Tuskers: Tracking the living Legends of the Kruger National Park

2015-10-06 10:33 - Louzel Lombard
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The Kruger Tuskers are arguably the single biggest (literally) drawcard to the Kruger National Park. 

These majestic, yet gentle creatures, fascinate us because of the similarity of their social structures. Like humans, elephants have major respect for their elderly and even their dead. Elephants travel to graves of family members in remembrance of their kin and have the best motherly instincts of all the mammals in the Animal Kingdom.

Traveller24 chatted to Kirsty Redman (KR), Interpretive Officer for the Nxanatseni Region in the Kruger National Park to ask her more about the famous Kruger Tuskers. 

Traveller24: How many tuskers are there currently in Kruger?

KR: We currently have 17 named tuskers of which 2 are females, called MaMerle and MaTrix. We are in the process of naming an additional 11 tuskers of which 3 are females. This should be completed before the end of the year.

(Kruger tusker Ngunyupezi. Ngunyupezi is Tsonga for "the pne who likes to dance with women, but who will always go home at the end of the night..." He is defined by his longer left tusk.)

READ: Death of the Kings: Gone but not forgotten

Traveller24: What defines an elephant as a ‘tusker’?

KR: An elephant that has tusks extending a minimum of 1.5m from the lip line is considered an emerging tusker. Once the tusks extend and they hit their growth spurt beyond that, they are considered a tusker.

When looking at the emerging tuskers, we take into consideration the age of the bull and if it has the potential to develop further. If the bull is already towards the end of its life span he will not be monitored as the chance of him developing further is unlikely.

The current emerging tuskers are:


(Emerging tusker Mavalanga. This bull has very substantial curved ivory. He has a notable thickening on his trunk that has a “doughnut” appearance with a definite depression in the middle.)

 Who is the most famous tusker in the Kruger at the moment?

KR: Masthulele, meaning ‘the quiet one’ has the honor of sharing his name with Dr Ian Whyte, who was given this name by the staff he worked with. 

Who is the most famous tusker in the history of the KNP?

KR: Everyone will have different opinions on this as the large tuskers are an emotive issue and everyone will have a favourite. The Magnificent 7 in my opinion continue to be the most famous as a group. In this group Shawu and Mafunyane seemed to be the most well know, Shawu for his length, Mafunyane for his temper. Of the new era, Duke was a well-known and loved bull, as was Hlanganini.

The Magnificent 7 all died in the late 1980’s. They were:

Dzombo (c.1935–1983)
João (date unknown)
Kambaku (c.1930-1985)
Mafunyane (Carcass discovered 16th November 1983)
Ndlulamithi (c.1927–1985)
Shawu (October 1982)
Shingwedzi (c.1934-1981)

WATCH: 3 baby elephants completely underestimate the muddiness of mud

(Well known Kruger tusker, Mashangaan.)

When and how did KNP start naming the elephants tuskers?

KR: The naming culture started with Dr Tol Pienaar who coined the magnificent 7 as an awareness campaign in 1980. The desire to know the big bulls did not dissipate after the death of the Magnifcent Seven and Dr Ian Whyte continued to received submission of large bulls and the naming continued informally, the Emerging Tuskers project was formalised  in 2003 with clear guidelines on the naming of bulls.

Do the tuskers stick together in a group, or live alone?

KR: The bachelors herd structure tends to be informal and they come together and split up over time. As a result some tuskers have been seen together in groups with other tuskers, or on their own with young bulls. Predominately though, the large tuskers being older bulls, tend to be on their own.

Traveller24: Lastly, what are the areas in the Kruger National Park where visitors are most likely to spot these tuskers? 

KR: Most of the tuskers are found in the Northern areas of the KNP, in particular between Olifants and Shingwedzi. 

(Kruger Tusker Hlanganini (front).)

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You can be part of the identification of a new era of Kruger Tuskers. The KNP Emerging Tuskers project is part of a research project to identify the new crop of elephants with large tusks and encourages visitors to the KNP to take photographs or video footage of any elephant with large tusks so that this record can be used for research purposes.

Visit or contact the Letaba Elephant Hall in the KNP for more info. 

The Letaba Elephant Hall is open all day, every day from Mondays – Saturdays: 08:00 to 20:00 and Sundays: 08:00 to 18:00. 

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