It was once thought the elephant found in Kaokoland, the elusive desert elephant, were of a different species. Its longer legs, bigger feet, and incredible ability to withstand periods of drought all gave valid reasons to think so. Today, however, it is not considered a different species, rather regarded as only ‘desert adapted.’ The herds in this area remain separate from other elephant herds in Namibia and only appear to have longer legs and bigger feet because they eat less than elephants living in more food abundant areas such as Etosha National Park, the Caprivi, and Chobe region in Botswana.
The desert elephant are truly incredible survivalists, claiming a three-thousand square kilometer range and regularly traveling up to two hundred kilometers in search of water. They only drink every three or four days, compared with elephant in Etosha drinking one-hundred to two-hundred liters of water a day. They also seem to be more environmentally conscience than other elephants. Unlike other elephants, the desert adapted elephant rarely knock over trees, break branches, or tear away bark, as if knowing if they do so their food will be less than what it was before.
They are commonly roaming the dry riverbeds of the westward flowing Huab, Hoanib, Hoarusib, and Khumib rivers. It is along these riverbeds the animals find the occasional spring fed waterhole and most of their nutrient rich foods: mopane bark, tamarisk, reeds, and the pods, bark, and leaves of the ana tree. On a typical day, desert elephants travel up to sixty kilometers over rocky, difficult terrain between feeding areas and waterholes. When water is truly scarce, as in times of drought, they dig holes, commonly known as gorras, in the dry riverbeds. Water seeps up from below the surface creating a much needed water source for themselves, and other animals in the area.
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