An Unusual Resident

When I was researching for my book on Desert, I was astounded by the beauty of the ecosystem.


A desert is not always hot. In fact, one of the coldest places on the Earth is also a desert, a cold desert. Some deserts are high altitude deserts.

800px-Adelie_Penguins_on_icebergPicture courtesy

The hot desert is inhabited by people, plants, and animals of various kinds. One unusual animal is the elephant. Yes, the elephant! I too was surprised to learn about desert elephants. I am used to seeing elephants in the lush evergreen forests, in the dry deciduous forests or the thorn forests in the Western Ghats. The desert elephants live in Namibia and Mali in Africa.

800px-Desert_elephants_in_the_Huab_RiverImage courtesy

The desert elephants look shorter than the Savannah elephants, which live in the surrounding grasslands. Unlike with the Savannah elephants, all female desert elephants often don’t have tusks. The bull elephants are solitary and roam over large areas. A family unit consists of a female, her offspring and her sisters and their offspring.

The desert elephants live in a challenging habitat. They roam around in a large area, about 115,154 square kilometers (71553 square miles) in the Kunene Region that is typically an arid, rocky, sandy desert and  gravel plain. The desert has few shrubs and scattered waterholes. The air temperature often goes up to the triple digit and the desert has no tree cover. How do the elephants live here? The desert elephant has been a puzzle for scientists. For long, they have assumed that desert elephants have unique genetic specializations to help them survive in an extreme environment.

To answer the question, scientists recently analyzed the DNA of the desert elephants. They found that there was no genetic difference between the desert elephants and the Savannah elephants. This led scientists to closely study the adaptations of the desert elephant.

The elephants have found ways to remain cool by coating their body with sand. They also have a special pouch under their tongue for holding water. These special adaptions have enabled them to manage to live in the desert. However, scientists attribute the survival of desert elephants to their high learning capacity and their ability to undertake long-distance migrations. The desert elephants can travel up to distances of 70 kilometers (43 miles) overnight.  They travel at night when temperatures are cooler.   Living in herds, calves develop the knowledge of living in the desert. The elephants remember the path or the route and learn to adapt to the changes in their life.

The desert elephants are very scarce and have high priority for conservation.  There are only under 300 animals living in Namibia.  There are fewer desert elephants in Mali. Humans compete with desert elephant for water and fodder. As the habitat is shrinking and resources get scarce, it is becoming harder for the elephants to survive. The desert elephants are also being culled in Namibia. We may lose all the elephants in the desert if we are not more vigilant. Let the humanity take a pledge to let the creatures roam free in their homes.

If you are fascinated by the life of the desert elephant, watch this marvelous video—