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 almost half of Zimbabwe’s whole elephant population. This is one of Southern Africa’s greatest elephant sanctuaries where herds of up to 350 in number can be found. These larger herds are commonly referred to as “Super herds” and are unique to the Hwange area.
These elephants rank amongst some of the most important animals in the park, totaling 90 % of the biomass. Unfortunately, this does come at a cost as the park is lacking in natural surface water. During the dry season the animals, including the elephants, rely on man-made pans of calcium rich water pumped from deep boreholes placed at key watering sites. It was Ted Davison, Hwange’s first warden, who came to the conclusion in 1928 that “water was the key to the park’s future.” One such site is based close to The Hide Camp, within the National Park where a solar powered pump has been put in place at Makwa Pan to ensure water is present even during the driest months of the year.
Observing a super herd at the watering hole, in Hwange, is a truly mesmerizing experience; where else can you see literally hundreds of elephants splashing and spouting, using their dexterous trunks to take grateful gulps from the watering holes. Many a tourist has spent hours watching their interaction and activity. The younger elephants are even more of a delight to witness. These calves are playful and exploratory, running about and rolling around in the mud under the watchful eyes of their elders! Their respected matriarch is alert and always in control, she has led her youngsters 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 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.
It is incredible to see elephants thrive in numbers that echo an era when elephant populations were exponentially larger to 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. The best way to protect them is to provide safe spaces in which they can flourish, which is, and always has been, the ambition of all those who work and operate within Hwange National Park.