Wildlife TV

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Dangerous Herbivores: Elephants

on July 13, 2013

The wilds of Africa are home to some of the most impressive animals on Earth and also the most dangerous. When we think of dangerous animals, the first thing that often comes to mind are images of snarling lions or leopards with the blood of their prey smeared across their faces; the big predators with their strong jaws and sharp claws are often the animals that scare us the most, but is this truly justified? What is the most dangerous animal in Africa?

The Big 5 is a term used to name a group of animals that, traditionally, were the most dangerous and sought after hunting prizes, but nowadays are the most eagerly sought after game viewing sightings; the group includes African Elephants (Loxodonta africana), Rhinoceros (Black (Diceros bicornis) and White (Ceratotherium simum)), African/Cape Buffalo (Syncerus caffer), African Lions (Panthera leo) and Leopards (Panthera pardus). It’s tempting to think the most dangerous animals from this group are the lion and the leopard and there’s no denying that the razor sharp claws and strong jaws of these big cats are potentially deadly, however, the truth is that more people are killed by each of the other animals in the group than by each of the cats.

African Elephant

The African elephant; the largest land animal currently alive yet it maintains its massive bulk of up to 7 tons with feeding only on plant materials and it is equipped with the right tools that help it with its feeding. A commonly asked questions is why do elephants have tusks? Well, their tusks are actually modified teeth, incisors to be precise and they are most commonly used as tools for a range of feeding related tasks, for example, breaking branches from trees or digging roots out from the ground. Both males and females have tusks but it is the males (mostly) that also use them for fighting and they are capable of delivering deadly blows to their opponents with their ivory armaments. Elephants, perhaps most famously, are also owners of a trunk which is an appendage formed by a fusion of the nose and the upper lip and it is prehensile, they use it in a similar way to how we use our hands; for investigating and interacting with objects and each other.

An African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) feeding on grasses.

African Elephants (Loxodonta africana) use their trunk and tusks mostly for feeding, but they can also be deadly weapons.
Photo Credits.

Most deadly conflicts between humans and elephants occur when humans encounter an elephant bull when it’s in musth; this is a physiological state where males are flushed full of reproductive hormones and become extremely aggressive. This hormonally charged state can be identified by fluid being secreted by temporal glands on the side of the animal’s head and by the animal constantly dripping urine. Unfortunately, many people fail to recognise these warning signs upon encountering a musth bull. Elephants raise their young in herds and if threatened, mothers and other relatives will also be quick to defend their young.

When elephants are aggressing someone/something they will often perform a mock charge which is when they will try to intimidate their foe without committing to a full attack (which could be potentially dangerous to the elephant itself). A mock charge is usually a very loud affair where the animal will trumpet and throw its weight around a lot, flapping its ears, scrapping its tusks on the ground and destroying nearby vegetation, it may even run forward several paces before backing off. When an elephant sets out to seriously aggress its opponent, it will fall deadly silent, tucking its ears and trunk back and running forward with its head low in a determined fashion. In an elephant attack, elephants are able to employ all of their natural assets and there isn’t much humans can do to defend themselves other than firing a well-placed rifle shot. Elephants may use their tusks to impale a person, or their trunk to grab and throw a person but most often, it is the elephant’s sheer bulk that finishes the deed by using its strength and weight to trample and crush.

An African Elephant (Loxodonta africana) with its ears flapping and trunk swining in a mock charge.

African Elephants (Loxodonta africana) intimidate any threats by making themselves bigger by opening their ears.
Photo Credits.

Elephants’ size and appearance is beautiful and majestic and makes them one of the wonders of the animal kingdom, however, those same attributes allow them wield extraordinary power with can result in death and destruction. I hope you enjoyed learning about the darker side of this amazing animals.

In the next post in this series we will look at black and white rhinos; Africa’s next biggest land mammals which also can prove to be extremely dangerous. To read about even more dangerous animals, check out our series page.

Much love,

-Nick

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