Introduction

The African bush elephant, also known as the Savanna elephant is the planet’s largest land animal. It can weigh as much as 7 metric tonnes and live to be seventy years old in the wild. Despite being under threat from the ivory trade, sightings in Virunga are on the rise.

African Bush Elephant Facts

    01
    Habitat

    Elephants are described as ‘ecological engineers’ because of their physical effects on ecosystems, from the digging up of riverbeds, through trail making, to the uprooting of trees. 

    Research shows that areas with more elephant tree damage have greater species abundance. Even their dung is important, dispersing seeds and providing food for dung beetles.

  • 01
    Habitat

    African bush elephants range across sub-Saharan Africa, excluding dense tropical forests where forest elephants dwell, grazing the plains and bushlands for grass, plants, fruit, and bark. Because of their huge food requirements, they increasingly clash with expanding human civilization, resulting in the decimation of entire crops and retaliatory killings.

  • 02
    Behavior

    Savanna elephants enjoy frequenting water holes, not only to quench thirst caused by the intense African heat, but for spraying themselves in order to cool down. 

    Often they follow up a shower with a coating of dust which helps protect against parasites, heat and the sun’s UV rays.

  • 02
    Behavior

    Savanna elephants typically gather in herds of around ten females  and their calves. Male bulls remain mostly solitary, only joining females when it’s time to mate. The mammal roams huge distances foraging for food, eating up to 300lbs (136kg) of vegetation daily. Tusks are used in mating contests and to dig for food and water.

  • 03
    Physical Characteristics

    An extraordinary evolutionary adaptation of the nose, the trunk of an elephant is used to smell, breath, trumpet, drink and grasp, and contains around forty thousand muscles (roughly sixty times more than the entire human body). 

    African bush elephants also benefit from two opposable finger-like extensions at the tip of the trunk.

  • 03
    Physical Characteristics

    The African bush elephant is the largest subspecies of elephant, identifiable by its large, heat-radiating ears and long front legs. Other impressive features include continually growing tusks, present in both males and females, wrinkled skin, which helps with moisture retention in arid African conditions, and of course, its magnificent, flexible trunk.

African Bush Elephants Crucial to Ecosystems

Physically massive, intelligent, and enduring, Savanna elephants are a species symbolic of wild Africa. Their extinction would be a truly devastating loss not only for humankind but the ecosystems that rely on them, making conservation efforts crucial.

Elephant Herds

In the 1950s, there were around 8,000 African bush elephants roaming Virunga. Poaching, illegal agriculture and perpetual armed conflict since the mid-90s have led to a decline in the population within the Park’s boundaries.

In 2009, rebel forces began dispersing from the Park, allowing Virunga, its rangers and local people to work together on developmental initiatives that create conditions favourable to elephants. In 2020, 580 African bush elephants migrated into the park to form an aggregated herd of 700.

“The return of large elephant herds to Virunga is the outcome of decades of extraordinary efforts on the part of Congo’s park rangers,” cites Emmanuel De Merode, director of Virunga National Park.

As well as being an awesome spectacle, the herds bring benefits beyond the limits of human intervention, rapidly rewilding the overgrown savanna, returning it to grassland and attracting smaller grazing herbivores. 

In the wake of COVID-19, its detrimental impact on tourism and the loss of twelve rangers in a rebel attack in April 2020, the return of elephants is a beacon of hope for Virunga. In the long term, they are expected to drive species diversity, attract tourists and bring further economic opportunities to local people.