Elephants are the giant herbivores of the savannas. They are continually munching on grasses, fruit and tree bark. We know that elephants ringbark trees to get at the nutrients and that this bark-munching is also known to fight off tooth decay. However, there is one tree that is rather the favourite of the elephant: the baobab tree.
These two giants of the African landscape happily coexist and actually rely on each other to survive.
Living for thousands of years, the uniquely shaped baobab tree stores water inside its trunk, which it builds up during the rainy season, holding up to 120,000 litres of water! With their tusks, elephants can tear away at the outer bark of the baobab to access the softer, inner part of the trunk which is full of stored water. The elephants rip off pieces, chewing on them to release the water. Sometimes, they use their enormous strength to tear off whole branches to get at the water. It is all about staying hydrated under the African sun during the dry season.
Over time, however, baobab trees can dry out and fall from the damage that elephants have done. Despite this, elephants play an important role in spreading the baobab seeds and therefore helping the baobab population thrive and spread to new areas. Elephants love to crack open the hard shell of the baobab fruit to get at the flesh inside. As this contains the baobab seeds, these are then carried inside the elephants’ stomach as they roam about the savannah and the seeds are dispersed through their dung. This is a huge benefit to the baobab, as its seedlings can find new and open landscapes in which to thrive, and it also benefits the elephants by effectively opening up new water sources.
This is a great example of the importance of the holistic conservation work favoured by Peace Parks Foundation. When elephants are protected, so too are the baobab trees and, in turn, the landscape too.