African Elephant – loxodonta africana
In theory the Elephant started it all, classica African hunting that is….. those great recounts of Selous, Burton, the Muirs in Nyasaland, even Livingstone, their travels into the vastness of an uncharted continent after the riches of ivory. They still linger in our memories and provoke that excitement we all feel when we think of Africa, toting a double rifle over your shoulder and taking on a beast the size of a London bus.
An Elephant bull with heavy ivory topping 100 pounds is considered by many as the ultimate African trophy and hunters dream of the day they can relive one of Africa’s oldest hunting traditions. Despite their size, Elephants are worthy of their status and offer one of the most arduous challenges available today.
Most people believe Elephant hunting is illegal and become annoyed with anyone who suggests the contrary. Elephant hunting is allowed in African countries where their populations are stable, adequately protected and well managed. Perhaps of all endangered species, African elephants are the least likely to disappear because of what they are – they are the last surviving mega fauna of the world and the biggest threat they face is human encroachment into their habitat, not from trophy hunting.
There are no sub-species listed for record purposes although there is a difference between the savannah and forest Elephants; the latter living in the sub-tropical rainforests of central and west Africa. The Forest elephant is smaller-bodied and their lighter ivory has a orangey-pink luster to it. They are very bad tempered, possibly due to living in dense forests where they cannot see very far and stampede at the slightest sign of danger.
habits – Elephants once roamed the African savannah in their thousands forming vast herds which followed the seasonal migrations. Beginning in the 16th century, they were hunted commercially for their ivory. Their slaughter culminated in the 1980s when their number had been reduced almost by half. Since then, active legislation and a worldwide ivory ban has resulted in a stabilization and increase in the Elephant population in countries with sound conservation policies. YES the Elephant has been brought back from the looming possibility of extinction to a situation today where there are too many of these destructive beasts causing human animal conflict.
Today the largest problem facing the Elephant is its large appetite and the shortage of habitat mostly due to a burgeoning tide of humanity and human encroachment. They are continual feeders, resting during the heat of the day and are destructive to their habitat if confined to certain areas, often destroying hundreds of trees only to browse a few leaves off one branch. Their impact extends to the destruction of the habitat of other species as well thus creating a serious dilemma for conservation.
Elephants live in herds, with a matriarch as the leader. Older bulls break away from the herd and often form small bachelor groups, with younger bulls acting as “askari” for the older males. They travel great distances in search of food, and often follow a seasonal route covering hundreds of miles. They have to drink water every day, often chasing other game away in times of drought although they are often the first to dig for water in dry riverbeds creating pools for other species.
hunting tips – the hunt
Elephant hunting is done mostly on foot by following promising fresh spoor until the animal is sighted. It is then determined if the tusks are of satisfactory trophy size. Usually this type of hunting involves hours of walking only to be disappointed by a large bodied small tusked or tuskless bull.
Generally older larger bulls will have younger, more alert bulls in attendance and they often raise the alarm or cause problems by always seeming to be in the way of the path to the larger bull. In most cases, an Elephant hunt is a psychological battle of endurance, patience and persistence with many blisters, sunburn and exhaustion.
The shooting part of the hunt is fairly quick, usually a brain shot is recommended at close quarters with heavy grain solids from a large bore caliber. When facing the Elephant a frontal brain shot is aimed at the third or fourth wrinkle below the center of the eyes depending upon distance from it. With a side shot, aim for the area between the eye and the ear hole or directly in front of the ear hole where the hairy knob juts out. A heart shot is a better bet when it is difficult to get in close to the elephant – take an imaginary line straight up the middle of the front leg to where it meets the lowest part of the ear. This should look like a centrally placed shoulder shot and will require breaking through heavy bone so monolithic solids are usually your best choice although recently hardcast lead bullets are making a comeback.
African Elephants are listed both under Appendix I or II of CITES depending in which part of the continent they occur. At times their listing is rather confusing and is concerned more with actual commercial ivory sales (from legal culls) than with hunting trophies. To be sure, you’ll hear that elephant are in danger of disappearing from Africa altogether BUT this may be in fact true for isolated populations especially in countries above the equator where these beasts have become targets in civil conflict and for organised and highly armed gangs of militia.
hunting tips – the caliber
The minimum is the .375 Magnum which is a legal requirement in many countries. Most hunters prefer something heavier starting from .416 or .458 Magnum upwards with heavier double rifles being the best choice. Read more about rifles and guns for Africa HERE
Score is taken from the weight of both tusks and they do vary quite considerable. It is not often that a good bull carries evenly matched ivory. Usually older bulls will wear down their favorite tusk digging and stripping bark, much in the same way we are either left or right handed.
A good set of tusks must protrude from the skin flap for at least a meter, usually much more depending upon the thickness. Remember a considerable portion of the tusk is hidden in the skin and skull bone, probably at least a third. The thickest part of the tusk is usually at the lip.
hunting tips – where
Most of the larger Elephant were hunted in the first half of the 20th century from the classic countries which held vast herds such as Kenya and Tanzania whilst in the 1980s, Ethiopia and the Sudan produced good, heavy ivory over 100 lbs per tusk.
Today (of the countries which allow elephant hunting) there still are some very big tuskers being taken with each year producing one close to the 100 pound mark.
In Zimbabwe the Hwange region near Victoria Falls has always been good for big Elephant and if you choose the right time of year and operator you will shoot 60lbs plus.
In Botswana many PH’s make 60lbs and up their benchmark and these are taken on a regular basis if you choose the right concession. The areas known as the Chobe Enclave form a corridor within the Chobe National Park which is today considered to hold Africa’s largest remaining population of Elephant. These areas are by far the best in Botswana, however the ivory coming out of here is usually shorter very thick tusks. Botswana is estimated to have over 200,000 elephant which is leading to serious habitat destruction problems in certain areas and is affecting other species.
North-east Namibia, known as the Caprivi strip has produced some big bulls probably due to the relative proximity of the Botswana population and their movement through the Caprivi into Angola although this is not a prolific Elephant hunting area.
Tanzania has produced massive long ivoried bulls along the Tarangiri National Park however permits are very limited and the price of these hunts are very high. As a rule Tanzania’s elephant have long thin ivory which makes for a classic looking trophy while not necessarily the heaviest.
Zambia recently started hunting elephant in two regions of the country (under CITES approval), namely the Luangwa valley and the lower zambezi valley and are set to expand this to other parts of the country after a successful trial period. In truth no big elephant have been taken here and if one was witness to the wanton destruction of these beasts back in the 1970′s & 1980′s it would be best to avoid hunting elephant here, it is not “right” to deplete a resource further especially one which is ill managed by the wildlife authorities. Zambia did however produce some magnificent elephants.
Today, the country that is fast becoming the hottest region for very large long tusked Elephant is Mozambique. Granted, the US does not allow ivory importation from this country yet, but it is only a matter of time as the elephant population in Mozambique is stable and growing.
The remote Niassa region of Mozambique has produced classic long tusked Elephant in the 100lbs class each year and this with very limited hunting having taken place. The Niassa region of Mozambique is currently the most realistic place for a 100 pounder and prices are very reasonable if you choose the right area.
did you know?
Bushmen would coat their bodies in elephant dung to get close to the animal for better arrow penetration. The Zulus believed that to die whilst hunting the King’s royal ivory was the highest honor attainable.