How giraffes, elephants impact the African environment


This 2019 video from South Africa says about itself:

Beautiful interaction between Elephant, Impala, Kudu and Giraffe at a waterhole in Kruger National Park.

From the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute:

How do giraffes and elephants alter the African Savanna landscape?

September 14, 2020

Summary: Through their foraging behavior across the diverse topography of the African savanna, megaherbivores may be unknowingly influencing the growth and survival of vegetation on valleys and plateaus, while preserving steep slopes as habitat refugia.

As they roam around the African savanna in search for food, giraffes and elephants alter the diversity and richness of its vegetation. By studying the foraging patterns of these megaherbivores across different terrains in a savanna in Kenya, scientists from the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute (STRI) and collaborating institutions discovered that these large mammals prefer to eat their meals on flat ground, potentially impacting the growth and survival of plant species on even savanna landscapes, such as valleys and plateaus.

Megaherbivores are more concerned about eating as much food as possible while expending the minimum amount of effort, than about avoiding potential predators. Elephants may consume as much as 600 pounds of vegetation in a day; giraffes, about 75. This drove scientists to wonder about the impact of these megaherbivores on vegetation across a range of landscapes in the savanna.

“Previous studies have demonstrated that megaherbivores adjust their movement patterns to avoid costly mountaineering,” said co-author David Kenfack, STRI staff scientist, coordinator of the ForestGEO network forest monitoring plots in Africa and recently elected Fellow of the African Academy of Sciences. “We wanted to know the extent to which fine-scale variations in topography may influence browsing damage by these charismatic megaherbivores and evaluate whether seasonal shortages in food availability would force the megaherbivores to venture into areas with rugged terrain.”

Their observations conducted within a 120-hectare Smithsonian ForestGEO long-term vegetation monitoring plot located at Mpala Research Center in Kenya confirmed that giraffes and elephants prefer flat ground while foraging. They compared the damage on Acacia mellifera trees, which grow all over the savanna landscape and are a common meal for megaherbivores. They found that the trees growing on steep slopes were taller and had fewer stems than those in valleys and plateaus, suggesting that elephant and giraffes tend to avoid feeding in these less accessible habitats.

This behavior did not change during the dry season, when resources become scarce, indicating that these two species would rather disperse to new areas with more favorable conditions than climb up a nearby slope to feed.

For the authors, these feeding patterns may help preserve steep slopes as habitat refugia, with a greater diversity and density of vegetation than more frequently visited areas. Their findings support this argument: the number and variety of trees encountered on the steep slopes was higher than in the valleys and plateaus.

“This study has broadened our understanding of the role of topography in explaining diversity patterns of plants,” said Duncan Kimuyu, a Smithsonian Mpala postdoctoral fellow, lecturer at Karatina University in Kenya and main author of the study. “Further research is warranted to understand how other factors such as differences in soil properties may interact with topography and megaherbivores to influence the growth and survival of vegetation in the African savanna.”

Members of the research team are affiliated with STRI, Karatina University, Mpala Research Center and Wildlife Foundation and the National Museums of Kenya. Research was funded by the Smithsonian Tropical Research Institute, ForestGEO and the International Foundation for Science (D/5455-2).

African elephant trails, new research


This 2017 video is called Africa’s Elephant Kingdom HD.

From Purdue University in the USA:

Following African elephant trails to approach conservation differently

August 31, 2020

Elephant trails may lead the way to better conservation approaches.

“Think of elephants as engineers of the forests,” said Melissa J. Remis, professor and head of anthropology at Purdue University, who is best known for her work in ecology and behavior of western gorillas and their ecosystems. “Elephants shape the landscape in many ways that benefit humans. We’re talking thousands of miles of trails. If we think about the loss of elephants over time, then we will see the forest structure change and human activities also would shift.”

These massive creatures trample thick vegetation through dense forests in the Central African Republic’s Congo Basin as they move from the forests’ fruit trees to more open water sources where they hydrate, bathe and socialize. African forest elephants, highly sociable animals, travel in small family groups to meet others at these muddy water sources, which are full of rich minerals that they can’t find in the forests. By clearing routes to these destinations, elephants have created a very complex network of roads that residents, tourists, scientists and loggers still use today. If elephant populations decline, the forest grows over the trails.

“The fabric and way of life of local communities, and even for the industries and conservation organizations that exist in African forests, have largely been shaped by elephant landscape design,” said Carolyn A. Jost Robinson, a former Purdue doctoral student and current visiting scholar who also is director of sociocultural research and engagement at the nonprofit Chengeta Wildlife. “People rely on these elephant highways, and they also are invaluable at understanding and explaining the networks.”

Remis and Jost Robinson focus on these massive trail networks and the ecosystem and local foraging community, called the BaAka, as they evaluate how biological anthropology plays a role in conservation. Their research is specific to the elephant trails leading to Dzanga Saline, a famous forest clearing with a large water source in the Congo area. Their findings are published online in American Anthropologist.

