Thursday, July 24, 2014

African Bush Elephant

Until looking up African elephant for this post, I did not realize that there are two separate species of African elephant: the bush elephant and the forest elephant. Of course, until recently, they were considered subspecies of one species. It was recent DNA tests that confirmed they are genetically diverse and diverged from each other millions of years ago. The bush elephant is much larger. Males stand 10 to 13 feet tall and weigh 10,360 to 13,330 pounds. 
Photo by Michael Lewin.
Photo by Judy.
Females are 7 to 9 feet tall and weigh 4,762 to 7,125 pounds. They are found most commonly in the reserves of Kenya, Tanzania, Zimbabwe, Botswana, Namibia and South Africa. They are rare outside of reserves because of poaching for tusks. The forest elephant male rarely exceeds 8 feet tall and 4,000 to 7,000 pounds.  It is found in small pockets from Mauritania to eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. It is estimated that there are less than 100,000 forest elephants alive in the wild and that about half of them are in Gabon. Congo and Democratic Republic of Congo also have significant populations. There is concern that they may become extinct within ten years. 
I believe this elephant was in the Serengeti. She has a hole in her ear which you can see evidenced in the shadow right behind it. Photo by Michael Lewin. Aside from Buffalo Springs, we saw a large number of elephants at Mt. Kenya, but it was at night and we were not able to get good pictures of them. We only saw elephants in ones or twos in other spots such as Serengeti, Masai Mara and Ngorongoro.
This herd was part of a very large grouping in Buffalo Springs NR. I believe we counted 70 or 80, so there must have been more than 100 in the area. 
In Buffalo Springs.
Buffalo Springs.
Buffalo Springs. It is hard to believe that desolate country can support this many elephants.We not only saw them in this very large herd, but saw a number of solitary individuals across the river.
Both male and female African elephants have tusks. In Asian elephants, only the male has tusks. The tusks are usually from 5 to 8 feet long and 50 to 100 pounds. The trunk has two opposing lips, unlike the Asian elephant which ends in a single lip. 
This was the first elephant we saw in Buffalo Springs. I saw it down in a ravine. This was another "ahaa" moment.  
Elephants in Shaba NR.
The basic elephant social unit is a herd of about ten female elephants and their calves, led by a matriarch, the biggest and oldest female. If groups grow larger, they tend to split into multiple family units and then stay in the vicinity and associate.
We also saw a large number of elephants at night at Mt. Kenya NR. 
Males leave the herd at puberty, about 12 years old and then either wander alone or associate with other males. At about 25, they begin to compete for mating opportunities. The bigger bulls over age 35 tend to monopolize the mating. Females begin to reproduce around 10 to 12. They are in estrus 2 to 7 days and have a gestation of 22 months. They give birth about every 3 to 6 years. A male will only stay with a female and her herd for a few weeks before moving on and looking for more females in estrus. 
This female in Buffalo Springs emerged from some trees and soon after had a large bull running after her. They were going at a pretty good clip. Photo by Mark Edwards. 
The bull caught up to the female and tailed her for awhile. It became pretty obvious she was in estrus and this big guy was feeling frisky.
It looked like a house climbing on top of a house. This was all taking place about 30 yards from our Land Cruiser. 
We definitely got an eyeful. Our driver indicated we were lucky to see this. It is not something that is regularly seen.
They can eat up to 1,000 pounds of vegetation a day. I can't imagine the impact that this huge grouping of elephants in Buffalo Springs, 70 to 100 or more, is having on the spare vegetation of that region. 
Photo by Mark Edwards
Photo by Steven Shuel
Photo by Steven Shuel
Photo by Esmee Tooke
Photo by John Mirau

1 comment:

  1. Elephants are the animal I developed the most interest in during this trip. They are so imposing to see in the wild, and apparently incredibly smart. It's easy to think of monkeys as having human qualities, but less so with elephants, and yet they do. I am loving what we have learned and are still learning about them.