Publication Date



The elephants at Mount Elgon National Park (MENP) are unique and exceptional. They are the only elephants known to excavate for salt in underground caves. Data on the ecology of elephants at MENP were collected over a period of seven years with a total of 130 days of field observations. Methods employed included: direct observations, spoor, photographs, and sound recording. Elephants visited the caves singly or in groups of up to 19 individuals; visits lasted up to 6 hours in Kitum and Makingeny Caves. Most visits began around dusk, but occasionally they entered in daytime or later at night. The frequency of visits by elephants to the caves seemed to increase as the rainfall decreased. Also observed at the caves were bats, ungulates, monkeys, rodents, carnivores, birds, and insects. Plants, rocks, and water samples are being analyzed. It appears that the formation of these caves resulted from the combined "efforts" of salt mining and/or eating activities over millions of years by elephants and other animals and also by pastoral African tribes. In the early 1970's the elephant population in MENP was estimated to be 1,200 ± 100; today perhaps only 50-130 are left. This decline of 10- to 26-fold is mostly due to ivory poaching, which increased dramatically since 1986. If this trend continues, Mount Elgon's already depleted elephant population will become extinct. This would also mean the end of the unprecedented mining behavior - a potential tourist attraction comparable to Rwanda's mountain gorillas in its appeal to tourists. Recommendations and proposals for action include publicity and fund-raising in order to better equip and enlarge anti-poacher patrols, to encourage controlled tourism, and to define research and conservation work related to Mount Elgon's ecosystem.

Recommended Citation

Redmond, I. M., & Shoshani, J. (1987). Mount Elgon's Elephants Are in Peril. Elephant, 2(3), 46-66. Doi: 10.22237/elephant/1521732102