Kenya: Samburu National Reserve The Ele’s

If you were wondering why there weren’t any elephant images during our three days in Samburu, it’s because, I wanted to do a complete post of just Ele’s.  Who can resist these wonderful giants with their deep rooted family bonds, their grace, their majesty!  Simply put; they stole my heart!  I have taken the liberty of copying interesting elephant information from the Elephant Watch Safari Camp website…

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Interesting Facts About Elephants:

  • The lifespan of an elephant is about 60 years.
  • Females have a square or pointed forehead, slim tusks, and two breasts between her forelegs.
  • In addition to the features above, the ears of the elephants (size, shape, and nicks) aid in identification.
  • Females reach puberty at 10-13 years.
  • Gestation in the females is 22 months (about 660 days), and they usually give birth to single calves – twins are rare.
  • Female elephants will have from 5 to 10 calves in her lifetime, one every two and a half to three years on average.
  • The suckling period for calves is 24 to 48 months.
  • While males reach puberty at 12-14 years, they only experience their first full “musth” at nearly 30 years of age, and it is unlikley they will mate with a female at the height of her oestrus period prior to then.
  • The bulls are taller and heavier, with a bigger head, rounded forehead, and thicker tusks.
  • They can browse for up to 18 hours in a day and recent research has found out what an elephant eats through the isotopes of the tail hair.
  • A big bull can drink up 250 litres a day.
  • If allowed to live, tusks can reach a length of 2 metres and weigh up to 60 kgs and more.
  • The trunk is a nose, a hose and a hand and has over 45000 muscles.
  • MAN is the ONLY predator of adult elephants (unprotected calves can be felled by lions).

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Q: What do you call a male adult elephant? And an adult female? What about a baby? Elephants have little in common with cattle, but they share with them the names for adult male (bull), adult female (cow) and juvenile (calf). Even their collective noun is the same; a herd of elephants.

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Q: What are the closest relatives of elephants?
Elephants, hyraxes and sea cows (dugongs and manatees) are related. Most genetic studies place the sea cows closer to elephants than the hyraxes. The aardvark was thought to be the next closest group, but recent genetic studies suggest that the perissodactyla (horses, tapirs and rhinos) are more closely related to the elephant. The common ancestor between elephants and aardvarks lived some 55 million years ago…

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

Q:I heard that elephants can regrow their tusks – is it true?
Humans grow two sets of teeth in their lifetimes – the rootless “milk teeth” of childhood and the second, rooted set of teeth which are supposed to last into old age. With the amount of food elephants eat every day, their teeth wear down at alarming rates, and that’s why they grow not two but six sets of chewing teeth (molars) in their lifetimes. Tusks do not wear out so fast, so an elephant does not grow more than one set in its life. In fact, tusks are rootless, just like human milk teeth. However, they do continue to grow in length throughout the lifetime of the elephant.

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Q:What does an elephant use its tusks for?
Elephants use their tusks to pry bark off trees or dig for roots, and in social encounters as an instrument of display or as a weapon.

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

Q:What is the full purpose of the elephant’s trunk?
The trunk combines both nose and upper lip and transforms them into a single powerful organ that is able to touch, grasp and smell. It is strong enough to uproot a tree, sensitive enough to pick up a pea-sized fruit from the ground, and long enough to reach foliage high in the trees. The trunk is also used to drink by sucking up water and squirting it into the mouth. Finally, elephants use their trunks for greeting, caressing, threatening, and throwing dust over the body. The elephant’s trunk has about 15,000 muscles and it takes baby elephants quite some time to learn to master its use.

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

Q:Why does an African elephant have such large ears?
The enormous ears of elephants act as cooling devices. The gigantic earflaps (which can measure up to 2 square metres (21.5 square feet) are equipped with an intricate web of blood vessels. When the animal flaps its ears, the blood temperature lowers by as much as 5 degrees Celsius (9 degrees Fahrenheit).

Nikon D$, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

Q:Why is an elephant’s skin so wrinkled?
Wrinkles are also related to the need for these large animals to keep their body temperature down. Wrinkles increase the surface area, so there is more skin to wet when the animal bathes. All the cracks and crevices trap moisture, which then takes much longer to evaporate. Thus, a wrinkly elephant keeps cooler for longer than it would with smooth skin.

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

Q:How much do elephants drink in a day?
An adult elephant will drink about 225 liters of water per day and this can sometimes be drunk during a single visit. Each trunkful may amount to between 4 and 8 liters…

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II

 

Q:How much do elephants eat in a day? What does their diet consist of?
Elephants are herbivores (plant eaters), but they cannot digest cellulose, the substance that makes up much plant matter. They spend about three-quarters of their time, day and night, selecting, picking, preparing and eating food. An adult elephant in the wild will eat in the region of 100 to 200 Kg (220 to 440 lb.) of vegetation per day depending on the habitat and the size of the elephant.

