The Animals of the Aberdare Ranges of Kenya: African Elephant

African Elephant

African Elephant

Loxodonta africana

The elephant is the world’s largest land mammal, weighing up to 6 tons (5400kg) and standing up to 10ft (3m) tall at the shoulder, the female being smaller than the male.

In reality, the elephant is the king of the jungle. It is not uncommon to see elephants chasing off lions and hyenas at the waterholes where animals come to drink.

The Aberdare elephants have clashed frequently with their human neighbors. This is due to a fast-shrinking habitat. The elephant, which forages very widely in order to meet its huge food requirements, has been lured to delicious-looking crops in the neighboring farmlands. Incapable of resisting such temptation, the elephants from the Kinari Forest, which borders Limuru are often guilty of invading farms neighboring the National Park and eating and destroying food-crops, which is any farmer’s nightmare.

In the ensuing conflict, many farmers have been killed and the Kenya Wildlife Service has had to put down such guilty animals.

Male elephants can consume up to 130lbs (260kg) of food each day.

Elephants have a very strong and well-defined social system. They have close family bonds and live in groups headed by a female matriarch who happens to be the eldest in the group. Males occasionally join the groups, especially in the mating season.

Elephants breathe through their nostrils, which are situated at the end of the trunk, which they use for many purposes. They grab with it, drink and eat using it. The trunk has two prehensile extensions at the tip which work like a hand. Elephants are herbivores and they spend most of their time eating.

They have thick, wrinkled gray-brown skin, which is almost hairless. They have great ears and have excellent hearing. They keep cool by flapping their ears. They wallow in the mud to protect their skin from sun and insects.

Elephant calves are totally dependent on their mothers for survival. The whole herd works together to defend the calves from external threat. They are weaned at five years of age. Elephant calves learn by observation and mimicking. Calves stay close to their mothers at all times.

Elephants walk at 4 mph (6.5 km/hr) and can accelerate to 25 mph (40 km/hr) when charging. They stomp when they walk and sleep standing up. They roam widely in search of food and water. Older elephants lead young elephants with their tails, which the little ones grab with their trunks. Elephants produce a variety of vocal sounds. Sometimes they communicate at a frequency that is too low for the human range of hearing. They also grunt, purr, bellow, whistle and trumpet.

Gestation period is 22 to 24 months. Females mature at 10 years and males at 10 to 20 years.

Their trunk has the capacity to draw 3 gallons (11 liters) of water to be sprayed into the mouth for drinking or back bathing.

Our Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) is not doing so well as an institution, in my opinion.

Its reputation has been jaded with repeated allegations of corruption and underhand dealings that so the Chairman was sacked recently. However, the following is my particular story.

Four Jumbos decided they were bored of their habitat in the Ngereruiya Forest in Limuru, which is very cool and green country, closely resembling the English countryside, and invaded a nearby village, causing such mischief and mayhem that would have been comical except that the consequences were real and potentially deadly.

Elephants are huge creatures and they were towering over the villagers like great leviathans, sending them scampering in every direction. They damaged wooden structures, one by simply sitting on it! It turned out to be an outhouse and the silly elephant had a hard time getting out of its wreckage. They broke down fences, flung about the puny gates with the ‘contempt they deserve’, and generally made such a nuisance of themselves that it was impossible for the game wardens to herd them back into the forest.

They shot them.

Their screams of agony still ring in my ears. But really, what did I expect the poor wardens to do with giant Jumbos that decided to break all the rules?

I guess all of us watching the drama wanted it to go on to distract us from our boredom. It was not until I saw the terrified faces of the women and the children that I realised this was not entertainment but a life and death struggle.

I have finally reluctantly accepted that the Jumbos simply had to go.

The Animals of the
Aberdare Ranges of Kenya
Nyambura Kiarie

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