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 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

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.

Small bugs give Trouble big problems

 Life at Adventures With Elephants is not always a bed of roses. Like everyone else, we have good days and bad days. Yesterday was one of the bad ones.

Trouble, our beloved meerkat who’s been with us since he was 4 days old was not very well. He seemed to be battling something and we feared the worst: that he'd been bitten by a snake or had eaten something poisonous. We rushed him to the vet in Bela Bela. By the time we arrived at the vets he was almost lifeless.
But vets are calm, knowledgeable people and our vet calmly took him into her examination room and began checking him over. Trouble being Trouble was a gem in the vet’s room, and managed to turn over for a scratch on his chest and tummy. It was in this position that the vet noticed what the problem was. She quickly sedated him and pulled out a large pair of tweezers. She checked him over and tugged at a spot on his skin and pulled. Out popped a wriggling mango fly maggot! 
After a while she must have pulled out about 30 of the revolting little bugs. We could not believe it, and even though Trouble is fully de-wormed and de-flead these things were able to grow inside him. The vet reckons that Trouble must have laid in a mango fly nest.
Mango flies lay their eggs in damp soil (and clothes that’s why we iron our laundry in the tropics!). These eggs then burrow into the skin when they make contact, and this must have happened to Trouble. With the recent rains the soil is perfect for the flies to lay eggs in, then with the following heat Trouble must have found a damp cool shady spot to lay in and that’s where his trouble’s started (no pun intended!). The eggs must have gotten into him and begun hatching, then feeding, and with that his health deteriorated quickly with so many in his tiny body! 
Thankfully he is now maggot-free and and on the road to recovery and will be able to mingle with our guests soon.
We’d like to thank the Bela Bela vets for keeping us calm under pressure (we are pedantic about our animals), and for the wonderful job done with our little meerkat.
P.s Trouble says that anyone thinking of visiting with flowers and get well soon cards should rather just send a tub of crickets or meal worms!


The importance of trees in conservation

 We manage the impact on vegetation by allowing our elephants to feed in different locations including areas outside of our park.

We manage the impact on vegetation by allowing our elephants to feed in different locations including areas outside of our park.

Elephant populations in the Kruger Park have doubled in the last 20 years since being introduced or reintroduced into the safety of the park. This is good news, of course. However, it's easy to forget that these beautiful animals, in (large) enclosed areas, do significantly impact the ecosystem they live on. Elephants are destructive eaters and affect the vegetation around them. Conservation is not only about the animals, but also about the land and its flora.

In a four year study by Carnegie Institutions at the park, a mean tree-fall rate of 8 trees per hectare (or 12 percent of trees per hectare) every other year was found, which is considered very high in savanna ecological predictions.

The study is interesting in order to assist parks to understand how to manage the animal populations for the sustainable survival of BOTH flora and fauna.

At AWE, we manage the impact of our elephants on the vegetatation by giving them access to free-range feed between and across parks in the area. It's not unusual for our elephants to feed at Zebula one week and then move to Itaga another week to then be taken back to AWE.

We also recently planted more trees on our property. Now all we need is some decent rain....

Read more about the tree study at Kruger Park here

Zambezi is born!

 Mom Shan and baby Zambezi, named after the great Zambezi River in Zimbabwe, our home country.

Mom Shan and baby Zambezi, named after the great Zambezi River in Zimbabwe, our home country.

In the early hours of the 4th October, our very own little baby elephant was born to Mom Shan and Dad Chova. Despite what many think, it's not easy to see whether an elephant is pregnant or not. Not even our vet had been categorically sure! The initial prognosis was that if she indeed was pregnant, then baby would be born in December. 

So our surprise and delight was great when little Zambezi made an appearance almost three months earlier than potentially planned! He was born with black fluffy hair, hazel coloured eyes, 90cm tall and with a foot circumference of 45cm. He is of course the cutest baby elephant ever born!

The birth of a small elephant is like the birth of a human baby. There is plenty of joy and many funny moments, but there is also worry for mom's health, new group dynamics, new routines, and a needy baby. The first couple of days with Zambezi have been unsettling for Shan (of course) who has seemed nervous and a little bad tempered. Nuanedi, on the other hand is besotted by the new addition and doesn't leave his side, she's taken the little one under her wing and has happily taken over a secondary mother role. Chova is pretty much not interested at this stage (like first time dads, he probably has no idea what to do with the bundle of joy!) and Mussina and Chishuru are taking the new arrival in their stride.

When we saw that Mom Shan was feeling grumpy, we made the decision to close the interaction centre until the herd has settled. The welfare of our elephants is always top on our agenda. We'll let you know how things progress over the next few weeks. You can get more info and photos on our Facebook page. We're very proud that one of our elephants has been able to carry and give birth to a healthy male baby. With so many elephants being lost in Africa every day, it's great to see that our herd is growing carefully and with pride.