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The number of plant species eaten by any one elephant may vary but it is likely to be more than fifty. About 30-60 per cent of elephant diet is grass, if it is available. Like humans and apes, an elephant’s choice of food-plants will be determined partly by what grows locally, partly by what was learned from its mother, and partly by what it has discovered by trying novel food items. Elephants also select their meals taking into account the time it takes to prepare each mouthful. Eating long grass is probably the easiest and quickest way for an elephant to fill up! On the other hand, one of the most time-consuming food-items for elephants to prepare is bark. With larger trees, the elephant drives a tusk between the bark and the sapwood and then yanks a strip off the tree with its trunk. The soft wood of some trees such as the baobab is also eaten. Such tusking sometimes destroys the whole tree…

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

Q:How many hours do elephants sleep?
Elephants normally sleep for a few hours before dawn and again during the heat of the day.

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Q:Do elephants have distinct calving seasons?
Elephants can give birth at any time of the year if food is plentiful all year round. In areas where food is scarce during dry seasons, most births occur during rainy seasons. This ensures that the mother has plenty to eat while she is suckling her calf…

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Q:How many young do elephants have?
Females between 14 – 45 years may give birth to calves approximately every four years with the mean interbirth intervals increasing to five years by age 52 and six years by age 60. Interbirth intervals of up to 13 years may occur depending upon habitat conditions and population densities. The mean calving interval varies from population to population, with high density populations or otherwise nutritionally stressed populations exhibiting longer intervals between births.

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Q:How big are newborn elephants?
After 22 months growing inside its mother’s womb, a newborn baby elephant weighs more than the average adult human being. Female calves weigh 90-100 kg (198 – 221 lb.). Males are heavier and weigh up to 120 kg (265 lb.)

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

Q: How big do elephants grow?
An adult bull savanna elephant can have a shoulder height of 3.3 meters (11 feet), weigh up to 7,500 Kg (16,538 lb.) and reach a length of 9 meters (30 feet). Females are smaller, weighing up to 3,232 Kg (7,127 lb.) and measuring 2.6 meters (8.7 feet) at shoulder height.
Elephants are unusual among mammals in that they continue to grow throughout their life, although their rate of growth slows after they reach sexual maturity.

Q:
How big are elephant home ranges?
Elephant home ranges vary from population to population and habitat to habitat. Individual home ranges vary from 15 to 3,700 square kilometers (24-5,958 square miles).

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Q:How do elephants communicate with each other?
Elephants communicate with each other in many ways and with all their senses. They rely less on their eyes than humans do but visual signals are important and the position of their ears and trunks show what mood they are in. Their sense of smell can tell them something about another elephant’s health or sexual condition. Touch can also be used to convey some information. However, the main way an elephant communicates deliberately is by sound. Elephant vocalizations range from high-pitched squeaks to deep rumbles, two-thirds of which are emitted at a frequency too low for the human ear to detect. Such low frequency calls may be heard by other elephants at distances of at least eight kilometers.

Recent studies also show that foot stomping and low rumbling emitted by elephants generate seismic waves in the ground that can travel nearly 20 miles along the surface of the Earth. Elephants may be able to sense these vibrations through their feet and interpret them as warning signals of a distant danger. They may therefore be communicating at much farther distances than previously thought.

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II

 

Q:Is it true that an elephant never forgets?
Elephants do have remarkable memories. In the wild, elephants appear to remember for years the relationships with dozens, perhaps hundreds of other elephants, some of whom they may see only occasionally. They also have an impressive memory for places to drink and to find food. This information gets passed on from generation to generation.

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II

 

Q:What is the role of old female elephants in elephant society?
Elephants live in a social hierarchy dominated by older females. Females travel in long-lasting social units of about half a dozen adult females and their offspring, with the unit being led by a single older female, the matriarch.

Males do not maintain long-term social bonds, remaining in the unit only into their teens. They then live out their lives in loose bachelor groups or wandering on their own.

To test the importance of the age of the female leader of the individual units, researchers from the University of Sussex, the Institute of Zoology in London and the Amboseli Elephant Research Project in Kenya used high-powered hi-fi equipment to play back the sounds of elephant calls.

Calls from complete elephant strangers prompted the mothers to cluster around their young defensively, while familiar calls were ignored.

Nikon D4, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II

 

The units led by the oldest matriarchs, those with the most experience, were best able to distinguish between friends and those that might present problems by harassing calves or starting disputes.

If these key individuals cannot immediately distinguish between potential threats, their families may spend too much time being defensive and not enough time reproducing. In fact, the scientists found the age of the matriarch to be a significant predictor of the number of calves produced by the family per female reproductive year.

These findings present important implications for conservation of elephants because older, larger animals are more likely to be targets for hunters and poachers, and killing these individuals could weaken entire family units for years.

Nikon D$, AF-S 500mm f4 VR with TC-14E II

 

Q:How long do elephants live?
An elephant can live up to 70 years and when an elephant dies of old age the cause of death is often hunger as the 6th set of molars wears out.

Nikon D4, AF-S 70-200mm 2.8 VR II with TC-20E III

 

Don’t miss the October 2012 issue of National Geographic with their compelling article “Blood Ivory”…

National Geographic October 2012

 

To help in the fight against illegal poaching of elephants visit Save The Elephants website!