African Elephants Loxodonta africana

I recently wrote a new blog post on African Elephants on my Frantic Naturalist Blog. 

The African Elephant (or, perhaps more correctly, the African Bush Elephant, to separate it from the African Forest Elephant, a different species found in the rain forests of Africa) is an iconic creature of the African Safari.

Africa has gone through it's rough history in human terms, and the elephants have suffered right along with that. The ivory trade goes back as far as humans had the means to kill elephants. As technology improved, it all just got a lot worse.

But somewhere along the line a new phenomenon started. The 'Safari' or African wildlife tourism. And around the same time, probably beginning in the 1960 with people like Iain Douglas-Hamiltion and David Sheldrick (husband of Daphne Sheldrick,) scientific and conservation interest in Elephants began to take off. No doubt there were those before then that felt strongly about elephants, but they never got a voice.

Iain Douglas-Hamilton realized, and shared with the world, that elephants were in decline and that poaching was rampant and needed to be stopped. So began a new fascination with elephants and a new conservation movement [ref][ref].

With their new found attention, people were becoming more interested in seing them, rather than displaying bits of their teeth, and tourism was picking up.  By the 80s Kenya, then the Safari center of the world, was having a tourism boom.  Other countries like Botswana, Zimbabwe, South Africa, Tanzania, Zambia and Namibia were to follow.  And perhaps aside from lions, elephants were the main icon of this industry.

More became known about elephants, and it became clear that they were amazing animals and that we didn't know that much about them.  Perhaps the most interesting discovery came when people found that elephants could hear sub-sonic sounds [ref].

My facination with elephants started as a kid.  Growing up in the remote northern part of Kenya, we got to know about elephants in both the good and the bad ways.  I remember when I was about 8 how a kid told us of how they traveled with the dead "Mohammed" the elephant with huge tusks that now stands stuffed in Nairobi's National Museum.  

We would often travel through Samburu National Park and visited many other parks.  I can remember the huge herds we would see in Tsavo, probably due to all the poaching the elephants sometime stuck together in big groups.  We once counted 300, and many were beyond sight.  My mother, driving at the time because my dad had stayed at one of the lodges with my baby sisiter, tired of the game driving, was nervous.

Later I studied Nature Conservation as Saasveld.  I did a six month practical at Addo Elephant National park.  I didn't have much to do with the elephants, but did learn a lot about them.  The park warden at the time told me to read about elephants and gave me some books, including some of Douglas-Hamilton's books.  Since then I have read a number of the well known books on elephants, and continue to be facinated by these big creatures.

My next move was to Namibia and here I got to know about the so called 'Desert Elephants.'  The Desert Elephants are nothing different from other elephants in an evolutionary sence.  They are normal African Elephants.  However they have addapted behaviorally to desert conditions.  There never was a separation from other elephant populations, and so they don't have any specific physiological advantages to living in the desert.  Rather, it's a testmont to elephant's amazing brains and ablility to figure out how to deal their environment, and to how elephant communities manage to pass on information to descendents to create a type of body of knowledge of an area to improve their survival chances.

New moves in comunity conservation and organizations like the peace parks foundation are so important for populations like these.  Perhaps a day will come when the desert elephants can be re-connected with their kin in's actually not that far from being done now, with community conservation efforts in the Palmwag/Grootberg area of Namibia's north-west.

That brings up the concern of the current 'elephant problem.'  Elephants are not meant to be in small conservation areas.  They are movers.  They need a lot of space.  Many areas are now over populated by elephants, and will become a bigger and bigger problem for human safety and for the effects of desertification.  These are difficult issues and there are many very emotional camps about how to deal with it.  One thing is clear, though, and that is that efforts like Peace Parks and community conservation areas, extending the existing areas where elephants can move, will have to be part of the solution.

This is the finnal post relating to my recent trip with Shem and C4Images.  To me the theme of the trip was elephants.  We had a wonderful time watching and photographing desert elephants up in the Hoanib, and had fantastic elephant sightings in Etosha, ending with a party of over 50 elephants at the last waterhole we visited!
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