Today we celebrate World Elephant Day and what better way to do this by paying tribute to the ‘Magnificent Seven’ who once lived in the Kruger National Park.
The Magnificent Seven was named after the 1960 Hollywood western film and include seven elephant bulls all with tusks weighting more than 50kg each.
On your next trip to the Kruger, do yourself a favour and go visit the Elephant Hall at Letaba Rest Camp. This is where the tusks of six of the seven elephants in this group are on display.
Let’s have a closer look at the lives of Dzombo, Kambaku, João, Mafunayane, Ndlulamithi, Shawu and Shingwedize.
His name is derived from the Tsonga word Dsombolo meaning ‘to wait for something that is slow in coming’. His tusks were almost identically shaped in length, weight and thickness. Dzombo was the only one of the group killed by poachers. The Mozambique poachers were undercut by Ranger Ampie Espag and fled, fortunately leaving Dzombo’s tusks behind. He died that day in 1985 and was 50 years old.
After being wounded by poachers in 1982, João was immobilized and fitted with a radio collar and measurements of his tusks were taken. His tusks were an estimated 130kg, which at that time made him the heaviest ivory carrier of the Magnificent Seven.
João is the only elephant of this group whose tusks are not displayed in the Elephant Hall in Letaba. It is believed that in 1984 when he was approximately 45 years old he broke both his tusks close to the lip line, presumably in a fight with another bull, these pieces were never found.
His name in Tsonga means “Old Elephant Bull” fittingly so as he was more than 55 years old when he died in 1985. Kambaku is the third member of the Magnificent Seven and was often seen and photographed by visitors in the park as he covered vast areas from Satara to Crocodile Bridge. He was easily recognized by the perfectly round hole on its left ear and prominent markings on his trunk which had the appearance of a round patch of smooth skin.
Kambaku suffered a bullet wound when he crossed over the Crocodile River into sugar cane fields. The wound became septic and he could no longer walk, it was then that Regional Ranger Lynn van Rooyen decided to shoot and kill Kambaku to end his pain.
His name in Tsonga means “The Irritable one” which appropriately describes his short temper and intolerance for humans. Mafunyane roamed in the Shingwedzi area, and was only seen by a handful of visitors as he kept well away from roads.
His tusks were perfectly symmetrical and identical in length and mass often rubbed on the ground as he moved. His remains were found in 1983 and appeared to have died of natural causes. He was about 57 years old.
Ndlulamithi was a tall elephant and therefore earned the name meaning “taller than trees” in Tsonga.
He was considered to be an aggressive elephant, yet secretive and was seldom seen. Ndlulamithi had curved tusks which were significantly more twisted than those of other large bulls. He died of natural causes in 1985 and was estimated to be 58 years old.
This bull was named after the Shawu valley in which he spent much of his life, but was also known as “Groot Haaktand” in Afrikaans. Shawu’s tusks are the longest on record in Kruger National Park and one of the 6th longest to ever come out of Africa.
Due to the increase in poaching risks, he was fitted with a collar in 1981 and was monitored on a regular basis. He died of old age and was nearly 60 years old.
Named after the river and rest camp where he spent the last few years of his life, Shingwedzi had a large right servant tusk and a shorter master tusk. He was found dead in 1981 not far from camp and died of natural caused. He was estimated to be 65 years old.
The Letaba Elephant Hall is open Monday-Saturdays from 08:00 – 20:00 and on Sundays from 08:00 – 18:00. Entrance is free.
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