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Food and Homes For All

Elephants eat trees.  This is a fact.  Sometimes they may eat only the leaves, but they also like eating the bark.  When they strip the bark off a tree, they usually do it by using one trunk to chisel the bark away from the trunk, and then they will grasp it with the trunk, and pull.  This creates openings in the tree’s defences.  In most cases it does not result in the tree actually dying immediately, but without protection, the exposed parts of the trunk are normally attacked by wood-boring beetles.  These beetles drill into the heartwood, and lay eggs inside.  Over time this can be enough to kill the tree.

Mongoose
This happens in many of northern Botswana’s protected areas.  Whilst this behavior doesn’t always make elephants universally popular, even with conservationists, there is no denying the value to the ecosystem that this dead wood brings.

Upright but dead trees provide nest sites for hornbills, woodpeckers, barbets, rollers, kingfishers, parrots and owls.

Fallen trees are an even greater resource.  Reptiles like lizards and snakes find a home in them.  Several species of mongooses, like the dwarf mongooses pictured above, exist in good numbers mostly because of the safety that dead trees provide.

But perhaps most important of all, the dead wood becomes available to insects, both for refuge, and for food.  Tons and tons of dead wood are consumed each day by termites.  In doing this, the termites are fast-forwarding the decomposition process.  And termites themselves are in turn eaten by numerous other creatures.

So the next time you are in the African bush and see a lot of dead trees around, think twice before putting too much blame on the elephants.  There are many other creatures out there who would thank them if they could.

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Ndumu River Lodge
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I am a South African who grew up in the former Transkei, (now the Eastern Cape) and I spent much of my time along the Wild Coast. For over ten years I have been working as a guide in northern Botswana, for a company called Wilderness Safaris. I spend many days of each year leading photographic safari trips with small groups of people through our fixed camps in the Kalahari, Okavango, Linyanti and Savuti regions, mostly. My special interests are birds, lions and photography, in no special order. When I am not guiding in the field, I take part in some of our companies environmental projects. Botswana is a country with a solid conservation ethic, and I am fortunate to be able to share some of what I do and see by means of my writing and my images. Visit my photography page