The great giant of Africa is the largest land mammal. These gentle giants can weigh up to 6000 kg for the bulls and females can weigh more than 3600kg. Even with all this weight, you will struggle to hear them as they move between the trees. Their soft padded feet make them almost silent as they walk. They have fatty tissue on the soles of their feet which helps pad them. Elephants communicate by making low rumbles that send vibrations through the ground which is vital for communication. These vibrations can travel far distances, whereas other elephants can pick up on these vibrations through their soft sensitive feet.
Besides infrasonic noises, low rumbles and vibrations, elephants can communicate in a variety of ways such as trumpeting and high pitch screams and high pitch rumbles.
The body language of an elephant is also very important for communication. Not just for other elephants but also our guides. It is necessary for us as guides to be able to read the body language of elephants and detect when they are upset. They may shake their head, extend their ears, or swing their front foot back and forward. These are all signs that tell us when the elephant is not happy.
Elephants also use their trunk to pick up scents from other elephants to identify their health and sexual condition. Touching each other with their trunk can also convey some information.
A large and heavy body means a lot of food. Elephants eat about 6% of their body weight daily. This translates into the average female eating about 200kg and a large male elephant consuming up to 400kg a day to maintain their bulk.
Elephants are browsers and grazers. They will browse on trees, consuming almost the entire thing. From leaves to seeds and fruit to stripping the bark and pushing trees down for the roots.
Elephants will graze on grass which makes up about 30 to 40% of their diet.
Elephants will eat on a variety of trees depending on what is available in their area and what they have learned to eat from their mother and the rest of the herd. Elephants will generally eat about 50 different species of trees a day. On Kapama, I found they tend to feed a lot on cork bush trees as they hold a lot of water. They enjoy Vachellia or “Acacia” as these trees tend to be sweeter and contain more nutritional value than other trees.
Not only do elephants need a lot of food to maintain such a massive body, but a lot of water is also required. Elephants can drink up to 200L of water a day. They use their trunk which is a combination of the upper lip and nose, that consists of about 40 000 muscles. Weighing in at around 140 kg, the trunk needs that amount of muscle so it can be manoeuvered. They use their trunk which can hold about 10l to suck up and squirt water into their mouth.
Africa is hot continent elephants call home. They have various ways to keep themselves cool and fight the harsh sun. Have you ever noticed the wrinkly skin of an elephant?
Well, wrinkly skin plays a huge role in keeping them cool. The wrinkles increase the surface area which means there is more skin to wet when they spray water over the body with their trunk.
The cracks and crevices trap moisture, which takes longer to evaporate keeping the elephant cool for longer than if they had smooth skin. They also will spray mud all over their body to act as a sunscreen, cooling the body down and keeping direct sunlight off their body.
Their huge ears, which have a massive network of vanes, can be used to cool themselves down. Flapping their ears back and forward can cool the blood down by 5 degrees. Interesting to note is that the shape of the African elephant’s ears is the same as the African continent and the Asian elephant’s ears are shaped somewhat like India.
Have you ever heard the phrase: “An elephant never forgets!” An elephant is an extremely intelligent animal and has the most amazing memory. Elephants are taught from a young age by their mothers and the rest of the herd what to eat and where to go to find food and water. Even if they have not visited that water supply for many years they will remember where and how to find it when they pass by that area. They will remember other elephants from different herds even if they have not seen that elephant for more than 10 years.
I hope you have enjoyed learning many interesting facts about elephants. There is still so much more to these beautiful African giants. The next time you are on safari or Kapama Private Game Reserve do not only look at their size but look for the finer details of these gentle giants that make them so unique and interesting.
Blog by Kapama Buffalo Camp: Ben Scheepers