Seeing as our elephants have been released into the main part of the reserve there could be no time more apt to focus on the celebrated big five – and with more rhinos welcomed at the reserve as well, it is even more fitting. If you would like to read more facts on the Loxodonta africana (the scientific name for the elephant) click here. For now, though, let us veer off in a slightly different direction.
What does the elephant mean exactly? This may seem a baffling statement as we may view it simply as part of a safari; a member of the big five; a giant animal with a trunk – but it abounds with all manner of symbolism. One of the things that spring to mind for South Africans is its presence on the R20 bank note. With exactly five bank notes nothing could be more suitable than distributing these five magnificent creatures amongst them.
It doesn't stop there though. There is a wealth of history and symbolic significance rooted in the elephant. When its trunk is pointed up, for example, this is perceived as a token of good luck. Dignity, strength, wisdom, royalty and happiness are also associated with this splendid creature and the elephant can be found in Bushman paintings and African folklore. It even has religious connotations, with Buddha choosing the elephant for his incarnations; Christians viewing it as a symbol of clarity and temperance and the elephant-headed God Ganesh depicted in Hinduism making the animal a living embodiment of an important deity. They were also used as war elephants. Hannibal made them part of his army to attack the Romans; while King Porus did the same in his battle against Alexander the Great.
Elephants thus have significance far vaster and richer than imagined. The sad part of this tale is that elephants are poached for their tusks and have become endangered as a result. They are also hunted for their meat and hide, but predominantly for ivory. The Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) has banned elephant poaching, but the demand for ivory is still there, as is the practice of illegal poaching. Most of the members of the big five are threatened or endangered. As can be seen with the elephant, they bear much relevance in the world – and this does not even touch on their import within nature itself. As part of the world's natural heritage, it is imperative that we protect these creatures and allow them to be appreciated and admired by generations yet to come.