Sunday, 18 October 2015


Part 1

Introduction :

There are only an estimated 600-700 Desert Elephants still living in Namibia.

A Hundred Miles west of Etosha National Park in Namibia along the South Atlantic is a strip of shifting sand dunes and gravel plains called the "Skeleton Coast Park".

Amazingly, Elephants inhabit the area, although rain almost never falls and there is little surface water except during the rare occasions when water from rain in the mountains far inland bursts through the dunes and creates a river flowing towards the sea.

However, succulent bushes in dry riverbeds reveal that water is not far beneath the surface. The Desert Elephants eat leaves and branches from these bushes. To get from browsing areas to drinkable water, they may walk as far as 30 miles in a stretch. They sometimes go for four days between drinks of water.

Facts on Desert Elephant Habitat and on Desert Elephant behaviour :

Years ago, it was learnt that the largest population of elephants in the coastal desert had lived nearby in the Hoarusib Valley. There too, in the bed of a tributary were wells that supplied not only the elephants but also other wild animals with water. When water in the wells was too low for baby elephants to reach, adults would fill their trunks and pour the contents into the calve's mouths.

It so happened that a Family of ten elephants was discovered one day in the Hoarusib area. They walked up the valley where the old wells had been; dug new holes in the same place, drank, and left.

The remarkable - almost unbelievable - thing about the "Desert Elephants" is their endurance through the dry months. They must be guided not by the voices of distant relatives but by their own heritage, which we may think of as the voices of their ancestors.

The experience of many generations is what leads these elephants over gravel plains and rocky mountains, across dunes and down dry riverbeds to the few sources of life-giving water in a vast and hostile desert.

Part 2

Only in West Africa, on the fringes of the Sahara, do any other elephants in the world exist in such an environment.

An aura of myth surrounds these desert elephants which were once thought to have larger feet and longer legs than others of their kind.

Although, they are not a subspecies, some researchers believe that these elephants do represent an ecotype, differing from other elephants in their specialized adaptation to the desert's demands for survival.

The Behaviour of Etosha's Elephants is well known but nothing prepares one for the capabilities of desert elephants of the Namibian Desert. One of these is that during the dry season, these desert elephants need to drink water only once every four days.

Questions and Answers about Desert Elephants :

How long have elephants roamed the Namibian Desert ?? Many sites have yielded rock engravings and paintings, some of them crafted thousands of years ago that depict elephants.

Western Explorers reported Elephants in the Namibian Desert as early as 1793.

Today, a few desert elephants of the Northern Namibian Desert may occasionally move inland and make contact with other elephants that live in an area of slightly higher rainfall. But most of them, are completely at home in the desert's unforgiving environment.

It is obvious that elephants can handle environmental stress. The toll humans take is another matter.

A permanent desert resort, the "Auses" water hole attracts desert elephants only to bathe - they normally drink water from a less brackish spring. To some researchers, these desert elephants represent an ecotype because of their special adaptations.

Also, they are perhaps the world's tallest elephants, and their huge feet and long legs may aid long- distance trekking.

Conclusion :

Seasonal Flooding turns parts of the Hoanib floodplain into lush pasture where Bull Elephants and younger adults usually find grass.

Let us do our utmost to save these magnificent desert elephants.

Credits and References :

1) Desert Elephant Conservation

2)  National Geographic Magazine August 1989
     Elephant Talk by Katharine Payne
     Pages 275-277
     Vol-176 N0-2

3)   National Geographic Magazine January 1992
       Skeleton Coast by Des and Jen Bartlett


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