Meet Africa’s Big Five: the Elephant (1/5)


Africa’s “Big Five” animals are so-named because they’re the most dangerous to bump into in the bush!

The African elephant (Loxodonta africana) is the largest land mammal – it can weigh up to 5400 kgs/12,000 lbs/6 US tons – and, in Your Correspondent’s opinion, it’s the most dangerous of Africa’s Big Five beasts. Why? As a visit to any of South Africa’s elephant-inhabiting game reserves or national parks will quickly reveal, elephants can knock down trees (some landscapes are positively ravaged), and so, if you’ve upset one of these be-tusked pachyderms, there’s nowhere for you to hide.

Elephants are notable for their intelligence and their unique bush telegraph: the ability to communicate over several kilometers by generating subsonic sounds – rumblings in their nasal passages – that other elephants receive and interpret through their enormous ears. (These sounds even help elephants locate groundwater – which they then proceed to dig for with their tusks!)

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Another elephant fact to astound your friends with: it’s closest living relative (apart from the Asian elephant) is the tiny rock hyrax, or dassie – those furry little creatures found all over South Africa, and especially well-known to those who’ve gone up Table Mountain!

The management of elephant populations presents some of the greatest challenges for conservationists. Elephant herds dominate ecosystems, and grow at the cost of limits on an area’s biodiversity. In the Kruger National Park, a proposed elephant cull to reduce the park’s elephant population has created great controversy and been put on ice.