Wednesday, July 2, 2014

About desert elephants.......


The desert elephants of Namibia’s Kunene Region are a distinctive population adapted to life in an extremely arid environment. They are one of only two populations of “desert” elephants in the world (the other is in Mali, North Africa) and have a number of notable physical and behavioral differences. There has been some speculation that desert elephants are a separate subspecies, but the movement of bull elephants between savannah areas like Etosha, and the desert, suggests that there is sufficient genetic exchange that they are not a unique subspecies. However, Namibia’s desert elephants are unusual in some of their learned behaviors, such as long-distance migration, that allow them to survive in this difficult environment.

Physical Characteristics

 Desert elephants are approximately the same body size as savannah elephants, although their bodies may appear less bulky, probably from a lower food intake. Their feet appear to be wider, probably as a result of walking long distances on sand, which causes the footpads to be splayed out.

A full-grown male (bull) elephant can weigh up to 6 tons (~6000 kg) and be 4m high at the shoulder. Females are usually a little more than half that weight.

Elephants are known to live 60+ years in captivity, but most probably have shorter lives in the wild. We do not know the exact ages of the oldest elephants in the desert population, but estimate that some may be 40-50 years old.

Elephants have only four teeth, one on each side of the upper and lower jaw. They grow six sets of new teeth throughout their lifetime, and may die of starvation in old age when they can no longer chew. 

Tusks are specialized teeth that continue to grow throughout an elephant’s lifetime. Tuskless-ness is an inherited trait that tends to run in family groups. The tuskless trait is found in some desert females, never in males, however both males and females are prone to tusk breakage, which may make them appear tuskless for a time, until the tusk grows out again. In the Hoarusib and Hoanib population, approximately 6 out of 20 females are tuskless.
Elephants eat almost any vegetation, including grasses, herbs, shrubs, leaves, bark, seeds, and fruit. Adult bulls can consume 250kg daily, although females eat less than that. During the wet season they prefer green shoots and buds, but in the dry season desert elephants will eat camelthorn (Acacia erioloba), mopane (Colophospermum mopane), and Ana trees and seedpods (Faidherbia albida).
Elephants prefer to drink daily, but can go up to three days without water if necessary. Bulls will drink up to 160 liters per day. Water, dust, and especially mud are sought out for bathing and coating the skin against sun and biting insects.

Elephants communicate with each other using scent, touch, and a variety of sounds, including low frequency rumbles (below the level of human hearing) that can travel 5-10km or more.

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