Kenya is blessed to house the largest land mammal and animal in its borders; the African Elephant. Estimated to be a little over 400,000 individuals in the whole world, Kenya houses at least 15,000 of these. There are two subspecies of the African Elephant i.e. The African Bush Elephant and the African Forest Elephant. The former subspecies appears to be the largest in the elephant family, that is further extended by Asian Elephant cousins.
The African Elephant weighs approximately 6 tons as an adult and stands at 3 meters in height. They have two trunks growing at either side of their trunks believed to be extended incisor teeth. Like human beings, elephants trunks fall off after about a year after birth and then regrow permanently up to death. African elephants have a trunk that helps them grasp food, drink water and breathe. Their humongous ears act as mobile air conditioning devices, apart from being great hearing organs.
Male African Elephants are bigger than their female counterparts are. They can live up to 70 years in captivity but unfortunately way less when they are held captive. African Elephants give birth once every 5 years and often give birth to one calf. Their gestation period of about 2 years, results to calves about 100kilos in weight. African Elephants do not have specific mating seasons, but factors such as weather seasons and climatic conditions determine when they give birth.
Food and Water
African elephants eat an average of 200 kilos of vegetation per day. They couple this with between 70- 180 litres of water. This, therefore, explains some of the decreases in the elephant population, save for poaching. African Elephants migrate in search of food and water in case of a drought or other forms of food depletion.
Elephants are estimated to be just as intelligent as apes and dolphins. They are able to communicate with each other using sounds of up to 10 different octaves. They also use touch as a way of comforting and assuring their mates. The African Elephant’s large ears assist it in hearing sound lower than what the human ear can pick. They can also tell the distance between them and their herd depending on the sounds they make.
Elephants are seen to observe practices and rituals that most animals do not do. For example, elephants have gravesites where they bury their dead with leaves and twigs, Elephants dance and flap their ears when happy, and can easily express anger and frustration as well. When an elephant member falls sick, the rest are seen to bring them food and give them care.
An African Elephant herd consists of a number of females, usually related, and calves of different genders. Male calves will stay in a herd until their puberty stage of between 12 and 14 years where they will move to a loose male bachelor herd as they look for mates. The main herd continues to grow, with a matriarch as their leader. She is usually older than all the other females and will lead the herd till death. Elephants carry out communal childcare as opposed to the calf being raised by its genetic mother exclusively. This not only strengthens elephant bonds, but it also allows the younger females to learn nurturing skills.
The total elephant population was estimated at 2 million before the 1950s. This number has dropped to almost a quarter by the year 2016 where both African and Asian Elephants were counted to be 700,000. Elephants are not predated by other animals unless there is drought or scarcity of food. However, their main enemy is man, who kills them for their ivory tusks. Others kill them due to land grabbing activities that see man farms encroaching wild habitats.
Elephants in Kenya
The ivory trade is a crime punishable by law in Kenyan and although poaching continues, Elephant numbers have been seen to increase over the years. African Elephants can be found in National Parks such as Tsavo, Amboseli, Meru, Laikipia and Nairobi. The David Sheldrick’s Wildlife Trust and Lewa Conservancy are some of the renowned conservancies that offer sanctuary to endangered and orphaned elephants and later release them to the wild.
Elephants are docile animals and attack only when they feel threatened. The male elephants can also attack when in musth, a time when their testosterone levels are at peak levels.