“Anthropologists are very famous for critiquing conservation but not always for coming up with effective solutions,” Remis said. “The area of conservation is dominated by biological sciences, and you can’t make change just tending to ecosystems. Conservation messages focus on flagship species, like elephants, and rarely do they consider the knowledge or needs of people relying on or living with those species. Attention on both could help further conservation and human rights issues.”

Framing the big picture

More than 30 years ago, Purdue University’s Melissa Remis visited the Dzanga-Sangha Protected Areas for the first time as a biological anthropologist to study gorillas. She became known as the gorilla lady as she visited the site dozens of times. Her fieldwork showed her that to know and study the gorillas, she had to learn about the forest and other wildlife from the local residents who share the land for food, shelter and medicines. Now Remis’ work focuses on the big picture — how the effects of conservation affect people, and what role biological anthropology can play.

“We’re broadening the conversation about conservation,” said Jost Robinson, who became known as the child of the gorilla lady by local residents at their African research site. “When you see a picture in a magazine story about ivory trafficking and elephant hunting, it is unlikely that the article will capture the entire experience of the community, as well as tourists, researchers and companies with local interests. As part of this change — whether you want to talk about climate change, forest access or wildlife protection — these relationships have evolved and taken on new shapes. We looked back on years of data and stories and realized there was a story to tell.”

By focusing on the local BaAka community, especially the hunters known as tuma, the scientists capture information from local residents about interaction and living with elephants that is usually not a part of conservation plans.

“We want this to be a model for showing how to get additional insights when addressing how to conserve forests in better collaboration with those people who rely on them for cultural and material sustenance,” Remis said. “Being able to tell their stories and share their deep knowledge about the area, and what closing off an elephant trail or part of the forest can due to cut off access to food, medicines or social networks, is usually not part of the conservation approach. We need to hear the BaAka in their own words.”

Mammoth discovery in Mexico


This 28 May 2020 video says about itself:

It is a discovery that could shed some light on the hunting habits of prehistoric communities in Mexico.

Archaeologists near Mexico City have discovered the remains of about 60 mammoths and other species.

Al Jazeera’s Sara Khairat reports.

Elephants versus lions in South Africa


This 16 January 2020 video from South Africa says about itself:

Elephant herd confronts a lion pride

An elephant herd that was drinking in a waterhole in Kruger park chased a lion pride that had caught something. The elephant herd was just being cautious for their young ones.

Filmed and credit via Brent Schnupp.

Crowned crane chases elephants from nest


This 12 May 2020 video says about itself:

Brave Bird Chases Elephants from Nest

A crowned crane is listed as endangered on the IUCN Red List and is protected by law in South Africa, Zimbabwe, Uganda and Kenya. They are usually very territorial especially in pairs and can get quite aggressive defending their territory or chicks.

It’s a different story when size comes to play, and for this crane, it seems that size was not even a problem when it took on a herd of elephants!

This incredible sighting was shared with LatestSightings.com by WildEearth’s SafariLive show. It is a company that streams live safaris every day from Greater Kruger, East Africa and other reserves. This sighting was, too, streamed on a live safari and in this episode, Tayla McCurdy, the presenter, narrates the experience.

Tayla McCurdy from South Africa came across a wonderfully unique sighting in Maasai Mara. A crowned crane had some eggs in an open area when a herd of elephants tried to walk through, grazing on the water plants which seem grass-like.

“I cannot say for sure if this is a male or female crowned crane, as both genders sit on the nest during breeding season. The crane jumped to the defense of the unborn chicks, as the mother took on the elephants!”

“The elephant seemed rather bemused by the situation and remained curious as to why the bird was flapping its wings. Various alarm calls did, in fact, seem to work at the beginning, as the bird kept launching forward, flapping wings and calling in defense of its nest. Eventually, the elephant became rather irritated and tried to push the bird away with its trunk before wandering off, leaving the eggs unharmed.”

“The bird, seemingly relaxed, then turned its attention to a baby elephant calf grazing nearby, as soon as it tried to charge for the calf, the 1st young elephant trumpeted a warning call and paced quickly in the direction of the calf. The crowned crane moved off, realizing that there was no longer any danger, leaving the elephant to graze peacefully but keeping a close eye.”

Extinct and living elephants, size comparison video


This 5 January 2020 video compares the sizes of extinct and living elephants.

Some elephant species, past and present:

0.African Bush Elephant
1.Eritherium azzouzorum
2.Phosphatherium escuilliei
3.Moeritherium
4.Cyprus dwarf elephant
5.Granastrapotherium
6.Barytherium grave
7.Pygmy Mammoth
8.Stegodon florensis
9.Platybelodon
10.Palaeomastodon beadnelli
11.Notiomastodon platensis
12.Phiomia serridens
13.Borneo pygmy
14.Stegomastodon
15.Cuvieronius hyodon
16.Sinomastodon
17.African forest elephant
18.Gomphotherium
19.Palaeoloxodon naumanni
20.American mastodon
21.Asian elephant
22.Pediolophodon
23.Sri Lanka elephants
24.Anancus
25.Woolly mammoth
26.Stegodon zadanskyi
27.Columbian mammoth
28.Southern mammoth
29.Stegotetrabelodon
30.Imperial mammoth
31.Zygolophodon
32.Palaeoloxodon antiquus
33.Palaeoloxodon recki
34.Deinotherium giganteum
35.Steppe mammoth
36.Palaeoloxodon namadicus

How elephants and armadillos get drunk


This 2011 video is called African Animals Getting Drunk From Ripe Marula Fruit.

