Of all the animals in Africa, perhaps the most beloved and revered is its one true giant – the African bush elephant. The world’s largest land mammal is also Africa’s biggest icon, and, sadly, one of its most threatened, thanks to the demand for ivory.
Some conservation organizations suggest that we lose around 100 elephants a day in Africa to ivory poaching. That’s potentially one elephant every 15 minutes. Gone. Forever. On the Balule Private Nature Reserve, home to Sausage Tree Safari Camp, our elephant population is well-protected and shared with the Greater Kruger. They move between the reserves that make up this amazing grouping as well as the legendary Kruger National Park itself, that borders the Balule.
We regularly see large breeding herds on game drives, as well as some magnificent individual bulls and bachelor groups. We consider it a privilege to see them and switch off our vehicles so that we can spend time quietly observing them and appreciating their presence.
Elephants are, quite simply, incredible mammals. Intelligent, emotional, empathetic and acknowledged as being sentient. They are capable of using tools, recognize themselves in mirrors, have incredible spatial awareness and recent research has even shown that they have the ability under certain circumstances to identify potentially dangerous humans.
Elephants are thought to “grieve” for their dead and have been recorded offering assistance to distressed members of their family unit. The oldest members of herds have acquired “wisdom” and store both knowledge and experience of their social groups and environment. They can communicate over enormous distances through low frequency, infrasonic rumbles which resonate at a frequency that other elephants can detect through the ground. For this reason, elephants have enlarged ear bones and sensitive nerve endings in their feet that “hear” these sounds through the soft skin pads on their feet, picking up the sensitive, seismic vibrations. They are also thought to also lay their trunks on the ground to detect vibrations.
There is so much written about elephants: so many facts and figures, and so much research that sheds light on their way of life. There is much being done throughout Africa to try and protect them from their biggest threat – us. It’s sometimes hard to cut through this mountain of information and focus on what we can do to help ensure our children and grandchildren live in a world where African elephants still roam wild and free. Here at Sausage Tree Safari Camp we believe that protecting their habitat is key to the survival of elephants. Their range is hampered by human expansion and human competition for the same resources – access to water and food. It’s restricted by the fence lines we put up to protect both them and us. Elephants need space, and it’s up to us to ensure that there is enough space for them, and that we learn to live alongside them through better understanding their needs.
Our role is easy – by helping our guests to understand these incredible animals we create elephant ambassadors who help to fuel and drive conservation programs. And through these programs, we are slowly finding ways to co-exist with this wonderful African icon to create hope for their future.
Blog & Photos by Sausage Tree Safari Camp