The African elephant is the largest land mammal. An adult bull elephant can weigh between 5000 and 6300kg’s (14000lbs), standing 3,2 – 4,0 metres (13ft) at the shoulder. A cow being slightly smaller, weighing 2800 – 3500 kg (7700 lbs) and standing 2,5 – 3,4 (11ft) metres at the shoulder. Bulls usually have larger tusks than cows and a more rounded forehead; the cow is more angled.
The elephant’s tusks are just modified incisor teeth, used as weapons and as an aid in procuring certain foodstuffs, like the bark of trees for example. The heaviest pair of tusks on record weighed 102,3 (225lbs) and 97 kilograms (213 lbs) respectively.
Other distinguishing characteristics of elephants are their large ears. These serve as a display function, as well as performing a cooling effect. This is due to a high percentage of blood vessels which cool the blood when the ears are flapped.
The elephant also has a long trunk which it uses to drink and feed. There are 55 000 muscles in an elephant’s trunk, making it an extremely sensitive, prehensile and dextrous appendage, critical to its owner’s survival. An elephant’s trunk can hold up to 15 litres of water. It uses its trunk to locate food by touch and smell, as an elephant cannot see down its trunk. If an elephant loses the use of its trunk it will die.
Elephants have a wide habitat tolerance. They have an extremely catholic diet eating 90 % of the plant species in their habitat. An adult elephant may consume up to 300 kg’s (660lbs) of food in a day and drink 150 – 200 liters of water. This is due to their being non-ruminants (along with zebras) as a consequence of which only about 30% of what they ingest is digested.
Elephant herds are matriarchal with an older cow leading the herd. The herds are usually family groups of up to 16 however a number of family groups may join together when at watering sites forming large herds numbering several hundred. Adult bulls live separate lives, but will join up with other males and with herds on a temporary basis. After a 22 month gestation period a single calf is born weighing 120 kg’s (264 lbs) and standing 85 cm’s (34″) at the shoulder.
Elephants live for approximately 60 years and have a large brain capacity. They are intelligent animals and information necessary for survival such as the presence of water holes in times of drought is carried in the memories of the older members of a herd.
An elephant’s life span, apart from poaching and other unnatural forms of death, is governed by its 6 sets of molars. As one set is worn down it is replaced by another set. This appears to be every 10 years. This process continues until all 6 sets have been worn down, in which case the animal can no longer chew its food and will starve to death.
Visitors to Mala Mala will have noticed a substantial change in elephant numbers over the past fourteen years. In 1950, a fence was erected around the Kruger National Park, including its border with Mala Mala. This was a 6-strand barbed wire fence, purely to keep animals from mixing with domestic stock and thereby transmitting diseases. Between 1950 and 1993, when the fence was taken down, only male elephants were seen on Mala Mala. The reason for this is surely that females balked at bringing their calves across or through this obstacle. Male elephants in this area tend very much to be found in a state of orbit around the herds, either joining or leaving them, and since there were no herds on the property, the number of males coming across was very small. On average there would be one male elephant found on the property at any one time, at most three.
Since the fence was taken down, herds of females with their calves started being seen. Their numbers were initially very low as they explored this hitherto unavailable tract of land, but over about seven years built up to the point that there may be up to 500 elephants on the property at a time. Perhaps owing to the fact that it is new terrain to them, the density of elephants on the MalaMala Game Reserve and surrounding the Sabi Sand Wildtuin is far higher than that within the Kruger Park as a whole, and this clearly has consequences for the environment.
Curiously, the increased number of elephants has not resulted in an increase in camp depredations. Nocturnal incursions into the camps used to be a regular feature before 1993, to the consequent grief of the trees and larger pot plants within. Visitors to MalaMala in the 80’s and early 90’s will doubtless remember an inveterate criminal who raided the camps on a regular basis. There were many tales of his exploits, but the most curious was the gate that was built for him at the old Harry’s Huts on Toulon. In exiting the camp after molesting the magnificent Strangler Fig that was the centerpiece of this camp he broke through the reed wall. The camp manager that that time, ventured the opinion based on numerous observations that the elephant did not wish to be destructive but there was no other exit. So he built an elephant-size aperture the next time the wall was rebuilt (with a staggered screen so that it did not look as though there was a hole in it), and ever thereafter the elephant made use of his doorway.
2014: On average there were 14 different elephant signtings each week. Elephant were seen on all but 11 days, a 95% success rate. On 4 August over 150 elephants were seen in one sighting
2013: Elephant were seen on all but 10 days. The average number of elephant sightings per week exceeded 20. On 12 February 2013, 12 different herds of elephant were seen.
2012: On average there were 40 different elephant sightings per week. The most sightings recorded on a single day were 15. Elephant were seen on all days in 2012.
2011: Elephant were viewed every day during 2011. On average there were 27 different elephant sightings a week. Over the last 10 years elephant were viewed on all but 5 days.
2010: Elephant were viewed on every day in 2010. On average there are 43 different elephant sightings a week.
2009: Elephant were seen every day. On average there were 36 different elephant sightings a week. The most elephants herds viewed in a month was August, with over 100 herds viewed.
2008: Elephant were recorded on all but 1 day. On average there were 34 different elephant sightings a week. The most sightings recorded on a single day was 14.
2007: Elephant were recorded on 365 days with 100% viewing success rate. On average there were 39 different elephant sightings a week.
2006: On average, there were 43 different elephant sightings a week. Elephant were seen on all but 1 day.
2005: Elephant were seen every day. An average of 9 elephant sightings or elephant herds were viewed daily.
2004: Elephant were seen on all but 1 day. On the 18 January 2004, 21 herds of elephant were viewed.
2003: Elephant were viewed on all but 1 day, with an average of almost 12 sightings daily.
2002: Elephant were viewed on every day.
2001: Elephant were seen on all but 1 day. An average of 9 elephants sightings or elephant herds were viewed daily.
2000: Elephant were seen on all but 3 days.
1999: Elephant were seen on all but 1 day.