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Identifying elephants

EHRA runs elephant patrols every other week of the year. In one year we can cover over 6500 km of the area!   The purpose of the patrols is to check on elephant movements so we know which farms and water installations elephants frequently visit, whether there is a protection wall or whether one is needed, and if so give application forms to farmers to request EHRA's assistance.  The EHRA team also records elephant numbers, including any deaths, births or conflict incidents. These are recorded in reports sent to the Ministry of Environment and Tourism (MET) offices, conservancies and other NGOs.

EHRA also firmly believes that in order to manage an elephant population effectively, you must know each individual's character and personality.  We therefore spend time observing the elephants' behaviour, interactions and communications, both within a herd and between herds.

We also take identification photos of all elephants for our database.  Identifying elephants is more difficult than you may think! But there are some distinguishing features that make it possible.  Here we compare two sets of identification photos for the Matriarchs called Mama Afrika, from the herd named 'Mama Afrika' or 'UM', and Bellatrix, from the herd G6. 

Ears and Tusks

Elephant ID photo

This is Mama Afrika. As you can see, she has a very obvious tear in her right ear and very straight, downwards pointing tusks, as do all the members of her herd.













Elephant Matriarch right ear

This is Bellatrix. Her right ear is very smooth, without any distinguishing features. All the elephants in this herd have up-curved tusks.













Desert elephant id photo

Here is Mama Afrika's left side ID photo.  Her left ear also has distinctive notches, and her left tusk is now shorter than the right, due to a break that happened in 2012.













Elephant ID images

As you can see Bellatrix has a large, V-shaped notch at the bottom of her left ear.













Elephant identification image

This is the front ID photo for Mama Afrika, clearly showing her distinguishing features.














Image of desert elephantsThis is a frontal view of Bellatrix.  It is easy to see the differences between the two matriarchs.










Every elephant has different hair distribution patterns on their tails, which can be a handy tool for identification of individuals. In the Huab River, one cow has a kink near the end of her tail, and this characteristic was also passed on to her calves!

Elephant tail image

This is Mama Afrika's tail.  She has a lot of hair on one side, but only a few hairs on the other. Compare it to the tail of Bellatrix below. 









Matriarch tail id image

This is Bellatrix's tail with very sparce hair! It also appears to be shorter than the average tail length.








Male and Female Identifcation

Tamla female desert elephant
Voortrekker male elephant image


Above left is Tamla, a sub-adult female from the Ugab Small herd, and on the right is Voortrekker, the only breeding bull in the Ugab River area.  Size is, of course one way to distinguish between males and females, as adult males weigh up to 6 tons while adult females weigh just over 3 tons.  You will also see that the angle of the skull is distinctive: the females have a much more angular profile, whereas the male skull is much more rounded due to the muscle mass necessary to hold up their massive, heavier skull and tusks.

For further information on the desert elephants, please also refer to our collegues at the Desert Elephant Conservation Organisation. They have a very informative web site!