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Safari Fauna Showcase – A Life Of An African Elephant

by AfricanMecca Safaris / Wednesday, 30 September 2015 / Published in Blog For AfricanMecca Safaris, Wildlife Blog Posts - AfricanMecca Safaris

Safari Fauna Showcase – A Life Of An African Elephant

Published By AfricanMecca Safaris | Blog CategoriesWildlife.

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Tembo or Ndovu – the Kiswahili words for the African elephant, a grand animal with a complex behavior that demonstrates a profound connection between individuals. An informal herd of elephants is known as a “family of ,” and a safari in the wilds of Africa helps anyone understand the depth of meaning behind the word. In addition to their social structure, elephants are known to be one of the most interesting and intelligent species on the planet. They are the largest land mammal on earth, and live to be 50 to 70 years old. Elephants spend 16 each day eating the equivalent of 5% of their body weight, and their favorite foods are twigs, leaves, bark, seed pods, fruit. The amount of food consumed requires 50 to 60 gallons of water daily to ensure hydration and digestion. Their second favorite activity is resting, which accounts for three to five hours, followed by playing, bathing, wallowing and dusting. An elephant’s feet are perfectly designed to carry the massive weight of the animal, and also help with traction and sound. In fact, despite their large size, elephants are capable of walking in complete silence. Over their lifetime, elephants grow 12 teeth on each side of their jaw, six on the bottom and six on the top. The teeth grow from front to back, but only one tooth, and perhaps part of the next, is grown in at any specific time. As a tooth is worn down, it is ejected and replaced with the next tooth in the sequence. At around the age of 25, the last tooth grows in, and the elephant must use the tooth for the remainder of its life. Any excessive wear or damage means that the elephant is unable to eat and will likely starve to death.

Seeing an elephant with enormous tusks is a memorable part of an African wildlife safari. What’s even more impressive, though, is that another one-third of the length is inside the skull. Tusks do not indicate gender, as both male and female African elephants have the feature, but one can estimate an elephant’s age by tusk length. When an elephant spread its ears and extends them fully forward, it indicates that something has alarmed or disturbed the animal. If the behavior is followed by a deafening blast from its trunk, the family will join in a circle around the young calves. Relaxed flapping of the ears, though, is the elephant’s way of cooling its head and body. The trunk is likely the most intriguing feature of African elephants. The appendage is quite muscular, allowing the animal to tear down trees and fight for females, yet the two nimble finger-like structures on the end help with grasping objects as delicate as fresh wild berries. Gathering food up to 7 meters high is only part of how elephants use their trunks. As testimony to their social bonds, elephants often caress each other with their trucks and intertwine them in a display of affection. The familial structure of elephants is of an older female with three or four offspring, and families that are in close proximity know each other well, as demonstrated by the greetings when the families meet at shared watering holes and foraging grounds. Communication between these pachyderms is primarily done through low grumbling sounds, and elephants also communicate with low-frequency calls that reach others up to 10 kilometers away. The life of an elephant requires much learning, so calves remain with their mothers for several years. If a mother elephant dies or otherwise orphans her calf, a lactating female or several females will care for the youngster.

The bond between mother and calf is incredibly strong, and unlike other animals, elephants take care of those that are weak and injured. Even in death, the bond between these animals is strong, as elephants are known to caress and coddle the skeletons of those that have died. One of the most heart-wrenching scenes that unfolds on the African plains is when a calf is not strong enough to keep up with the older elephants, and the mother encourages her calf with gentle prodding. When she realizes that the calf is simply too weak to continue, she is forced to pursue the family alone, looking back only briefly before leaving her calf alone to die of starvation and thirst. Baby elephants, though, are an absolute delight to watch. Their curiosity often leads them into humorous situations, such as chasing the odd feathered residents near watering holes, prancing through water and attempting to pour water from their trunks into their mouths. With mother ever watchful, these charming young animals explore their worlds with a seemingly endless intrigue. A few key physical features help discern one elephant from another while on safari, and the most experienced guides know each individual animal. Distinct external anatomy does not always indicate male or female, but males are larger and have longer tusks while females have more pronounced foreheads. To identify an individual, guides look at the tusks and ears. The size, shape and direction of the tusks are unique, as are the tears, nicks and vein patterns of the ears. Another identifier that is being studied is that of a unique “signature growl” for each elephant.


Large herds of elephants are seen in Chobe in Botswana, Tarangire and Selous in Tanzania, South Luangwa in Zambia, Hwange in Zimbabwe, Samburu, LaikipiaLewaAmboseli, Chyulu and Tsavo East –  Tsavo West in Kenya, Kruger in South Africa, Etosha in Namibia. Contact AfricanMecca today to plan and book your safari to Eastern and Southern Africa.

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