Hwange National Park in Zimbabwe is home to one of the largest elephant populations in Africa. There are an estimated 44,000 pachyderms inhabiting the 14,651 km² park, which is practically half of Zimbabwe’s elephant population.
The elephants are the most important animals in the park, making up 90 % of the biomass. The park is lacking in natural surface water so during the dry season the animals, including the elephants, rely on man-made pans of calcium rich water pumped from boreholes.
In Hwange National Park, one of southern Africa’s greatest elephant sanctuaries, herds of up to 350 can be found. These massive, abnormally large herds are known as ‘super herds’ and are unique to the area.
Observing a super herd at the watering hole is a truly mesmerising experience, guests at Elephant’s Eye, Hwange, an eco-lodge on a borderless concession neighbouring the park, find themselves lost for hours in wonderment at the interaction and activity of the majestic creatures. Where else can you see literally hundreds of elephants splashing and spouting, using their dexterous trunks to take grateful gulps from the fresh water?
The younger elephants especially are a delight to witness. The calves are playful and exploratory, mucking about and rolling around in the mud under the watchful eyes of the mature cows. The respected matriarch is alert and in control, she has led the herd to the waterhole and their safety is her main priority.
In larger herds, especially a super herd, the matriarch needs assistance from the other mature cows. It is here where the elephants’ renowned complex social structure comes into play. The herd is in constant communication and can even transmit messages over great distances through low-frequency sounds and rumblings, creating vibrations in the ground that are felt by their feet.
In all herds, regardless of their size, the elephants intimately know one another and have incredibly strong bonds, this is essential for their safety and provides a great deal of trust and a sanctuary within the herd. It is then all the more impressive that these super herds of Hwange ranging from 150 to 350 strong are able to successfully maintain these close-knit relationships.
The specific conditions that cause these impressively large herds are not known, but they certainly are favourable. It may be the boreholes that provide fresh water year round, it may be the vast area of mopani woods and grasslands or something else entirely about Zimbabwe’s biggest national park in the northwest corner of the country.
Whatever it is, it is amazing to see elephants thrive and proliferate in numbers that echo an era when elephant populations were exponentially larger than what they are now. Sadly, elephants remain threatened throughout Africa due to habitat loss and poaching, even the elephants in Hwange National Park, though seemingly abundant, are under threat. Their best protection is to provide safe spaces in which they can flourish, these are the parks and reserves of Africa that are supported by tourism.
A visit to Hwange National Park will not only provide you with a truly unique elephant experience, but the revenue generated will indirectly ensure that these magnificent creatures have a home and a protected space to roam for future generations.