In Summary
  • Inside are massive amounts of dried elephant dung which have accumulated over time. The dung serves as beds for elephants.
  • Other animals also visit the salt licks in search of minerals such as phosphorus, sodium, calcium, iron and zinc, which are important for bone and muscle growth.

Deep in Mt Elgon National Park, on the Kenya-Uganda border, are five caves that elephants have turned into maternity wards.

Elephants consider the caves a safe place to bring forth new ones because they are secure, have salt for them to lick, and there is plenty of food in their neighbourhood.

The caves are protected by rangers. “The elephants are known to travel from the neighbouring Trans Nzoia County and Uganda to these caves, where they give birth and bring up their young ones,” said Mr Renson Makheti Wanyonyi, Bungoma County tourism executive.

Mt Elgon is one of Kenya’s five water towers. Just like any other maternity facility, the caves have special rooms reserved for calves and a zone for salt licks for the rest of the herds. The caves are Kibalo, Kitum, Makingeny, Chepnyalil and Ngwarisha.

Inside are massive amounts of dried elephant dung which have accumulated over time. The dung serves as beds for elephants, especially during cold nights and in the rainy season.

NUTRITION

The caves are surrounded by plenty of trees and grass, and once the calves start walking they accompany the adults into the forest to forage.

The gestation period of an elephant is 22 months. The females care for calves. They carry one calf at a time and have a five-year break between pregnancies. They can live for 60 to 70 years.

The caves are next to small streams that provide the elephants with water. Other animals, including bushbucks and buffalos, also visit the salt licks in search of minerals such as phosphorus, sodium, calcium, iron and zinc, which are important for bone and muscle growth.

Mr Philip Towett, a tour guide, said that the caves are part of volcanic rocks that erupted many years ago forming the minerals.

“The elephants dig the walls of the rock using their tasks and then collect the salt using their trunks. After licking, they go out and drink a lot of water. After sometime, the salt is absorbed in their bodies. The elephants feed on a plant locally known as Ndopoea, which has a slippery substance that helps in digestion. The salt also helps in digestion by smoothening the sides of their stomachs,” Mr Towett said.

Page 1 of 2