The African Elephant

(Loxodonta africana)

As one of our favourite species we though we’d share some of our best nugget’s of wisdom on these stunning creatures.

Have fun with some of these interesting facts about the Elephants of the Kruger National Park. 

  • Loxodonta Africana means the curving tooth of Africa.
  • They have an incredibly well developed temporal lobe with the largest terrestrial brain.
  • Their brain has a large hippo-campus for memory and cerebral cortex for recognition.
  • Adults can differentiate up to 200 individuals by sight and nearly double by sound.
  • They communicate with infrasound and ultra-low frequency which is below the bass level. We can hear as low as 25 Dbz but they can hear as low as 5Dbz.
  • Researchers have discovered 400 distinct calls, 3 times the number us humans can hear.
  • Old females can recognise 100 females by their call alone.
  • They have what’s called “elephantine” extrasensory perception. 
  • The well documented Elephant culling program in the Kruger National Park lasted till 1995 and after a decade moratorium it started again in 2005. There is no current plan that is active. In fact Kruger’s Elephant population is now the highest its ever been around 20,000 animals.
  • A large adult eats up to 50 tonnes of its environment annually.
  • Elephants forage between 18 to 20hrs per day to maintain the skeletal structure.
  • 6 tonne bulls grinds down +-180kg of wet mass per day (grass, herbs, leaves, roots, fruits, flowers and tree bark) and combined consumption can be as much as 350kg per day.
  • A 3 tonne pregnant female or females suckling calf can proportionately eat more than a large Bull on a daily basis to accommodate for their baby on board.
  • Elephants are “bulk, mixed feeders” as they weigh more than 1,000kg and browse and graze in excess of 50kg of matter per day. 
  • Grass is preferred in wet season when annuals are in carrying capacity. The grasses provide the ighest values of phosphorus and calcium which are arguably their most important building blocks. 
  • In the dry season when annual and perennials are minimal and only carrying 5% protein value, elephants will turn to trees and leaves which still carry +-15% protein value. Here they feed on the bark rich tannin and leaves.
  • An Elephants wet season diet comprises of 70% grass in central and southern Kruger.
  • In the dry northern regions grass still comprises 40% of the dry season diet whilst only 10% in the south.
  • In the Mopane forests of the north, elephants rely more heavily on grasses as over browsing on Mopane causes dangerous levels of toxicity and can even lead to death. 
  • 60% of vegetation passes through gut undigested with the average sized Elephant passing +- 100kg of dung per day. Large bulls will pass +-150kg per day. 
  • Due to their large size they have a very slow metabolic rate. 
  • An elephants heart beats  only 10 times per minute.
  • Elephants are absolutely critical to seed dispersal  and as many as 12,000 acacia seeds have been found in a single dung pile of one mature Bull. 
  • Acacia seeds in elephant dung have a 75% germination success rate compared to 12% success rate from the natural process of pod falling to the floor. This enhanced vernalation process is fundamental to productive seed dispersal. 
  • Can Elephants get drunk on Marula Fruit ?
    • Firstly Marula fruit contain 6,9ml per gram VitC, thats 8 x more than an orange !
    • Fallen fruit can reach an ethanol content of 3% after 3 to 4 days
    • Elephant intoxication would mean no drinking of any water for a few days and consuming only Marula fruit at 400% the normal daily intake. So its impossible !
    • Elephant’s don’t eat the Marula trees bark in summer when the fruit is available.
  • Engineers of the Savanna, Elephants open up thickets and dense bush in a way that assists other mammal species. This process is called facilitation.

History and facts on Elephant poaching in Africa between the 12th and 21st Century.

  • Commercial ivory poaching dates back to the 12th and 13th centuries in Africa.
  • In the late 1700’s (1780) Delagoa Bay known today as Maputo was already exporting 50,000kg’s of Elephant ivory annually.
  • Large herds recorded by British hunter Cornwallis Harris around Magaliesburg region in todays Gauteng (Johannesburg) region of South Africa. It is estimated that the Transvaal Boer (Afrikaner) Republic was exporting 90,000kgs of ivory (elephant and rhino) annually in 1855 to Europe and America.

Elephant populations in the Kruger National Park

  • The first real accounts of Elephant populations returning back to Kruger National Park, after centuries of hunting and wondering for better gazing and browsing, were in 1890 by Frederick Kirby who sighted a herd on the Timbavati River in the central region of the park.
  • The first Warden of the Kruger National Park, James Stevenson Hamilton, noted that the only notable accounts of Elephant in the Park were in 1902 with animals sighted along the Letaba and Olifant’s rivers that divide the central and northern regions.
  • Harry Wolhuter notes the re-colonisation of animals between 1908 and 1920 with herds increasing along the Letaba and Olifant’s rivers. The first notable breeding herds were first documented in 1938.
  • By 1957 there were 1000 elephants.
  • In 1964 there were 2400 elephants.
  • In 1967 after the first aerial survey 6,500 elephants were counted throughout the Park.
  • During the 1965 Mammal Symposium in KNP, it was recommended that Elephant, Buffalo, Giraffe, Zebra, Wildebeest, Hippo and Impala be culled. This was regarded as the “Balance of Nature Concept” and lasted up until 1994.
  • Elephant numbers needed to be kept below the ceiling number of 7,000 animals (1 elephant per square kilometer or 4 elephants per 10 square kilometers) to ensure that areas around water where not destroyed and over eaten – these areas of excessive herbivory, known as pio-spheres, also increased as a result of drought in the late 60’s and 70’s adding further to the large mammal debate.
  • Eventually all other herbivores were had stopped being culled other than elephant as they realised that these other specie population only had a 20% fluctuation level based on food availability.
  • By 1994 the policy had already seen 16,027 Elephants culled throughout the Kruger National Park.
  • In 1993/4 the western boundary fence to the Sabi Sands private game reserve were dropped giving the elephants access to a further 400,000 hectares of new foliage and woodland savanna. 
  • With the fences done there was an influx of Elephant into the Sabi Sands. With usually around 70 elephants documented in the dry seasons this figure jumped to 429 in 1998 and 3,000 elephant in this region of the greater park by 2007.
  • In the 17 years that culling stopped the population doubled to 15,000 animals at a rate of 6% annual increase.

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