Working with the people of Africa to ensure that Africa’s wildlife and wild
lands will endure forever
Elephants might be the most well-known and well-loved animal in the line-up
of African wildlife. But conservation of the African elephant (Loxodonta africana)
poses special challenges. While the overall elephant population is half of
what it was 40 years ago, some regions of Africa have more elephants than
populated areas can support. That’s why the African Wildlife Foundation (AWF)
is studying elephant behaviors, protecting habitats, and finding ways for
humans to co-exist with elephants peacefully in Africa.
Years ago, over-hunting and the ivory trade were the biggest threats to elephants’
survival. Fortunately, ivory bans, hunting regulations, and protected areas
safeguard elephants from these pressures today. The 21st century brings an
entirely different challenge to elephant conservation land-use. Elephants
roam over vast territories across borders and outside parks and other protected
areas. Unfortunately, elephants often range directly through human settlements
and crops, causing discord between local farmers and these big mammals. Successful
conservation strategies must allow elephants to range freely in their natural
habitats while reducing crop-raiding and other conflicts between elephants
and local people and encourage peaceful co-existence.
Helping Elephants Thrive the AWF Solution
AWF is helping elephants thrive by:
- Conducting state-of-the-art research, like satellite-tracking elephants
using GPS in the Kilimanjaro Heartland
- Protecting wildlife corridors and other transboundary habitats;
- Working with local communities to develop economic incentives that encourage
locals to protect rather than destroy elephants.
Giving Elephants the Space they Need
In the Kilimanjaro
Heartland, the variety of land-use patterns including parks, subsistence
agriculture and Maasai pastoralism and settlements means that elephants
are coming into more frequent conflict with humans.
AWF Elephant Researcher and Charlotte Fellow Alfred
Kikoti is searching for a way to give both elephants and people the space
they need. By collaring 10 elephants with GPS technology, Kikoti is collecting
data on elephant habitats and movement patterns.
The information he gathers will help AWF and its partners develop conservation
strategies that will give migrating animals in this transboundary area the
widest berth possible.
here for a map detailing elephant movement in AWF’s Kilimanjaro
The African elephant is the largest living land mammal. Of all its specialized
features, the muscular trunk is perhaps the most extraordinary. It serves
as a nose, hand, extra foot, signaling device and tool for gathering food,
siphoning water, dusting, and digging. The tusks are another notable feature
of both males and females. Elephants are right or left-tusked, using the favored
tusk more often, thus shortening it from constant wear. Tusks differ in size,
shape and angle and researchers can use them to identify individuals.
For Africa’s elephants, keeping a low profile is not easy. These magnificent
creatures can rise to 11’ in height and weigh up to 6 tons.
Elephants can live in nearly any habitat that has adequate quantities of
food and water. Their ideal habitat consists of plentiful grass and browse.
Elephants are gregarious and form small family groups consisting of an
older matriarch and several generations of relatives. These family groups
are often visited by mature males, who check for females in estrus. Several
interrelated family groups may inhabit an area and know each other well. When
they meet at watering holes and feeding places, they greet each other affectionately.
Smell is the most highly developed sense, but sound deep growling or rumbling
noises is the principle means of communication. Some researchers think that
each individual has its signature growl by which it can be distinguished.
Sometimes elephants communicate with an ear-splitting blast when in danger
or alarmed, causing others to form a protective circle around the younger
members of the family group. Elephants make low-frequency calls, many of which,
though loud, are too low for humans to hear. These sounds allow elephants
to communicate with one another at distances of five or six miles.
Usually only one calf is born to a pregnant female. An orphaned calf will
usually be adopted by one of the family's lactating females or suckled by
various females. Elephants are very attentive mothers, and because most elephant
behavior has to be learned, they keep their offspring with them for many years.
Tusks erupt at 16 months but do not show externally until 30 months. The calf
suckles with its mouth (the trunk is held over its head); when its tusks are
5 or 6 inches long, they begin to disturb the mother and she weans it. Once
weaned usually at age 4 or 5, the calf still remains in the maternal group.
Elephants consume about 5% of their body weight and drink 30-50 gallons
of water per day. Young elephants must learn how to draw water up their trunks
and pour it into their mouths. They eat an extremely varied vegetarian diet
including grass, leaves, twigs, and bark, fruit and seed pods.
Predators and Threats
When AWF chose the elephant as its logo over 40 years ago, the elephant's
survival was not a subject of great concern. Today, it is difficult for elephants
to live outside protected parks as they are pressured by poachers and by the
habitat loss that comes with increasing human settlement. For more than 40
years, AWF has been involved with elephant research in eastern and southern
Africa, developing management strategies to minimize human-elephant conflict.
Elephants are an essential component of African ecosystems, but when they
are confined by park boundaries and human settlements, their impact can upset
the ecological balance. Thus, the identification and protection of migration
corridors and dispersal areas outside of parks is critical.
Did You Know?
- The elephant is distinguished by its high level of intelligence, interesting
behavior, methods of communication and complex social structure.
- Elephants seem to be fascinated with the tusks and bones of dead elephants,
fondling and examining them. The myth that they carry them to secret "elephant
burial grounds," however, has no factual base.
- Elephants are very social, frequently touching and caressing one another
and entwining their trunks.
- Elephants demonstrate concern for members of their families they take care
of weak or injured members and appear to grieve over a dead companion.