Secrets of the Savanna
by Mark and Delia Owens
The cottage of Mark and Delia Owns is within the North Luangwa National Park in Zambia. Throughout Africa, the main elephant species is Loxodonta Africana, the savanna elephant. The forest elephant, or Loxodonta cyclotis, are typically found in Congo. The elephants eat marula fruits or tall grass. An elephant’s age can be determined by the length of their hind footprints. Family units are mostly composed of female elephants because when males develop hormones, they leave in search for a female to mate. Mother, aunt, and sister elephants snake their trunks out and twist them with the young ones’ trunk; they might circle the calf, bump heads, or rub backs. It is also unlikely for elephants to adopt orphans, especially ones that aren’t from the same family unit.
Mark flies over the northern regions on the park to survey the elephant movements. He works with five game scout camps that are responsible for securing North Luangwa from poachers. Mabu Kabutongo killed elephants for their tusks and skins to the black market. The Zambian government, the United Nations ivory ban, and the Owens’ conservation project has ceased a majority of the poaching of elephants and other wildlife. Members of Kabutongo’s poaching expedition joined because of the diminutive meat given to them. The conservation project offers honest work to captured poachers if they choose to accept, and they typically earn more than being a poacher.
Around the 1970s, there were more than 17,000 elephants around North Luangwa, and only 1500 remained in the 1990s. The age structure of the elephant population reveals what percentage was able to breed and whether or not the population was growing, stable, or declining. Each elephant’s foot is different like each human’s fingerprint. In the 1970s, previous to heavy poaching, fifty percent of the female elephants were of breeding age, which is older than fifteen. Now, only eight percent were of age to breed. Female elephants are most reproductively active between the ages of twenty-five and forty. A population of elephants contains two to five percent that never develop tusks, but the percentage has increased to thirty-eight percent.
The winterthron is a tree that is full of green when Africa is in its dry season. Cookson wildebeest are blonder than the common blue wildebeest and they are found only in the Luangwa Valley.
Elephant poaching in North Luangwa has decreased by more than 95 percent from 1986 to 1996. In many parts of Africa, if hunting is not restricted, animal populations would be extinct.
The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species had a ban against trade in ivory. Elephant poaching has decreased by 70 to 90 percent where illegal hunting strived. A male elephant is with his natal family unit until he is about fourteen. Then he goes to mate with unrelated females. Female elephants tend to breed with males that have large tusks, long antlers, deep croaks, and rich territories. The ratio of males to females in populations of wild animals is even, but due to the poaching in North Luangwa, the adult elephants were composed of 81 percent females and 19 percent males.
Although commercial poaching was declining in North Luangwa, 93 percent of the elephants had already been killed. Two thirds of the park’s area had been depopulated of its large mammalian species.
There are now 1300 elephants in North Luangwa. Many infants are being born, but the population is not increasing. Infant and orphan elephants are not surviving. When there are no fruits on the mopane and murala trees, the elephants leave the valley during the dry season. The male elephants had an odd schedule; they come and go through the valley in every season. Some female elephants stayed in the valley in the dry season.