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New research shows the surprising way that elephants could change our planet — if we can save them from extinction

This research shows how elephants could undo much of the damage that humans have done to our planet.

Elephant face

Photo Credit: iStock

If we needed another reason to save endangered elephant species, scientists just discovered one. According to new research, elephants can help stop our planet from overheating — thanks to their eating habits.

According to a study published in Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS), elephants' natural inclination is to eat from small, leafy trees. This, in turn, leaves the larger trees more room to grow, which leads to more carbon capture. In addition, elephants travel across wide distances and spread seeds of larger trees that lock up more carbon per tree. 

Essentially, wherever elephants are grazing, more planet-warming carbon pollution is being removed from the air.

In a simulation run by researchers, the capacity of a forest to store carbon once elephants were removed would drop by 5.8% in the Republic of Congo and by 9.2% in the Democratic Republic of Congo, according to a summary by Bloomberg. 

Sadly, elephant populations have been dropping steadily for decades because of poaching and habitat loss caused by humans. 

African forest elephant populations have dropped 86% over a period of 31 years, while African savannah elephant populations dropped 60% over roughly the last 50 years. The African forest elephant is now listed as "critically endangered," while the African savannah elephant is "endangered."

In something of a vicious circle, these elephants are losing their ability to live and thrive in their natural habitats due to human interference, and, according to the new research, their very absence could make the planet less habitable for everyone.

The World Elephant Day organization says that one step that everyday people can take to avoid harming already vulnerable elephant populations is to be aware of which commercial products are grown on large-scale farms that have decimated elephant habitats — and to abstain from buying them. These include coffee that is not fair-trade or shade-grown, anything with palm oil, and potentially any wood product that is not certified by the Forest Stewardship Council.

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