Conservation of our planet’s botanical resources and ecosystems

Elephants in the coffee survey

“As part of our ongoing work on the elephant-human relationship, we are conducting a small survey on the broader understanding of elephants in the world. We look forward to your input and help as we try to strengthen our work to nurture a peaceful coexistence of animals and humans.”

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Elephants are considered “ecosystem engineers” in regard to their ability to modify the landscape they live in. they are “true gardeners” with respect to their effect on the flora and fauna of their habitat; they create suitable micro-environments for many species. Like humans, they are also long-lived and thus, their effect on their habitat is considerable. In recent times, their habitat has been encroached by people, fragmented by human activities, their populations isolated, and vulnerable to poaching. Among the top coffee exporting countries in Asia, following are the countries arranged in descending order: Indonesia, India, Thailand, Sri Lanka and Nepal. In India, coffee estates of located near forest regions and coffee is also grown under the shade rather than direct sunlight. The forest around the coffee plantation provides ideal and suitable climatic conditions, and water systems such rivers, stream, rivulets of the forest act as important irrigation source for coffee plantation. Tribal community in the forest are important agricultural labor for coffee. Without forest, water resources and tribal community, coffee plantations cannot survive. Species like elephants, helping through seed dispersal and as ecosystem engineers, they create forests. For example, in terms of depiction of elephants in mass media, the movie “Jungle Book” can be mentioned for their accurate portrayal of elephants and the role they play in creating forests. Coffee, grown in India needs shade trees, and the shade trees are both forest and horticultural species including fruit bearing trees. This environment of vegetation that is attractive to wild elephants in the vicinity of any type of protected area is ideal for the animals to venture into and consume. In addition, these areas will also have water-bodies that can be of use to elephants. The combination of accessibility and enticement of food makes the elephants venture into plantations. This creates conflict with the local people.