Not long ago in South Africa’s Soutpansberg, I watched a line of otherwise fastidious visiting high school students standing at a workbench happily sifting with their fingertips through specimens of excrement. Leopard excrement, to be precise. They were picking out hair, teeth, bones, horns, and claws, the undigested remnants of victims of predatory attacks—to be used in identifying the shifting dietary habits of local leopards.
The yuck factor aside, animal excrement, dung, scat, spoor, feces, poop, crap, or just plain shit is a topic of enormous importance for biologists and for biodiversity. It is of course also a source of many bad jokes, as anyone who has performed an owl pellet dissection in high school biology may recall.
But never mind that. Let’s start with the biodiversity, or rather, with the story of the honey locust tree.
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Elephant importance and peril.