05 June 2023
PROTECT WILDLIFE, PROTECT FORESTS, PROTECT THE WORLD
In a world increasingly at risk of ecological disaster due to the climate crisis, the importance of forests has never been clearer. On World Environment Day 2023, we highlight Born Free’s projects around the world that are helping preserve this critical ecosystem and the species that are integral to their functioning and survival.
Forests are one of our biggest allies in tackling the climate crisis – they are incredibly important carbon sinks, drawing in billions of tonnes of atmospheric carbon every year. The Congo basin, for example, captures and stores 1.2 billion tonnes of carbon each year – without the Congo basin humans could not exist; it is that simple.
Yet forests around the world are at huge risk from deforestation of expansive areas for agriculture and settlements by humans. It is essential that we preserve forests, in order to prevent runaway climate change, and irreversible ecological damage to our planet.
Conservation of forests is not just about trees, but also the interconnected ecosystem webs and every species that has a function in that ecosystem. Therefore, conserving animals within forest ecosystems is essential to the conservation of the forest ecosystem itself.
Many animals can be considered ecosystem engineers due to the profound positive impact their behaviour can have on the environment in which they live, and removing such a species could have catastrophic consequences. Born Free works with many of these species in forest ecosystems around the world.
For example, Born Free’s new programme the Guardians of Dja aims to preserve vital habitat for two species of great apes – chimpanzees and gorillas – in the peripheral, heavily settled areas of the Dja Biosphere Reserve in Cameroon. Gorillas, for example, play a pivotal role in seed dispersal: when they feed on fruit, they swallow the seeds whole.
These seeds are then deposited in their dung around their nest sites in areas of open canopy, which means plant growth is promoted in areas of clear forest (whether natural or human caused). Hence, these apes help to rejuvenate the ecosystem. By preserving their habitat, the Guardians of Dja programme will help to ensure that great apes can continue carrying out this critical function.
It is not only great apes that can have a significant impact on forest ecosystems. Forest elephants, as they move through the undergrowth, trample young plants, enabling the older, more established trees – that have the greatest carbon sequestration capacity – to thrive.
Forest elephants are a Critically Endangered species, and their extinction from a local area could be catastrophic, significantly reducing the carbon sequestration potential of the forests they live in. Conversely, increasing their populations could have great benefits in our battle against the climate crisis.
ELRECO (Elephant Research and Conservation) is a non-governmental organisation, supported by Born Free, that strives to conserve and eventually increase the populations of forest elephants in an important stronghold in Liberia. They have been trialling novel conflict mitigation strategies such as ‘Buzz Boxes’ – remotely triggered speakers that play buzzing bee sounds (which elephants are afraid of) to deter crop-raiding in farmers’ fields.
These strategies allow elephants to coexist in increasingly human-dominated landscapes, and their populations to not be at threat of retaliation from farmers. Consequently, this ensures that the carbon sequestration potential of this critical forest habitat is preserved, protecting the forests and benefitting the climate at the global level.
Conserving an ecosystem, such as forests, relies on taking a holistic approach and fully understanding and appreciating the role that every species plays in maintaining the natural processes that ecosystems perform. For any hope of reducing or even stopping the catastrophic climate trends, we must realise our reliance on the global ecosystem services provided by forest ecosystems and strive to do everything in our power to preserve them for future generations.