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  • Writer's pictureAydah Aydah

THE AFRICAN GIANT



The African bush elephant, often called the African giant, is the biggest mammal on land and part of the big five games. This huge beast weighs up to 6300kilograms for males and 3600 kilograms for females, and a male adult can reach a height of about 3.5 metres. They are slightly bigger than the Asian elephants and have larger ears than them.

Habitat

African elephants live closest to the equator in the open savannah and deserts of Africa.

The African forest elephants can be found in western and Central Africa while the African savannah elephants can be found in east and south Africa.

Most tourists visiting Africa and Uganda in particular are always interested in seeing the savannah elephant. Uganda has about 5,000 elephants, which can be easily seen in the national parks of Kidepo Valley, Murchison Falls and Queen Elizabeth. They are also found in Mount Elgon, Bwindi Impenetrable Forest, Kibale and Semiliki.

The body structure of an elephant plays a big role in it's survival; it's wrinkled rough skin is vital in increasing skin surface for cooling and also traps sweat for moisture.


For its skin care routine, elephants love to wallow in the mud which acts as sunscreen against the sun and keeps the skin moist. This at the same time helps get rid of bugs.

The elephant's trunk which is an extension of the upper lip and nose and is a significant body part; used for feeding, breathing, sensing, defense, and sound production. The is trunk shielded by the tusks which stand side by side at the lower part of the trunk.


Covering a sixth of its entire body are the large ears which look almost like the African landscape! The ears are a cooling surface that reduce the overall body temperatures and are comprised of many tiny blood vessels. The small vessels are separated by a thin layer from the outer surface allowing warm blood to cool over a large span.

Reproduction

The African elephant has a gestation period of 22 months, almost a whole two years, making it the longest gestation period of all mammals in the world! Relatively close is that of the Asian elephants that goes for about 18 - 22 months. Baby elephants grow at a slow pace partially due to their physical size and level of intellect at the time of birth. The African elephant usually gives birth to one calf and a few rare cases of twin calves registered. It has a weaning period of about 3-5 years which is halted by conception of new calf.


Elephants are born with temporary incisors (tusks) that are replaced with permanent ones later at 6- 13months. Both the male and female are born with same tusks, but females stop growing theirs at a certain period of their life. The tusks are also used for digging watering holes, reaping tree barks for food and defence mechanism.



Brain and memory

You could attribute it to its longer gestation period, elephants are born with a higher level of intellect compared to other animals with the exception of humans. This helps them to adapt easily to the new environment from day one of birth. With a brain of about 4.5 -5.5kilograms, thrice the size of a human brain, elephants have a strong memory which plays a big role in their survival in the wild. They can remember their family members even those from decades ago who have passed on and can recognize their remains. Further still, they remember their primary home of birth and always come back after a period of wandering.


A good example is a particular elephant named Bulbul. Bulbul was born in Kidepo, and wanders off to South Sudan every year. However, just about Women’s Day 8th of March, he comes back- every year! He stays for about a week, then wanders back again, only to come and celebrate Women’s Day in Kidepo the next year!


Because of its advanced brain, elephants can remember the best place to go for food, safe rivers for water and the route back!


Apart from humans, you can only compare their intellect to that of the chimpanzee.

Feeding

An adult African elephant eats about 300kg of food and drinks up to 200 litres of water very day! How long would a human take to consume all that? However, only 40% of this is digested, while the rest comes out, leaving elephant dung easily recognizable when you’re travelling in one of its habitats.


The elephant spends 16-18 hours per day eating- that is 80% of its time is spent munching grass, leaves, branches, shrubs bark, roots and fruits! The trunk and tusks vital in accessing food. Rearing up on their hind legs, the elephant raises its trunk and breaks down tree branches that are raised above it. Still due to its flexibility and strength, the trunk is able to extract a shrub and to hold12 litres of water! An elephant will knock down an entire tree just to have fruits while as use its tusks to tear into tree barks.


As if that's not witty enough, elephants will pile stones to help reach a branch!

Elephants need vast land for food and water and will roam over 3000 square kilometres. With increased pressure on its habitat due to population and economic growth, elephants increasingly encroach on farms and plantations especially during the night when the owners are asleep. In Uganda, the Uganda Wildlife Authority does a wonderful job in working with the communities around the national parks where elephants are found, to help them protect their gardens without harming the elephants.


Social setup

Great values are attached to a family sticking together and elephants have mastered this art to the letter!


Socially, elephants live in an organized structure which comes down from families to bonds and clans. Savannah elephant family units usually comprises of 6-20 members. Whereas the male older elephants prefer living alone, the older female elephants always stick with their offspring for life. When male elephants reach puberty age; 12 -15years, they leave the herd to start a life of their own or join more receptive older elephants in a "gang".

The oldest female matriarch leads the herd, which is always compromised of other old females, calves and grandcalves. She is entrusted this role to ensure the survival of the future generation. Others look up to her for guidance and leadership, because the older female elephants know the safest river crossings, areas with enough food and water and know how to recognize signs of changing seasons. The leading female always knows where to take the herd for feeding and how to get there.



The claves in the herd always look up to older females for emotional and physical support, thus preparing them for their future roles.


During changes in seasonal pattern, especially dry seasons, elephants join other families to make bonds of five or more families. These bonds act as a second family unit for genetically related elephants. This is a way to ensure that families are sustained and survive in the hard times. These meet at a familiar watering place and favourite feeding spots and are often seen crisscrossing trunks with each other, rumbling, and purring perhaps as a salutation gesture!


When the situation comes to order, the families that had been scattered during the crisis period come together in large groups "clans" which are made up of different bonds, groups and families. In savannah elephants, these clans can go to more than 70 individuals!

This beautiful aspect of life can be attributed to a well-developed intellect. Not only is the elephant giant, but also highly holds family values.


Elephants treasure their beloved ones, and this can be seen through how they help their injured members and protect any individual of the herd from predators. An elephant will charge towards the enemy, swing them with their strong trunk before finally stamping over them until they cannot raise no more.


Even after decades, an elephant is able to recognize the bones of a deceased family member!

Life span

In the wild, the African elephant lives for up to 70 years. The African elephant in captivity live for a shorter period and die before the age of 40 due to stress and poor mental health.


The African Elephant has been listed on the red list of endangered species by the International Union of Conservation of Nature. With the African savannah elephant status being endangered and the African forest elephant being severely endangered. This is mainly due to increased human settlement in conservation areas. This has led to poaching and killing of these animals who wander off into plantations in search for food.

There is a better way to scare them off than killing them. Big and mighty huh! Did you know elephants fear bees?! Yes you could put bee hives around your plantations to keep these giants off.

So big and strong, magnificent and commanding, the African Giant still remains vulnerable and risks being extinct. We at Alakara Travels advocate for conservation and sustainability and therefore argue you to report any presence of wild animals in the community or any other bad vice like poaching to the Uganda Wildlife Authority -UWA on info@wildlife.go.ug


Would you love to see these magnificent creatures? Alakara Travels organizes trips to all the national parks in Uganda- contact us today for a chat about a trip to one of the national parks where you can meet the elephant!


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