Why Study Elephants
Elephants can be found in Africa and Asia. There are two types of African elephants: savanna elephants live in savanna, grassland, and dry woodland habitat, and forest elephants live the dense rainforests of Central and West Africa. Elephants are a keystone species: they exert strong control on community structure and diversity relative to their population size. Keystone species support the healthy functioning of an ecosystem, and their loss can destabilize the entire community. In savannas, elephants maintain open grasslands by knocking down trees to feed on leaves and fruit. Other animals rely on watering holes that elephants dig as a water source in the dry season. Forest elephants knock down trees, creating gaps in the tree canopy that allow other plants to grow, which creates a more diverse forest. Elephants are also important seed dispersers and can disperse seeds up 57 km away from where they were ingested.
Elephant poaching and habitat loss have increased dramatically in the past several decades due to human population growth and a rising demand for ivory. These pressures have led to severe declines in elephant numbers and shrinking habitats. Based on the critical role that elephants play in ecosystems, broad efforts are underway to promote conservation of the species and their habitat. The first step of conservation is to assess the current population. In order to best protect elephants, researchers and conservationists are using a variety of methods to survey how many remain, where they live, and how the populations are changing.