The Baobab Tree isn’t called the “Tree of Life” for nothing. The giant African trees can store hundreds of liters of water, which can be tapped in the dry periods. The fruit or “monkey bread” is high in vitamin C, and the leaves are used for medicine. Even the cork-like bark, which is fire-resistant, is used for making cloth and rope.
The enormous Baobab is one of the longest living trees in Africa. Most of the mature trees are hollow and provide living space for humans and animals. In fact one such tree which was made into a pub is said to have been carbon dated at over 6,000 years old!
Ready for the catch? The Tree of Life is not doing well. In fact, its one of the top ten endangered trees on the planet. Why? Climate change and the natural regeneration of Baobab has been badly affected.
This is where the elephants come in. Elephants only digest 40% of the vegetation they eat. The 60% of undigested (the dung) generates new plant growth as it is deposited. With humans destroying elephant habitat AND poaching the pachyderms for their tusks, the population has dwindled and they too are endangered.
Up to 30% of the tree species may require the elephants to help with dispersal and germination. Also, during migration they use the same paths, keeping habitats open so other species can use them. They bring down vegetation as they traverse, making it more accessible to the smaller species to feed. In the process, they also inadvertently create trails that humans use.
Daphne Sheldrick (of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust) has observed that many forms of life depend on the activity of the elephants. They are a keystone species (a species that has a disproportionately large effect on its environment relative to its abundance) to Africa.
So destroy the elephants, take with them the Baobab, as well as bushbabies, squirrels, rodents, snakes, tree frogs, scorpions, rollers, hornbills, parrots, kestrels, spinetails, barn owls, eagles, buffalo weavers, baboons and fruit bats. Not to mention the supplies of water and fruit to the people living on the savannah.
For more information on Daphne Sheldrick’s observations see IMPACT IN TSAVO.