The African Savannah: The Keystone Species Vital to The Survival Of The Ecosystem

Preserving ecosystems are important to maintain balance in an ecosystem, and keeping intact ecosystems are mostly managed by keystone species. The absence of such keystone species such as elephants, lions, vultures or even termites will gravely tip the balance, as without them, the ecosystem may not survive.

As part of the education and conservation process, Lladró has sculpted anatomically perfect animals in the African Savannah to raise awareness. These pieces are a reminder in our homes of the importance of maintaining the balance with nature and ecosystems, and how what we do everyday can help to protect the vulnerable African savannah.

Lladró African Savannah sculpture captures the African elephants’ mass migration at the beginning of the dry season, a journey of up to 100km, to find water sources and lush areas.


Most experts consider elephants to be one of the most important keystone species in the African savannah. In droughts, elephants use their strong tusks to dig for water. This deed doesn’t just help the elephants survive dry environments, but is crucial to provide water to other animals in the savanna that are not able to dig so deep into the hard soil.

White matt porcelain elephants

The ecosystem engineers also plow through a lot of vegetation as they graze in large volumes. When elephants eat, the gaps they create allow new plants to grow and keeps forests at bay, to preserve the open grassland landscape, in which many animals and plants require for survival. Elephants also leave seeds in many places from the various plants they eat in their dung. This maintains the ecosystem with new grasses, bushes and trees. Elephants also bring down branches of trees, providing fruit, leaves and other food resources to the ground for other animals.


Three elephants in full colour

In the past, before Europeans began colonising Africa, there may have been as may as 26 million elephants. When the Europeans arrived, the commercial ivory trend picked up as tusks were used for billiards balls, piano keys, combs and other items. By 1970, the population of elephants dwindled to 1.3 million. The current estimation is ~415,000 elephants.

Read more about elephants being nature's great masterpieces. 

White Rhinoceros

When the death of the last male northern white rhino in 2018 garnered a lot of public attention, people started to be aware of the plight of rhinos. Now functionally-extinct, the subspecies lived in Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo, and were decimated by militant armies. By the time experts determined that the northern white rhino is extinct in the wild, there were only a handful of zoo animals remaining and none were capable of reproducing. As of today, only two non-breeding females live in a reserve in Kenya.

Read more about this story on National Geographic.

The anatomically perfect Northern White Rhino sculpted by in-house sculptor Ernest Massuet. The true-to-colour version has been retired in 2023.

White Rhinos have a distinctive square jaw that sets them visually apart from other rhino species.

Southern white rhinos were thought to be extinct, but in 1895, a small population of less than 100 rhinos were discovered in Kwazulu-Natal, South Africa. Now, more than a century of protection and management, approximately 20,000 rhinos exist in protected areas and private game reserves. They are the only of the five rhino species that are not endangered, but with the persistent poaching and habitat loss over many decades, births are just barely outpacing deaths.

In this repopulation, researchers conducted a 30-year aerial survey record (starting in the 1980s) of the reintroduction and growth of the southern white rhinos and how the growth of the population affects the ecosystem in reality. They pinpointed high and low density sites, recorded and tracked plant species and fauna species. Where there was an absence of rhinos, researches found 60 to 8o% less short grass cover.

Will this sculpture of the Northern White Rhino be the only rhino kids see in the future?

Based on these findings, researchers think that white rhinos, just as the elephants, control the size of grasslands in the African savannah, and promotes a plethora of edible plants for smaller grazing animals such as zebra, gazelle, antelope and other endangered animals. As an “umbrella“ keystone species, white rhinos maintain certain plant communities and protect the food of many African animals.


Simba from The Lion King, given the Lladró porcelain treatment through official Disney licensing.

Lions are large predators key in keeping herbivore populations under control in the African savannah. Without predators to keep the balance in the ecosystem, grazers such as antelope and zebra will cause overgrazing and deplete the lush plains. They are also known to kill large herbivores such as elephants and giraffes. Despite being on top of the food chain, they aren't naturally aggresive and only hunt for food.

Ready to pounce.


Giraffes, like elephants, are categorised as megaherbivores - large terrestrial animals that due to their size, minimise the effort required to graze. Due to their behaviour, they help preserve vegetation on slopes on the savannah, creating undulating regions where other wildlife can prosper. Despite their herbivore status, they are actually powerful fighters that leverage their tall stature and long limbs. They can often fend off against singular hunters and engage in mating fights where they are left with patches of damaged skin.

Gentle giants with their iconic long tongues. The African Savannah Collection is also available in coloured variants.
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