We're collecting memories of Zambezi here

"He who plants trees, plants hope"

 Michael and students from Warmbaths High School plant indigenous Marula trees to counter the effects of elephants on the bush.

Michael and students from Warmbaths High School plant indigenous Marula trees to counter the effects of elephants on the bush.

"He who plants trees, plants hope". These are the words of Lucy Larmon of the Arbour Day Foundation, who inspired us to join hands with the pupils from Hoërskool Warmbad and plant indigenous Marula trees on our reserve.

Adventures with Elephants is home to Messina, Shan, Nuanedi, Chova and Chisuru, five amazing elephants, that contribute in educational interactions. They thoroughly enjoy a good snack, trees in particular! In the five years that these elephants have enjoyed their life at the centre, they have, as elephants do, left their mark on the tree life on the property.

Thanks to the generous team at Malan Seuns, who donated the 30 Marula trees, we have been able to plant new trees to compensate for those that have been eaten or damaged by our gentle tuskers. When invited to participate in the Arbour Week Activity, Hoëskool Warmbad jumped at the opportunity. They sent the top 5 students from every grade to participate in the initiative where they not only planted trees, but also enjoyed an educational presentation from Melissa Schmitt from the University of Kwa-Zulu Natal about elephant feeding patterns. She also gave the eager students a demonstration of how elephants forage using their powerful scenting abilities. Melissa is doing research at AWE and is hoping to learn how elephants choose their food : through sight, or through smell?

Technology developments also help conservation

 The darker spot on the dog's nose shows injury without needing intervention.

The darker spot on the dog's nose shows injury without needing intervention.

So what does technology and the bush have in common? Actually more than you think. Developments in technology are being used to fight poaching. Our recent efforts include testing FLIR thermal imaging. The Iphone attachment and accompanying app displays reflected heat instead of light. This means that even if someone if hidden in the bush or its very dark, they can still be detected.

Another use for thermal imaging is health checks. Our dogs are checked for internal injuries and recently one of our elephants was diagnosed with a growth on her trunk which we promptly treated. We are very grateful to have been sponsored with ten units which have been distributed to: Zebula Security, Umthandzo Anti-Poaching, Elephant Orphanage in Zimbabwe, members of the CPE, The Ground Hornbill Project and Local Veterinarians.

Elephants use their sense of smell to help identify explosives in soil samples

The impact of war on local wildlife can be devastating, the effects of which are often felt well beyond the initial threat. In areas where wildlife experience unrestricted moment through previously affected zones, unexploded landmines present a significant and potentially lethal problem. Anecdotal reports of African elephants avoiding minefields together with telemetry data suggest that the species may be able to detect concealed land mines using olfaction (sense of smell).

Trinitrotoluene (TNT) is the most commonly used explosive component of landmines, it is not highly volatile, making its detection, using olfaction, difficult. Contributing to this, anti-personnel and anti-tank mines are typically buried down to maximum depths of 50 and 150mm respectively, making it even harder to detect.

African elephant possess the most olfactory receptors (OR) of any mammal testes (~2000). Both dogs and rodents (mice and rate) possess fewer OR genes (~811 and ~1200 respectively). This high number of OR genes in elephants suggests that the species may have a superior olfactory ability to discriminate between structurally similar scents thereby potentially increasing their olfactory resolution. Along with their problem solving abilities, memory retention and cognition function may contribute significant advantages in scenarios such as crossing landmine-affected areas.

In our work with the US Army it was demonstrated that African elephants can detect TNT using olfaction, and that they can be trained to communicate its presence reliably and repeatedly. It was also shown that elephants have high capacity to distinguish TNT from other strong volatiles such as ace-tone, household bleach, and unleaded petrol. Indeed, the species shows great potential for playing an important role in landmine detection.

At no point does the US Army nor Adventures with Elephants, advicate on-site use of elephants for land-mine clearance, but see their role in scenarios where samples may be brought to them for screening. Samples collected by means of Remote Explosive Scent Tracing by mine-protected or unmanned vehicles, and screened by trained elephants could serve as the first line of investigation.

Here is a link to the article

On the death of one of our grooms

In September, we lost our very own Sugarman. Sugar Chatikita, one of our most trusted and longest standing employees passed away after a long illness surrounded by his family in his home country Zimbabwe. 

Those of us who had the pleasure of meeting him, will remember his easy-going and cheerful personality, his warm smile and his genuine compassion and love for our elephants, whom he held dear to his heart. 

We will also remember his talent for passing on knowledge about elephants to our guests in a fun and inspiring way so that children and adults alike walked away feeling passionate and inspired.

Please keep Sugar in your prayers, as he will be sorely missed. RIP Sugar.