Many land-living herbivores, including elephants, can experience "salt hunger." To remedy that they congregate around salt licks to supplement their diets with minerals (such as sodium) that are not found in their main sources of food.
Mount Elgon National Park, on Kenya's western border with Uganda, is home to a very special population of elephants. [link to Mount Elgon facts] Because there are no salt licks on the surface of Mount Elgon, the elephants must venture into mountain caves to satisfy their sodium fix.
Typically, a group of about 100 elephants — with youngsters in tow — enters a natural cave in Mount Elgon and walks as far as 150 meters into the pitch darkness to find a salt seam in the rock. They excavate the mineral-rich rock with their powerful and versatile tusks, chipping off rough chunks to eat as a vital part of their diet.
Now Born Free USA is helping to pay for their protection, because tragically, they are hunted by ivory poachers. The Mount Elgon elephant population plummeted in the 1980s and 1990s to fewer than 80, when the animals became very nervous of human activity and hence difficult to observe. The area still is very vulnerable to illegal hunting and exploitation of wildlife, but for the past 10 years tragic incidents have been avoided, in no small part due to the presence of the Mount Elgon Elephant Monitoring (MEEM) team.
Such positive relations with the community often are cited as the reason why there has been so little poaching activity in the area, despite periods of civil unrest and poaching spikes elsewhere in the region.
The total population of Mount Elgon elephants now is very healthy, and juveniles often are observed — showing that there is a good level of breeding. The single herd that survived when the project began has grew so large that it split into two groups, as probably was the situation before the dark days of poaching.
The combined benefits for understanding the elephant herd, supporting the park activities, contributing to the local economy and promoting relations with the local people make this project a great example of how a little funding can achieve a lot for conservation when it is spent wisely.
Thank you for making a generous contribution to help us protect the legendary elephants of Mount Elgon.
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