Elephants in a Ugandan forest; photo by Blasio Byekwaso

Elephants in the Gorilla Highlands can be of two species, the forest elephant (Loxodonta africanus cyclotis) and the savannah elephant (Loxodonta africanus). The main differences are the numbers of nails on their feet, the shape of their ears and tusks. The forest elephant has straighter tusks and was therefore preferred by ivory craftsmen.

Forest and savannah elephant ranges overlap and there may be interbreeding. The elephants in Bwindi are originally from the savannah further north but got stuck in the park and adapted to it. Current Bwindi statistics are a little vague with estimates of 30–50, roughly the same as eight years ago.

Elephants are slow breeders, with usually only one infant every five years. The female is receptive for 3–6 days at a time and advertises it with a low growl that can be heard for several kilometres. Gestation takes two years.

They utilise about 78 plant species in Bwindi, but concentrate on nine principal foods types. Overall their diet is made up of 62% trees, 12% bushes, and 25% herbs, climbers, grasses and sedges: fruit is rare. They focus on bark in the dry season and bamboo in the wet. Geographically they feed on bamboo shoots at high altitudes during the wet season, then move to Mubwindi Swamp (water source) in the dry and forage around mature forests.

The impact of elephants on trees is divided into bark stripping and damage by toppling and breaking. More trees are stripped in the bamboo zone while more are broken in mixed forest; they also tend to cause more tree damage at the forest’s edge and near rivers and other permanent water sources. Overall elephants increase forest stress but disperse seeds, maintain structure and prevent bush encroachment.

The pygmy elephant has been widely reported in Congo and southwestern Uganda but little studied. It is thought to be a morph of the forest species. Its smaller size may be an adaptation to either dense forest or high altitudes at the periphery of its range.

Photo: Blasio Byekwaso

This Travel Guide is based on the the Gorilla Highlands Interactive eBookan award-winning labour of love that gives you a comprehensive insight into the cultures, languages, people and nature that make our area so special. By purchasing the ebook you will contribute to an ambitious initiative that aims to transform southwestern Uganda.

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