By Susan Milius, May 1, 2020 at 6:00 am:

Why mammals like elephants and armadillos might get drunk easily

Differences in a gene for breaking down alcohol might help explain which mammals get tipsy

An elephant, a narwhal and a guinea pig walk into a bar. From there, things could get ugly.

All three might get drunk easily, according to a new survey of a gene involved in metabolizing alcohol. They’re among the creatures affected by 10 independent breakdowns of the ADH7 gene during the history of mammal evolution. Inheriting that dysfunctional gene might make it harder for their bodies to break down ethanol, says molecular anthropologist Mareike Janiak of the University of Calgary in Canada.

She and colleagues didn’t look at all the genes needed to metabolize ethanol, but the failure of this important one might allow ethanol to build up more easily in these animals’ bloodstreams, Janiak and colleagues report April 29 in Biology Letters.

The carnivorous cetaceans, grain- or leaf-eating guinea pigs and most other animals that the study identified as potentially easy drunks probably don’t binge on sugary fruit and nectar that brews ethanol. Elephants, however, will feast on fruit, and the new study reopens a long-running debate over whether elephants truly get tipsy gorging on marula fruit, a relative of mangoes.

Descriptions of elephants behaving oddly after binging on overripe fruit go back at least to 1875, Janiak says. Later, a taste test offering the animals troughs of water spiked with ethanol found that elephants willingly drank. Afterward, they swayed more when moving and seemed more aggressive, observers reported.

Yet in 2006, physiologist Steve Morris of the University of Bristol in England and colleagues attacked the notion of elephant inebriation as “a myth”. Among their arguments was a calculation that even if African elephants really were feasting on fallen, fermenting marula fruit, the animals could not physically eat the huge amount necessary at one time to get a buzz (SN: 6/13/17). However, that calculation extrapolated from human physiology. The new insight that elephants’ ADH7 gene doesn’t work might mean they have a lower tolerance for the tipple.

It wasn’t elephants, though, but tree shrews that inspired the new work (SN: 7/28/08). They look like “cute squirrels with pointed noses,” says senior author Amanda Melin, a biological anthropologist also at Calgary, and they have a prodigious tolerance for alcohol. Concentrations of ethanol that would make a human sloppy apparently don’t phase the little animals. She, Janiak and colleagues decided to survey all of the mammal genetic information that they could find to indirectly assess the variety of responses to alcohol. “We were on a patio drinking beer when we first sketched out the paper,” Janiak remembers.

Looking at genetic information available on 79 mammal species, researchers found that ADH7 has lost its function in 10 separate spots on the mammal family tree. These ethanol-susceptible twigs sprout quite different animals: elephants, armadillos, rhinos, degus, beavers and cattle among them.

In contrast, humans and nonhuman African primates have the reverse situation, a mutation that renders their ADH7 some 40 times more efficient at dismantling ethanol than a typical mammalian version. Aye-ayes, with diets rich in fruit and nectar, have independently evolved the same trick (SN: 10/22/19). What gives tree shrews their drinking superpower, however, remains a mystery since they don’t have the same superefficient gene.

Finding the gene dysfunction in the African elephant, however, raises questions about the old inebriation arguments. A slower capacity for clearing ethanol from the body could mean that the smallish amount that an elephant gets from eating its full of fermented fruit might be enough to change their behavior after all, Melin says.

Behavioral ecologist Phyllis Lee has been watching elephants in Kenya’s Amboseli National Park since 1982 and is now director of science for Amboseli Trust for Elephants. “In my youth, we tried to brew a form of maize beer (we were desperate), and the elephants loved to drink it,” she says. She does not take sides in the myth debate, although she muses about the “huge liver” of elephants, which would have at least some detoxifying power.

“I never saw one that was tipsy”, Lee says, although that home brew “didn’t do much for us puny humans either.”

Top 15 biggest extinct elephants and mammoths


This November 2019 video says about itself:

Experts say the last mammoths died out just 3600 years ago…but they should have survived. We usually think of woolly mammoths as purely Ice Age creatures. But while most did indeed die out 10,000 years ago, one tiny population endured on isolated Wrangel Island until 1650 BCE. Geneticists have sketched out the woolly mammoth’s family tree using ancient DNA found preserved in Siberia.

The extinct beasts are more closely related to Asian elephants than to African elephants, the researchers found, and the three species diverged within a surprisingly short period of time. In this video, we showcase and explain to you the 15 largest and biggest extinct elephants and mammoths.

Sleepy elephants in Kenya


This 24 March 2020 video from Kenya says about itself:

These calves and adult elephants from the ‘Winds’ herd show us just how they like their midday naps in Samburu National Reserve. Some prefer standing, others like to snuggle up, and then, of course, there are those who eventually give in to the wave of sleep after a delicate balancing act! Footage: Alfred Ngachi / Save the Elephants.