Large and in Charge

How a herd of elephants prevents wilderness from becoming a wasteland.

December 04, 2014

“Without elephants, Kenya would look and smell different than it does today. It would not support the Samburu warriors herding cattle or the fleet packs of ungulates bounding past them. Without large herbivores, the wilderness would look much more like sparsely inhabited parts of the Americas, Europe, and Siberia—forests dominated by large trees, with mainly small animals darting about in the shadows. This may seem like a healthy ecosystem, but some researchers say it is far from natural—or ideal. Giant herbivores have shaped Earth’s ecosystems for millennia. Today, only Africa retains a hint of epochs past, when large animals, or ‘megafauna,’ dictated the shape of the landscape on every habitable continent. A world without large herbivores—much of the world today—means a loss of grassland, scrub forest, biodiversity. Hello trees, goodbye wilderness.” 

—From “The Natural World Is an Elephant World,” Jude Isabella’s Nautilus story about how big herbivores play a big role in creating healthy ecosystems

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