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World Elephant Day

I am sure that not everyone is aware that it is World Elephant Day today. As we go about our busy lives it is easy to allow the good things to pass us by. Today we who ponder on the future of elephants, and for some of us especially that of Africa's elephants. So I thought I would write a few words about elephants and what is going on in their world today. Specifically the African Bush Elephant.

Interesting fact from the past: Did you know, there used to be elephants all across north Africa and right down to the Sudanese coast? The North African Elephant, is said to be slightly smaller than the African Bush Elephant and easier to tame and train. They were known as war elephants, as they were used by the Carthaginians in battle against the Romans (the Punic wars). The elephants were driven into extinction in this same period. It is not clear whether the North African Elephant was a separate or sub species.

The African Bush Elephant is found in South Africa and the rest of Southern Africa. In the Namib Desert, the Desert Elephant roams in constant search of food and water. There are also pygmy elephants in parts of west Africa and the Congo. In Knysna along the world famous Garden Route the elusive Knysna Forest Elephants have managed to evade humans for the last 100 odd years. They were thought to be extinct, but every now and then a forest keeper comes across elephant tracks.

Life as an elephant: The African Bush Elephant can have a shoulder height of up to 3.3 meters and weight 6000 kg. The gestation period (the time it is pregnant for) is 22 months! It has a life span of 60 - 70 years.

These are the beautiful giant beasts that grace the plains of Africa. They have strong social bonds, and are known as gentle giants. The females stick together and are led by a female matriarch. The matriarch teaches migratory routes and passes on age old knowledge of where and how to find food and water in the changing seasons. Young males stay in this herd until they are too boisterous, at which stage they are kicked out and join a herd of males led by an experienced old bull who keeps them inline and teaches them how to survive.

How is it that some people prefer to hunt this species into extinction for their ivory tusks is beyond me. Maybe the ivory market, the people who buy trinkets, carvings and bracelets made from elephant ivory are not aware of what is going on in Africa.

According to Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick, Of the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust based in Kenya, an elephant is killed every 15 minutes in Africa. This equates to 0 that's ZERO 'elephants in the wild populations' in 20 years. Yes, it is a shocking and disturbing reality. It is hard to believe, and it is all due to the trade in elephant ivory. Don't buy products made of ivory! Thanks to the Sheldrick trust and others like it, injured and orphaned elephants can be cared for and released back into the wild or protected areas. In Knysna, South Africa, the Knysna Elephant Park has been taking in orphaned and unwanted problem elephants, raised, rehabilitated and successfully released elephants into reserves and parks. So in all the grim picture we see today, there is still a glimmer of hope. The more people that are aware of the dire state that Africa's wildlife is in, the better chances there are for support and education to communities who experience wildlife conflict. Community-conservation projects teach the benefits of wildlife tourism and how illegal hunting or poaching is not sustainable to rural communities themselves.

Elephants form part of natures cycles, the food chain, the nutrient cycle. Elephants control invasive plant species and subdue overgrowth. Their dung fertilises the ground and provides nutrients for a myriad of other animals. Many mammals eat the dung for left over nutrients, dung beetles use it to roll dung balls which cocoon their eggs. That is just one small picture of the intricate pattern that elephants form part of. Each species has its role to fulfill in natures web, and one cannot do without the other. Africa without elephants is a sad, sad thought.

What can you do to help elephants stay alive?

It's easier than you think. Be positive and find a project and support it financially or volunteer your services if that is your preference. There are plenty of wildlife conservation programmes and projects on the go right now all over Africa, and the same goes for lions and rhinoceros. A piece of advice here is to make sure that which ever project you choose to support is ethical. Make sure that it has wildlife conservation at the heart of its function, and not a get rich tourism based scheme.

Move Tours and Safaris runs a tour through South Africa where you can observe elephants in their natural environment, namely: Kruger National Park, Hluhluwe-iMfolozi Game Reserve, Addo Elephant National Park, as well as a visit to Knysna Elephant Park for an educational visit and up-close experience with elephants. A percentage of company profits are donated to wildlife and community conservation projects. Go to to read more about wildlife experiences in South Africa.

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