KIDEPO – Elephants are some of the most iconic animals in the world. Few people can resist the charms of the elephant: their soft eyes, their gentle nature, and their comical personalities as youngsters.
The elephants are the large mammals forming the family Elephantidae in the order Proboscidea and are scattered throughout sub-Saharan Africa.
Elephants have several distinctive features, the most notable of which is a long trunk (also called a proboscis), used for many purposes, particularly breathing, lifting water, and grasping objects.
According to Mr Bernard Lotuk a guide at Kidepo Valley National Park, their teeth [the incisors] grow into tusks, which can serve as weapons and as tools for moving objects and digging.
Mr Lotuk revealed that the stories about Kidepo Valley National Park are not mere myths because the park is a wild place of spectacular beauty with the Narus Valley, a vast plain, nourished by the Narus River, full of herds of Elephants.
He said elephants act exceptionally aggressive, like wounded warriors constantly making their last stand in the wilderness.
“Elephants can exhibit bouts of aggressive behaviour and engage in destructive actions against humans. In East Africa and Africa as a whole,” added Mr Lotuk.
As we watch a herd of at least 40 elephants stand at full alert for over an hour on the plains, and then later in the day, driving past a herd of twelve elephants on the side of the road, the big elephants in the front breaks into a run and charges at us.
It was quite scary. We had to skid out at full speed over the bumpy park road. Our guide Mr Lotuk had warned us before saying, “the elephants in the park are dangerous and can charge towards you”, but none of us had seen anything like that before.
Although the elephants are known to be herbivorous in nature, Kidepo National Park has some rare species that survive on local brew, commonly known as Kwete.
The gentle and friendly 74-year-old mammal named ‘Bull Bull’ is the oldest elephant in the park and weighs about six tonnes.
“Bull Bull has got a very good sense of smell and hearing and therefore is able to detect something from so many kilometres away which is good, given the fact that it has got very poor sight,” Mr. Lotuk said.
He explained that once it takes the alcohol and it gets high, it becomes very sensitive and destroys a lot of property and when it smells maize flour, bananas, pineapples, porridge or even local brew in any one’s home, it does everything possible to get the drink, even if that means breaking down the house; which is why the locals have decided to stop keeping any food in their houses.
“And because of ‘Kwete’ being provided by the local people, ‘Bull Bull’ now does not go to the jungle like other elephants to look for grass, tree leaves, flowers, shrubs and wild fruits but stays with human beings, interacts with them occasionally and moves through their houses freely to get food,” said Mr. Lotuk.
The Area Conservation Officer for Kidepo National Park Mr. Johnson Masereka said the trunk of the elephant is the most highly sensitive yet powerful of its organs, as it is used to pick up a dime and just as easily pull down a tree.
He revealed that besides alcohol when the weather turns dry and grass dies back, the elephant joins others to eat almost any kind of vegetation they can find to the level of knocking down trees to eat their foliage.
“Elephants will even turn to bark and the woody parts of plants to eat them because they need as much as 660 pounds of food in a single day with a high percentage of water,” said Mr. Masereka.
Mr. Masereka however decried their extinction as some people poach elephants for their tusks which they trade in petty fashion and biomedical research outside Uganda, while there are those who poach elephants for consumption.
Gazetted in 1962 to protect resident and migratory Wildlife, Kidepo National Park is the third largest national park that is tucked at the tip where three countries of Uganda, Kenya and Southern Sudan [Extreme North-north Eastern corner of Uganda] and encompasses an area of 1442 square Kilometres. Kidepo is home of Elephants, Bushbucks, Zebras. Giraffes, Lions, waterbucks, crocodiles, Oribi, Buffaloes, baboons, Hyena and several migratory birds.