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Underground Elephants Resurface

posted: 05/15/12
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Ian Redmond
Courtesy of Ian Redmond
Related Links[b]View a photo slide show from Mount Elgon, Kenya.[/b]

The lure of salt draws a special group of elephants to a place they are rarely found — deep underground. For thousands of years, Kitum Cave at the base of Mount Elgon in Kenya has been the personal salt mine for these African elephants. One generation teaches the next the secrets of the cave, despite the horrific memory of poachers who attacked their ancestors at the very mouth of this sacred place, reducing their herd from over 1,000 to just over 100. So under the cover of night — out of sight and fearful of harm at the hands of humans — the elephants journey to the cave to cure their salt cravings.

One scientist has made it his mission to help the cave elephants regain their trust and help humans understand the beauty of these majestic and extremely endangered creatures. Following in the footsteps of former colleague Dian Fossey, Ian Redmond hopes to do for the cave elephants of Mount Elgon what Fossey was able to do for the mountain gorillas of Rwanda: by raising the profile of these unique animals he hopes to save them. Redmond assembled the MEEM (Mount Elgon Elephant Monitoring) Team to track the elephants' movements and protect them from poachers and traps set by bushmeat traders. He has even taught the team the low rumbling language of the elephants to help bring them closer to the elephants and, hopefully, allay the animals' fear of human contact.

Listen to our audio interview with Redmond to learn more about the cave elephants and his work with these amazing creatures.

Q:   How long have you been studying these animals and what drew you to them?

A:   Redmond couldn't resist returning to feel and hear these elephants rumble.

Q:   Why do elephants crave salt?

A:   For many of the same reasons we do, according to Redmond.

Q:   How do elephants get their salt?

A:   Usually from plants, but if there is not enough, they will seek it anywhere, Redmond says.

Q:   What makes these elephants so unique?

A:   Redmond says it's their extraordinary culture that takes the deep underground.

Q:   Is it true that the Mt. Elgon elephants created the caves where they get their salt?

A:   Redmond rules out cave erosion by humans and water, leaving erosion by elephants.

Q:   What is the status of these animals?

A:   Redmond says their status is critical, but recovery is in sight.

Q:   How do you get close to an elephant that fears human contact?

A:   Learn to rumble like the best of them. Just listen to Redmond.

Q:   What do you hope the learn from these elephants?

A:   Redmond hopes to understand the mysteries of these animals and hopes to help others experience the natural wonder of these animals as well.

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