Elephant Trails: Forest African Elephants Create NetworkElephant Trails: Forest African Elephants Create Network

Forest African elephants, the so-called Forest engineers, create elephant trails that are needed by natives and plants and animals that are now frightening by the decline of elephants.

Carolyn Jost Robinson, director of Chengeta wildlife sociocultural research & community engagement, has worked for many decades in the Dspa or Dzanga Sangha reserve, a UNESCO World Heritage site in the Central African Republic.

She and the head of Purdue University’s Anthropology Department and Professor Melissa Remis followed the complicated paths of elephants and studied the behavior of western lowland gorillas and duikers.

However, they never managed to observe the actual trails, neglecting the convenience they offered. Until 2012, they began studying these trails that always gave them easy access to campgrounds, data and water. They understood the importance of these complex networks created by elephants.

Road network study
The results of their study were published in the journal American Anthropologist. In it, Jost Robinson and zero studied how elephants shaped the forest landscape by creating paths so useful and necessary for locals, researchers and animals.

This ecosystem of the trail and the forest in which it is located are now frightening by deforestation and elephant poaching. Their loss will have a significant impact on the BaAka, the indigenous group that uses the trails to hunt small games, collect medicine and obtain resources in their labyrinthine forest home.

According to the draw, BaAka must also be considered for conservation efforts to be successful. Wildlife and humans must be preserved and protected.
Elephant Savanna elephants live in open areas south of the Sahara and are larger than forest elephants. The latter have smaller sizes and are more elusive and inhabit dense forests.

Due to poaching and habitat destruction, they are now limited to 25% of their traditional range. Their number rose from about several million in the 1930s to the current number and did not reach 100,000.


The Dzanga-Sangha Reserve is a 2,000-square-mile sanctuary with about 4,000 elephants. Every day the animals leave the fruit trees and go to The “Elephant village”, a huge clearing filled with mineral water. As they walk, elephants trample and descend trees to create paths thousands of miles long. These trails are used by large and small animals such as Forest buffaloes and rodents, as well as by people from tourists to Native tribes.

The need for elephants

Founder and director Kate Evans, a behavioral ecologist and elephants for Africa, says they are the wild landscapers who open up more habitats and make water accessible during drought. They provide essential access to the resources required by other species.

Without them, the seeds of the fruits you eat can not be scattered in your feces and prevent them from multiplying. The spread of nitrogen and other nutrients from elephant droppings will also be limited and will hinder plant growth. The paths become overgrown and limit the animals ‘ access to food and water. Without the elephants and the paths they make, the ecology and structure of the forest are disrupted.

The role of BaAka

The BaAka are among the oldest inhabitants of the forest. The ways they call bembo are an integral part of their culture. They use them to gather resources, exchange dances and spouses with other communities, and use elephant hunters.

The BaAka use elephants as food in a sacred and sustainable way, as far as the animals and forest spirits that run the hunters are concerned.

Due to the decline in elephant populations due to poaching for the ivory trade, they are prohibited from hunting elephants. They were driven out of their forest house, exposed to poverty and separated from their traditions.

This is why the researchers want to take into account the protection needs of BaAka to allow them greater access to elephants and trails within protected areas.

According to Jost Robinson, elephant trails can help us better understand how to interact with and protect the environment, including African forest elephants.

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