Africa’s Tembe the elephant has died. Network for Animals (NFA)’s supporters helped move Tembe, an elephant with big tusks, 1000-miles from the north of South Africa to the Addo Elephant National Park in the Eastern Cape where most elephants are tuskless. Tembe’s mission was to go forth and multiply, thus reintroducing big tusks to the local population.
In the beginning, all went well. Tembe was a big hit with female elephants and performed his mating duties with diligence. Unfortunately, while he was mating with a female, another male took exception and gored Tembe in the rear, seriously injuring him. Veterinary staff at the park treated his wound and Tembe seemed on the road to recovery. Alas, it was not to be. On the cold and rainy night of September 12, a still-convalescent Tembe found his way into an area he did not know, and fell into a ditch, landing on his back. Because of their digestive systems, elephants can’t lie on their backs for long and Tembe was too weak to climb out of the ditch. By the time park staff found him at dawn, Tembe was dead.
We at NFA send our condolences to Nick de Goede and his staff at Addo, all of whom are devastated by the loss of Tembe. NFA supporters financed Tembe’s move and we too mourn the loss of a very special creature.
It is also a setback for an important project. Elephants need tusks. They use their tusks for lifting, gathering food, and stripping bark to eat from trees. In times of drought, elephants dig water holes in dry riverbeds by using their tusks, feet, and trunks. They are also important as a defence against predators – a pride of lions are formidable hunters and will target young elephants; tusked elephants are much better equipped to fight for the survival of their young. They also use tusks to avoid the sensitive trunk from being damaged; they tuck it between their tusks when charging. It’s interesting to note that just as humans are left-handed or right-handed, elephants are left or right tusked, using one far more than the other.
Tusks play a significant role in the social behaviour of elephants. Male elephants are usually solitary and do not have loyalty to one group; they typically roam around trying to find suitable females to mate with. Males compete fiercely and in combat with other elephants, big tusks are a distinct advantage. When we moved our first big tusker to Addo, he acquired four female admirers overnight.
Elephants with tusks are good for the environment, creating habitats for other smaller creatures, like certain lizards for example, who prefer to make their homes in trees roughed up or knocked over by browsing elephants.
NFA has promised that when two more suitable elephants are found, with the help of our supporters, we will help fund the moving costs so that Tembe’s legacy will live on.