There are some 17 000 elephants in the Kruger National Park, and no better place to get to know them is at Letaba Rest Camp’s Elephant Hall…
Words and Pictures: Anita de Villiers
In the hall, interactive exhibits illuminate the life cycles, behaviour and habitat of the African elephant. Children can discover how they measure up in height compared to a baby elephant, and gaze up to the full height of an adult elephant. “Is that a dinosaur?” one three-year old asked and so began her introduction to the world of elephants.
The hall’s main display is the tusks, skulls, photographs and identikits of the Magnificent Seven, Kruger’s mammoth tuskers. They all had ivories weighing more than 50 kg each and reigned over the Kruger landscape between 1927 and 1985.
Three people were instrumental in introducing the seven to the public in 1980: the chief warden at the time, Dr. U. de V. Pienaar, senior research officer Dr. Anthony Hall-Martin and artist Paul Bosman. Together they created the legend of the Magnificent Seven. The remains of each but one of the big tuskers are displayed at Elephant Hall.
Here are some interesting facts about the seven:
- Most of their names are Tsonga words that are descriptive of a distinctive characteristic: Dzombo, João, Kambaku, Mafunyane, Ndlulamithi, Shawu and Shingwedzi.
- Mafunyane (the Irritable One) had straight, symmetrical tusks so long that the tips scraped the ground when he walked. His tusks nearly caused him an untimely death when they prevented him from getting up after being immobilised to have a collar fitted. Probably the only elephant to be scooped up by a life-saving front-end loader, he died of natural causes at age 57.
- Shawu had the longest tusks recorded in Kruger and the sixth longest in Africa, a length of 317cm (left) and 305cm (right).
- Shingwedzi’s tusks were a classic example of the master-servant pattern with a left master tusk significantly shorter (207cm) than the right servant one (264cm).
- With a shoulder height of around 340cm, Ndlulamithi earned his Tsonga name meaning Taller than the Trees. Anthony Hall-Martin experienced Ndlulamithi’s secretive but fearsome nature when the elephant charged him while Anthony was photographing on foot.
- One wonders what happened to Kambaku’s (Great Tusker) tail hairs, as it is on record that he had none when he died. His massive tusks weighed in at 63.2kg (left) and 64kg (right).
- Dzombo had perfectly shaped tusks, identical in length and weight. He died aged 50 at the hand of poachers.
- João was the heaviest ivory bearer of the Magnificent Seven with a combined tusker weight of 130kg. He broke both his tusks near to the lipline in 1984 and is therefore not represented in the Elephant Hall.
Photographs and details about Kruger’s Emerging Tuskers can also be seen in the hall. These elephants all have the potential to become magnificent ivory bearers. Two female tuskers, MaMerle and MaTrix are carrying the torch for the ladies in this near-exclusive group of males. You go girls!
Letaba Elephant Hall
People & Conservation Department
Letaba Rest Camp
Kruger National Park
Private Bag V402
013 735 6664