the thriving nature of other species, both plant and animal, around them –; further proving how important it is for us, as humans, to do our part to protect them. 

P.S.: Link to the study:

Photo of Lady:


  1. REPLY
    Carey says

    Very happy to hear this. From what I know I thought it would be positively and this is the reason I have asked you before now. I’m sure there will be increased bio diversity resulting from elephant management as with the current human management.

  2. REPLY
    Izzy says

    Could you do a post on Rana’s health issues, if any? I know she’s already passed the average life span of an Asian and I’d like to know what health issues are interfering with my plan of her living forever.

    • REPLY
      Kat Blais says

      unfortunately, reality is interfering with your and scott’s plans of her living forever. she has had low red cell count, along with her reproductive issues. right now none of that is going on. but age will get us all eventually.

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