Elephant encounters

Magnificent in every way, the world’s largest land mammal is also one of the animal kingdom’s most intelligent creatures, and you can see it with your own eyes

Seeing one of the world’s largest land mammals move across the African savannah or shuffle through an Asian forest is unforgettable; the way an entire herd protects a tiny baby, the care with which desert elephants treat the scant vegetation, or the heart-stopping mock charges if your vehicle separates a herd crossing the road.

Justin Francis, co-founder of Responsible Travel

Witness unbreakable bush elephant bonds


Elephants experience perhaps the strongest relationships on Earth, and herds stay together for their entire lives. African bush elephant families comprise of up to 50 females of several generations, and the closely bonded animals graze, travel and search for water together. Males are expelled from the group once they reach sexual maturity to avoid inbreeding. Adult males were once thought to be solitary, but in fact they form their own herds of bachelors when not in season. Males ready to mate will impregnate females before resuming their lives without the ladies.

Related elephants babysit for their siblings, and all the herd’s adults pitch in to help raise the calves. The oldest and largest female takes charge, and her hard work strengthens the family unit. She defends the younger members of the group from predators and makes decisions about where to search for food and water.

When looking for elephants on safari, it is worth noting that they are often heard before they come into view. Adults crash through dense vegetation to allow the youngsters to follow and they produce low- frequency rumbles in order to communicate over distance.


Revere a real-life Indian deity


The elephant Hindu god Ganesha represents intellect and wisdom and is said to remove obstacles. Indian elephants embody these values and have become an intrinsic aspect of Indian life. Elephants have been domesticated over centuries and live alongside humans. This has been known to cause conflict between farmers and hungry heffalumps, but planting particularly fragrant crops or locating beehives around fields is enough to get elephants to look elsewhere.

Elephants are used in celebrations and festivals in India, but those wishing to see elephants in their natural surroundings are in luck. Around 60 per cent of Asia’s wild elephants are in India, and they are most densely populated in the southern tip of the country. However, their population has reduced by 50 per cent over the last three generations due to human land use. If you can stand the heat, see these massive mammals in their native habitat before their home ranges shrink any more.


Glimpse Sumatran elephants gardening


Indonesia’s island of Sumatra is home to a huge array of endangered species, including tigers, orangutans and the Sumatran elephant. As a huge herbivore, these giants are responsible for depositing seeds around this fragile ecosystem. Not only do plants get to spread their roots as a result, but dropped seeds are mixed into a ready- made fertiliser in the form of elephant droppings.

Elephant dung also supports countless species of insects, providing a food source and a safe place for creepy crawlies to lay their eggs. Every animal in the food chain is extremely important, and allowing just one species to disappear could have huge repercussions for those that remain. Sumatra has seen a human population surgein recent years, accompanied by a high demand for palm oil. This ‘miracle’ ingredient makes its way into thousands of products on Western supermarket shelves, but procuring it requires clearing native trees to make way for animal- unfriendly oil palm trees. Along with supporting ethical tourism to see wild elephants in Sumatra, you can help out at home by avoiding products with palm oil or ensuring they are sustainable.


For even more elephant encounters, check out Issue 62 of World of Animals!