Saving Kenya’s Elephants! – Article by Gareth Jones
Saving Kenya’s Elephants – Hands Off Our Elephants!
The battle to save the elephants in Kenya and throughout Africa continues, as many are aware a few years ago a huge mega pile of Ivory representing about 8000 elephants was burned to send a message to the World that Ivory must not be valued after death, but instead Ivory is priceless and must only be magnificently shown on living elephants. Kenya has a “HANDS OFF OUR ELEPHANTS” action movement to stop the bloody ivory trade. The idea for this bold initiative has come from dedicated people like Dr Paula Kahumbu of Wildlife Direct, however, in order to gain success in this ongoing battle, many, many good people need to get “hands-on” involved, for it has been said before “for evil to succeed then good people just need to do nothing!”
The Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS) continues to play a meaningful and critical part of ensuring that elephants in Kenya are protected within National Parks and Reserves. They are also instrumental in dealing with Wildlife conflict situations involving the communities living predominantly next to national parks and elephants invading their agricultural crops.
A while back I visited the David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust in the Nairobi National Park and was touched to see the orphan elephants as they ran into the feeding area, the staff then proceed to tell the story of each elephant, many are tragically sad, as their mothers were killed due to poaching. The David Sheldrick Wildlife Trust serves a very worthwhile purpose in hand-rearing the orphaned elephants and then ensuring they are translocated to Tsavo East where they are allowed to mature further before being released into the wild.
As many people are aware Elephants are very intelligent and prefer to live in social groups we call herds with the exception of large bull males who form small bachelor groups. Their social group structure is complex and very interesting. I encourage those who read this article to do so reading about elephants, as you visit the areas where they frequent in the wild. Just sitting quietly and watching them is often very rewarding and fascinating. Especially when sitting at a waterhole or river and the elephants drink and swim in the water, and cover themselves in the mud.
One very interesting and fascinating fact that most people are not aware of is that elephants can actually communicate through their feet. The pads of their feet are extremely sensitive to vibrations in the earth and this extra sense enables them to successfully communicate over long distances. You’d probably expect elephants, with those giant, floppy ears, to have a phenomenal hearing. And you’d be right. But what you probably didn’t realize is the fact that, amazingly, elephants don’t only hear with their ears. They actually have the capability to hear with their feet.
Yes, they can hear warnings sent through the ground from other elephants, received by pressure-sensitive nerves in the pads on their feet. If you’ve ever seen a video of nervous elephants stomping around when they sense a predator is nearby, guess what? You’re seeing them send these warnings to other elephants who may be in the area.
The stomps transmit the warnings via vibration, and it’s at a special frequency through the ground that other elephants are uniquely genetically engineered to receive. They’re able to factor in typical seismic vibrations and determine via these receptors what is an actual warning from other members of the herd. Believe it or not, the theory that elephants communicate with one another through vibrations has been around for a couple of decades now, but it wasn’t until a few years ago that researchers were apparently able to prove that, yes, elephants are literally built to “hear” vibrations through their feet. It’s a unique and astonishing method in which they are able to communicate.
Less than 100 years ago elephants did roam over the Nairobi area, it should be noted that vast herds of over 500-1000 elephant used to occur at a time, with an estimate of over 250,000 in Kenya area a few hundred years ago, by 1973 the numbers reduced to 170,000 then by 1989 they reduced to only 16,000…today there are approximately 33,000, but with poaching on the rise again, the battle continues. It is significant that the Ivory burning in 1987 and again on the 30th April 2016 happened in the Nairobi National Park. This symbolizes the past tragically remembering of the deaths of thousands of elephants, and yet also represents hope for a new life for the many baby orphan elephants.
I was also surprised one day when visiting the Ivory burn site with visitors. As we observed the mounds of burnt ivory so I noticed that lesser striped swallows were constantly landing on the mounds and carrying away small pieces of ivory. This was no doubt for them to supplement their calcium levels so that their next batch of eggs would have strongly insulated shells. So in that very different way, we witnessed new life that will come out of so much death and destruction.
So as a Nation, let Kenya rise up and stop the destruction of their national God-given heritage by being active wherever possible. It is very important that all schools make young children and young adults very aware of the facts. It is only through education and the combined caring actions of many people within Kenya that the wonderful elephants of Kenya will be saved to have a long term future.