We were on a game drive in Ishasha, the southern sector of Queen Elizabeth National Park when we spotted a 6 tonner bull elephant entering a small bush. I was riding on top of a pickup truck with two armed rangers.
To get a good shot, we decided to drive in front of the bush, turn the car around and wait for the giant to emerge. It never happened as planned..
We had blocked its way and it never liked it as it was determined to have its way. The bull elephant gave us three charge warning calls. We ignored. It was a mistake.
The next thing I saw was six tonnes of rage, with spread out ears charging towards the car. The driver tried to drive off but the vehicle was not fast enough. The drive was the first to abandon the moving Land cruiser followed by Charles, now a high ranking Uganda Wildlife Authority officer..
To my horror, the rangers whom I had put all my hopes also jumped from the driverless moving vehicle. “You would rather drop me in front of 100 lions than in front of an elephant,” the rangers swore as they jumped ship. I had no choice. No picture is worth one’s life. I also followed suite. Unfortunately, I broke my lens during the jump.
The furious elephant charged towards the now stalled vehicle with a clear intention of overturning it. Satisfied that it had scared us out of our skins it lost interest in the vehicle and continued its journey in a straight line. Moments later, we came one by one from our different hiding places and converged at the car where I collected pieces of my broken lens.
You could see the guilt over the driver’s plastic smile. I had powers, I would have sacked the driver and the rangers immediately. Sadly, I couldn’t A visibly shaken Charles asked if one of us had been a poacher. We shook our heads. “If you kill an elephant other family members will keep your scent and even pass it over to other generations. If you meet a member of that elephant family after many years, it will know you and revenge. Elephants have a super memory,” he lectured us. From that time, I respect elephants.
An elephant is the largest of all land mammals. Despite its size it can swim for long distances. Elephants have the largest brains in the animal kingdom and a super memory. It is said that an elephant never forgets. Their brain can weigh as much as 4.7 kilograms for an adult. When it comes to communications, you can’t beat elephants. In long distance communication, they use infrasonic sounds, which are sounds emitted below the human hearing range.
An elephant can communicate with another 20 km away using rumbles whose vibrations travel underground. The vibrations in the soil are transferred into the tips of the elephant’s toe bones and then up the leg into the middle ear where the vibrations are read and translated into messages in the brain. Using their feet, elephants can detect far off tsunamis and earthquakes hours before they strike. Many elephants survived the Asian tsunami in 2004 because they had advance warning to the tsunami due to their detection of seismic vibrations. People who followed the elephants to higher ground survived. Next time you see an elephant running, follow it.
Their sense of smell is also mind boggling. Elephants detect water sources up to almost 20 km away. An elephant’s trunk is a long nose used for smelling, breathing, trumpeting, drinking, and also for grabbing things.
Elephants do not have sweat glands and use their thin but huge ears for cooling. One ear from a bull African elephant weighs more than 50Kg
Elephants live in tight social units led by an older matriarch ( female). Males leave the herd between the ages of 12 and 15. Elephants give birth every three to four years. Gestation period is almost two years. A baby elephant can weight up to 125kg. Elephants spend about 16 hours a day eating and can consume up to 300 kg food per day. Elephants have six sets of molar teeth; when the last set is lost, the animal is unable to eat and eventually dies. They can live up to 70 years.
Queen Elizabeth National Park is home to about 2500 elephants, 5000 hippos and over 10,000 buffalo. Other common herbivores include warthogs, waterbuck, Uganda kob and topi, as well as the swamp loving but elusive sitatunga. The park was first declared a game reserve in 1906, in order to prevent unregulated hunting and was later gazetted as a national park in 1952 It has a variety of big game, primate species including chimpanzees. With over 600 bird species, the park has the biggest number of birds of any protected area in East Africa. Nowhere in the country one can find a park dotted with numerous craters than this park. And then, there is the Kazinga Channel whose banks are lined with hippos, buffalo and elephants and water birds. And in the south, lies the endless Ishasha plains, renowned for tree climbing lions where they usually seen lazily resting in fig trees. The smaller cats like serval cats which like leopards are nocturnal are best spotted during night game drives.