01 Oktober 2018 | Tourismus

The Real Boss of Africa

Elephants: These huge and yet tender mammals that easily conquer the heart of every small child and fascinate adults of all ages. Silently they go about their business meaning no harm to anyone or any animal, unless you dare them to show you their real status - the real king of the jungle and the savannah.

From its animal order Proboscidea through to the family of Elephantidae, it remains the only survivor of the Proboscidea, which in prehistoric times included the mammoth, mastodons and other species. As is evident from the name, the African Bush Elephant (Loxodonta africana) and the African Forest Elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) inhabit the African continent while Asia is home to the Asian or Indian Elephant (Elephas maximus).

Uniquely equipped

Equipped with its long trunk, the elephant has a multi-tool designed for breathing, scenting, sucking up water and grasping objects. The versatile proboscis comprises of roughly 150 000 muscles, which can lift weights of several 100 kilograms. This is important, as the average animal needs to consume roughly 300 kg of branches, twigs and foliage per day of which they digest roughly 25%, whereas the rest passes right through their digestive system to be otherwise consumed by birds and beetles once excreted. Adult females weigh around 3.5 tons whereas the average male brings around 5 tons to the scale.

Elephant are uniquely equipped with molars which grow back from the back, as the front ones are continuously worn down on account of their dietary habits. In contrast the incisors grow into tusks, which over time have become their biggest liability, causing humans to slaughter this animal close to extinction, just to lay their hands on ivory.

Living space

Apart from humans, elephants have only few natural enemies - more so when they are still young. There was time when these animals and humans in the greater parts of Africa were able to cohabitate in a natural equilibrium, where one contained the other’s numbers. That was the time, when man had no gun with which he could turn the eternal conflict for more living space to his unfair advantage.

The African elephant has been declared as vulnerable on the list of the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN). In Namibia it was the game warden Bernabé de la Bat and other conservationists of his time - some of them having converted from hunter to conservationist - who were the first people to draw elephants, which were in the process of becoming distinct in Namibia during the early 1950’s, to Etosha by establishing water points and thus saving the animals from frustrated farmers, whose crops previously were an easy target for these eating machines. Etosha’s more than 2 500 elephants comprise of some of the largest in Africa, reaching a shoulder height of 4 meters. But their tusks are much smaller.

KAZA trans-border sanctuary

The elephant of Namibia’s north-eastern regions forms part of the bigger elephant migration routes spanning the Bushmanland of Namibia as well as the Okavango-area reaching to the Delta in Botswana and extending to the Chobe area and beyond into Zimbabwe, back up to Zambia and closing the circle by including Angola’s south-eastern area - what is now known as the KAZA trans-border conservation area. These animals are more prone to poaching on account of their bigger and more sturdy tusks.

Desert-adapted elephants

Obviously the most impressive elephants of Namibia are the so-called desert elephants. Contrary to popular belief these animals do not belong to a different species or are bigger than the “others”. These are simply African Elephants which have adapted to the harsh desert environment and seem much bigger in an area, where brush and trees are scarce, thereby rendering them to appear bigger than other elephants.

They are unique in that they cover much bigger distances from one waterhole and feeding area to the next. They are found predominantly in the semi-arid north-west of Namibia - specifically Damaraland and Kaokoland. Their diet is much the same as any other elephant, being leaves, shoots, bark, flowers, fruit, etc. They do however tend to eat more grass after the first rains. Their greyer appearance is simply the result of the environment in which they live, as these areas have a limier soil in which the animals wallow, much the same as they do anywhere else in Namibia.

Elephants have right of way

Elephants trumpet out their emotion when getting excited or possibly angry, but most of their sound communication is done with hypersonic sounds, inaudible to the human ear. They should always be respected and given right of way.

Namibia has a number of organizations supporting this mammal, which is probably less endangered here, on account of the Government as well as the population at large taking a keen interest in supporting conservation efforts. Elephant Human Relations Aid (EHRA) is one such organisation, but then you also find the many Government-sponsored parks and sanctuaries in the north of Namibia as well as privately-owned guest farms and lodges, which all successfully contribute towards saving this animal, whether this is Ongava-, Erindi-, Mount Etjo- or any other lodge.

Frank Steffen