The Big Five, the lion, elephant, rhino, leopard and buffalo, are easily the most iconic South African animals. In fact, we love them so much we have them on our currency.

Lalibela is lucky enough to have all these magnificent creatures living on our game reserve, and they’re all spectacular in their own right – from the ground-trembling roar of the lion to the trumpeting of the elephant. It’s worth taking the time to learn a little bit more about these animals – it only makes your first sighting of them in the wild that much more special. Of course our rangers have a wealth of knowledge and we don’t want to attempt to do their jobs for them, so we’ve only selected a few fun facts.

Here are a few things worth knowing about the elephant.

1. The Trunk

The trunk is in fact a limb and is a fusion of the elephant’s nose and upper lip. It’s the most important limb and is not just for show. The trunk has about 50 000 muscles which makes it sensitive enough to pick up a single blade of grass and simultaneously strong enough to pull a branch from a tree. Elephants use it to drink and to help bathe themselves.

2. The Tusks

Elephants’ tusks are actually an extremely elongated incisor tooth deeply embedded in the head. The tusks are used for a variety of things, from digging for food and water to stripping bark from trees or using during fights. Just like people are left or right-handed, elephants can be left or right-tusked.

3. The Skin

Elephants can get sunburned. This is why you’ll often spot them bathing in mud. After bathing in the mud or waterhole, they’ll throw sand and mud up with their trunks and cover their skin. It’s their own form of sunscreen!

4. The Herd

Elephants live in matriarchal societies, with an older female leading the herd. Young bulls will form their own herd after leaving their breeding herd. Old bulls often roam alone, joining up with herds during mating seasons. Their herds are their families and elephants pass down knowledge to their young as well as grieve the deaths of herd members.

5. The Diet

Elephants know how to put it away. The average adult elephant eats up to 300kg of food and drinks up to 160 litres of water a day. This means they spend between 12 and 18 hours a day eating grass, plants and fruit.

Lalibela’s Elephants

In search of more reading? Here’s understanding elephant empathy and their emotions!