African Elephants, The most Giant in Africa
It is the world’s largest land mammal. It is one of the most intelligent and exciting animals to watch on a game drive. Scientists call it the Loxodonta Africana. Dive with me into the intricate details of this gigantic marvel of nature, the African Elephants.
The African elephant has two subspecies – the forest and the savannah elephant. The smaller and slightly hairier forest elephant is mostly found in central and western Africa’s equatorial forest. The savannah elephant is found throughout the grassy plains and bushlands of east and southern Africa. Interestingly, the two races are thought to interbreed in parts of western Uganda.
A fully-grown male elephant can weigh a staggering 6300 kilograms, with the smallest adult male rarely weighing below 4000 kilograms. Impressive. The females are usually just over half the weight of the male. The size difference between the two is not quite as surprising as when it comes to height – the tallest males are 4 meters tall, and the tallest female rises to 3.4 meters. Their sexual dimorphism is eye-catching, with the bull’s head being more rounded as compared to the female’s more angular head.
It comes as no surprise that they have very sharp memories, and are very intelligent, considering that they possess the biggest brain size, weighing up to 6 kilograms. The trunk, which serves an elephant like a hand, can be 2 meters long and weigh over 130 kilograms, with no bones and an impressive 60,000 muscles. The tusks are used as both tools and weapons.
Where to Find Them.
The African elephants are in all of Uganda’s national parks except Lake Mburo National Park. You will most likely see them in Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth, and Kidepo Valley National Parks. To get really close to the elephants, we recommend you take a boat safari on the Nile in Murchison or ride the Kazinga Channel in Queen Elizabeth National Park. You will find the magnificent giants gracefully flocking the water banks in massive herds.
The Social Life.
Elephant herds are matriarchal, led by one female, while the males (bulls) tend to roam alone. The herds consist of related females and their calves. This matriarch is usually an experienced older female that takes the herd to water in times of drought and is the first to stand in defense of the herd’s members. The family units of savannah elephants tend to be around ten individuals, but these units can come together to form a ‘clan’ of up to 70 individuals led by one female. The forest elephants live in smaller family units. Their mother-to-daughter bonds are very strong and may exist for up to 50 years. Young female elephants remain with their natal herd, which may consist of their mother, grandmother, aunties, female cousins, and other related females. This female bond of
close and cross-generational sisterhood will last throughout a female elephant’s lifetime.
The males generally leave the family group at around 12 years, after which they either roam alone or form bachelor herds. I can’t help but wonder what these bachelors discuss when left to themselves. It will remain a mystery of nature.
Their Gestation Period
An African elephant mother has one of the longest in the natural world: around 650 days. Most often, the mother gives birth to a single calf, and that calf will be able to walk, albeit unsteadily, within hours of being born. The baby elephants continue to breastfeed throughout the first two years of their lives, and many will not be truly independent until the age of ten. If the young elephant is a male, he will leave the herd of its birth somewhere between 10 and 14 years of age. Sometimes this dispersing male will remain alone or attach itself to an experienced larger bull elephant.
Their Feeding Habits
These amazing creatures are strict vegetarians, eating grass, leaves, fruits, branches, and twigs. Within a day, they spend around nineteen hours consuming around 340 kilograms of vegetation. No wonder they are very strong and healthy. In the rare end, elephants poop up to 30 times a day and deposit as much as 150 kilos of dung. Elephant dung serves a critical ecological purpose, spreading undigested seeds (a food source for insects, baboons, and birds), which enable trees to spread their progeny; researchers have found that a single piece of elephant dung contains nearly 5700 acacia seeds. They will drink between 100 and 200 liters of water daily, compensating for up to five liters lost every hour through transepidermal water loss (through the skin) and 50 liters of urine each day.
An African elephant has reportedly been known to live up to 65 years in captivity. However, unpublished reports have stated that African elephants may live up to 80 years in captivity. In the wild, African elephants live for an average of 60-70 years.
Their Communication Skills
African elephants communicate acoustically with others of their species in low-frequency calls of an estimated 20Hz of infrasound, which is outside the range of human hearing. African elephants make various calls to communicate with others, including rumble, trumpet, snort, roar, bark, grunt, rev, croak, and chuff. A trumpet, roar, or growl could mean impending aggression, and a soft chirp could mean submission or intimidation. Infant elephants will gurgle during play and squeal when frightened. They can hear one of these calls from over 2km away and will make these calls to warn or gather others in their herd or to signal they are ready to mate. The African elephant watches and listens to its surrounding environment for signs of something
amiss and communicates visually using its trunks or ears to signal other herd members. Tactile communication is usually between a mother and her child or two elephants trying to mate.
Forms of chemical communication and scent marking among African elephants are done by males mating with the females in a clan. The males will mark trees or bushes with their tusks or by secreting a substance onto the bush.
How to see elephants in Uganda
African elephants are hard to miss on Uganda’s savannah plains. Even an unguided drive in any of Uganda’s national parks will bring you close to a lone bull. Try driving on the highway between Kasese and Ishaka through Queen Elizabeth National Park and look over the sweeping plains for massive dark figures.
A drive on the game tracks in Murchison Falls, Queen Elizabeth, and Kidepo National Parks will bring you close to numerous elephant herds. Take a boat trip on the Nile in Murchison or ride the Kazinga Channel in Queen Elizabeth National Park. You’ll come close to almost touching the magnificent giants flocking the water banks in massive herds.
Their Intellectual Genius
Most contemporary ethologists view the elephant as one of the world’s most intelligent animals. With a mass of just over 5 kilograms, an elephant’s brain has more mass than that of any other land animal, and although the largest whales have body masses twenty times those of a typical elephant, a whale’s brain is bare twice the mass of an elephant’s brain.
In addition, elephants have around 257 billion neurons. Elephant brains are similar to humans and many other mammals in terms of general connectivity and functional areas, with several unique structural differences. Although initially estimated to have as many neurons as a human brain, the elephant’s cortex has about one-third of the number of neurons as a human brain.
Elephants manifest a wide variety of behaviors, including those associated with grief, learning, mimicry, play, altruism, use of tools, compassion, cooperation, self-awareness, memory, and communication. With their mental and physical strength, it comes as no surprise that they were used in the past as beasts of war, devastating enemy forces, and intimidating horses.
What to do
Come and see these African elephants here in Uganda.