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Elephants in South Africa: Part of the Big Five

There are two different types of elephant: the Asian elephant and the African elephant. Tthe African elephant is larger than its Asian cousin. Another big difference between the two animals is the African elephant’s trunk ends in two opposing ‘lips,’ where the Asian elephant has only one lip.

Elephants are the largest land mammal in the world and are not only one of the Big Five the people come to see while in Africa, they are also on the endangered species list and while their numbers are slowly growing they probably will still be on this list for many years to come. One of the reasons why they are starting to do better is because of conservationists who track and tag these animals. They also take herds that have large numbers and transport them to areas of Africa where their populations have declined to reintroduce them.

African elephants can be found throughout most of sub Saharan Africa. There used to be six species of African elephant, but now only two survive, the Bush elephant and the Forest elephant. All the others are now extinct. These majestic animals used to roam Africa and Asia in huge numbers, but, like Rhinos, were hunted and poached to near extinction.

While some people know about African elephants, others don’t, so here are a few other facts about elephants for those people who are heading to South Africa to see them. One is that instead of the male being the head of the household, it is the female who has control over the herd. Adult males tend to be more solitary, only hooking up with herds when it is mating season.

These herds are made up mostly of females who are closely related and share the task of raising younger elephants. They form strong bonds and grieve for lost loved ones much like humans do. Females are usually ready to breed by age 25 and gestation lasts almost two years. Single births are common and the young are cared for by both the mother as well as her ‘sisters.’ Males that reach puberty tend to form stronger alliances with other males, rather than their mother or other female siblings.

African elephants are highly intelligent. Their Neocortex is large and very complex, which is a shared trait among apes, dolphins and humans. The are among the smartest animals in the world and have developed strong social structures and bonding rituals. Their brains are quite similar to a human’s, in complexity and structure. These exhibit a number of similar characteristics to humans, from learning, humor, the use of tools, cooperation as well as compassion. They can live up to 65 years, live in a variety of different areas of Africa, bush thickets, woodlands as well as the savannah.

The African elephant, as mentioned earlier, is one of Africa’s Big Five. In addition to elephants, this includes the African buffalo, leopard, rhino and of course the African Lion. There are a number of different South African National parks and preserves where you can find elephants. Kruger National Park has the largest concentration of elephants. Another National Park dedicated to the elephant is the Addo Elephant Park.
There are a number of great places to go if you are visiting South Africa and want to get up close and personal with these majestic creatures. There are game viewing safaris that include riding elephants at Camp Jabulani.

While riding comfortably on the backs of elephants, you will be able to easily view Giraffe, Zebra and Antelope, as well as the other Big Five animals. This is in the Kapama Private Game preserve.

Located in the scenic Magaliesberg Mountains, the Elephant Sanctuary and Guest Lodge allows visitors to touch, feed, brush and walk with elephants, or even ride them through the bush country. This is truly a unique and once in a lifetime experience that is informative and enriching. You can either take a day trip to the sanctuary, or stay overnight in a 10 bed lodge that is right next to where the elephants sleep.