World Elephant Day

Today is ‪#‎WorldElephantDay‬ and we are proud to have hosted the Walk with Elephants, for Elephants.

Joined by our research partners, members of the media, celebrities and special guests, we showcased some of the research projects we support via the 'Rory Hensman Elephant Conservation and Research Unit' with interactive demonstrations and talks. Sean Hensman welcomed guests to this special day designed to show our commitment to shaping a better, brighter future for elephants.
Dr Angela Stöger from Vienna University, Dr Marcus Byrne & Ash Miller from Wits University gave wonderful presentations on their research during the morning that we spent in the bush. A group of children from Eduplex School and two foreign exchange students joined us to participate in this special occasion. Filmmaker Dr Reina Marie Loader kindly filmed the day, so you can look forward to seeing the video soon.

Thank you very much to everyone that travelled from far and wide to be with us today, and for lending your support to the conservation of elephants! Thanks also to Zebula Golf Estate & Spa for hosting some of our guests and for the lovely dinner last night. We plan to make this an annual event!

Walk with Elephants, for Elephants.

What if you could walk with elephants? What if you could walk with elephants, for elephants? What if you could make a contribution to ensuring the safe survival of elephants in South Africa by honoring them just once a year? None of this is impossible at the upcoming Walk with Elephants for Elephants, in aid of the Rory Hensman Conservation and Research Unit.

Taking place on World Elephant Day, 12 August 2016, the Walk with Elephants for Elephants will celebrate these gentle giants in their own environment, by bringing together a group of people who are working towards ensuring a better brighter future for elephants, today and always.

The Rory Hensman Conservation and Research Unit, founded in memory of elephant specialist Rory Hensman, was formed to bring researchers together to better understand our tusked friends, through research into their anatomy, abilities, communication methods, the reduction of human elephant conflict and their role in a healthy ecosystem. In under a year, the organization has achieved that and more.

Attracting international attention, RHCRU now boasts an impressive network of relationships with elephant researchers from around the globe. While South African Universities including the University of Pretoria, University of Stellenbosch and the University of the Witwatersrand have come forward with formidable elephant research projects underway, researchers from as far as the University of Vienna in Austria, Geneva University and the Georgia Tech and University of North Carolina in America have joined the movement to work together, knowing that together, we can achieve more for elephants.

One of RHCRU’s first joint collaboration projects involves the creation of an elephant DNA Database, that will involve both local and international contributions. This project that was initiated in South Africa, and has committed international support, aims to ensure better elephant population management, create traceable ancestral trees of all elephants in Southern Africa, prevent herd in-breeding and prevent poaching.

On World Elephant Day, these researchers will come together to share their projects, and confirm their commitment to a better world for Elephants. Some of the topics that will be presented include elephant communication, elephant scent detection, the relationship between elephants and dung beetles, elephant feeding patterns, the elephant DNA project and a study on elephant welfare.

Members of the public are invited to donate to this cause by visiting http://adventureswithelephants.com/rheru/ for details.

The Walk with Elephants for Elephants is taking place at Adventures with Elephants, just outside Bela Bela in Limpopo, on Friday 12 August 2016. Attendance is by invitation only. For more information, or media accreditation, kindly contact jenny@greenhousepr.co.za

The Important Role Elephants Play

In honour of World Environment Day, we'd like to share a little about the role that elephants play in the environment.

The Elephant’s Biggest Threat

Elephants in Africa face two VERY SERIOUS THREATs - Loss of habitat due to human (and sometimes even elephant ) over population and poverty. In the 1940’s there were 3 million elephants and roughly 200 million people in Africa, 1980 1 million elephants and 500 million people and by 2014 there were 400 000 elephants but now over 1 Billion people! So in the last 75 years the human population has increased 450% (Quadrupled) while the elephant population has decreased by 86%. Scary statistics! If this trend continues there will be no wild elephants by 2025. This said, elephants can be their (and other animals) worst enemy if they overpopulate in their restricted wildlife reserves, currently of all the land in Africa only 6% is available to wildlife because it is poor for any other commercial activities such as agriculture, mining or human habituation.  

Second to this is illegal Poaching, this currently is not such a big issue in Southern African States (of elephants, not other species) but a very big concern for many countries North of Zambia, but the pressure will come to South Africa and already 19 elephants have been poached in the iconic Kruger National Park in the last few years. This is mostly due to poverty and greed, the average rural African earns US$ 2 per day and with 1 in 3 people unemployed in South Africa alone, pressure is high to support oneself and ones family by any means - even if it’s poaching (for ivory or meat) or robbery. Poaching Syndicates earn good money for ivory in eastern countries, much like the drug Cartels earn good money from illegal drugs in Western Countries and use whatever means available to supply the demand. This puts huge pressure on our wildlife and policing.

Elephant's Roles in Nature

One of the elephants most important roles in an ecosystem is as a “horticulturist”, in that elephants literally are landscapers and gardeners. Elephants are Mega-herbivores and known as “Transformer” species in that they can literally transform landscapes.

They are also known as both an “inhibitor’ and “facilitator” species. Facilitation is where their role is to pull down trees and break up thorny bushes thereby opening up the bushy areas to create grasslands allowing some species of animals to flourish like Buffalo, Zebra, Wildebeest and White rhino. This is due to their voracious appetites, because they eat 5% of their body weight a day equating to 300kg of trees and grass a day per elephant, remember in Southern Africa this is usually restricted to reserves which were deemed not suitable for human agriculture!

However elephants are also an “Inhibitor” species, because the trees and bushes which make up habitat and browse for some species such as the Black Rhino and the Chobe Bushbuck, are depleted and therefore the bushbuck decline in numbers due to habitat loss.

Their digestion system is poor and they only digest 40% of what they eat thus elephant droppings act as a fertilizer, which is import to improve the soil condition and grow new trees. The elephant’s dropping serves a purpose for animals such as Dung beetles to lay their larvae in (and fertilize soils), baboons and birds, who pick through the droppings for seeds and nuts. The nutrient-rich manure from the droppings replaces nutrients to depleted soils to help farmers improve their crops. African Elephants that live in the forests are known as the “gardeners”.  Their droppings act as a form of seed dispersal which creates a high plant diversity.