ePostcard #11: An Elephant’s Life

In Namibia’s Etosha National Park, waterholes and elephants are a magical combination when you want to observe elephant behavior. Elephants of different ages are often present and this makes it especially fun to just sit and watch the action unfold. Waterholes provide a very important social setting for elephants because they allow youngsters in extended families to meet, play, spar, and bond, perhaps building foundations for friendships later in life. When adult male elephants, or bulls, are present at the waterhole, this gives younger bulls still within their family groups a chance to interact with these older adults in a “friendly” setting. After a long drink and mud bath, the family members often dust themselves with sand. Covering their muddy bodies with sand helps protect their skin from parasites. On very hot days, there tends to be a traffic jam at critical waterholes and the elephants have to make their way through the throngs to get to the waterhole.

Conservation Note: Today there are few elephants living undisturbed in Africa. The human footprint is closing in, with intense tourism, ongoing habitat destruction, poaching for ivory, and many more threats impacting elephant survival. We have only just begun to comprehend these complex and emotional creatures.

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