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African Elephant - loxodonta africana - the worlds greatest of beasts

In theory the Elephant started it all, classical African hunting that is..... those great recounts of Selous, Burton, the Muirs in Nyasaland, even Livingstone, their travels into the vastness of an uncharted continent after the riches of ivory. They still linger in our memories and provoke that excitement we all feel when we think of Africa, toting a double rifle over your shoulder and taking on a beast the size of a London bus. 

An Elephant bull with heavy ivory topping 100 pounds is considered by many as the ultimate African trophy and hunters dream of the day they can relive one of Africa's oldest hunting traditions. Despite their size, Elephants are worthy of their status and offer one of the most arduous challenges available today.

Elephant hunting is allowed in African countries where their populations are stable, adequately protected and well managed. Perhaps of all endangered species, African elephants are the least likely to disappear because of what they are - they are the last surviving mega fauna of the world and the biggest threat they face is human encroachment into their habitat and a resurgence of Chinese immigrants into the African continent fuelling the demand for ivory and sparking rampant illegal hunting and poaching.

There are no sub-species listed for record purposes although there is a difference between the savannah and forest Elephants; the latter living in the sub-tropical rainforests of central and west Africa. The Forest elephant is smaller-bodied and their lighter ivory has a orangey-pink luster to it. They are very bad tempered, possibly due to living in dense forests where they cannot see very far and stampede at the slightest sign of danger.

Elephant habits - Elephants once roamed the African savannah in their hundreds of thousands forming vast herds which followed the seasonal migrations across the continent is search of abundant food and safety. Beginning in the 16th century, they were hunted commercially for their ivory and culled by many colonial governments to make way for progress as it was called then. There was a brief lull in the 1980s when their number had been reduced almost by half and the CITES ban was effectively enforced worldwide. Since then, active legislation and a worldwide ivory ban resulted in a stabilization and increase in the Elephant populations in countries with sound conservation policies. However the ever increasing demand for ivory from the east and the relative ease of corruption and political greed prevalent in Africa has seen their numbers plummet again. 

Today the largest problem facing the Elephant is its large appetite and the shortage of habitat mostly due to human encroachment. They are continual feeders, resting during the heat of the day and are destructive to their habitat if confined to certain areas, often destroying hundreds of trees only to browse a few leaves off one branch. Their impact extends to the destruction of the habitat of other species as well thus creating a serious dilemma for conservation.

Elephants live in herds, with a matriarch as the leader. Older bulls break away from the herd and often form small bachelor groups, with younger bulls acting as "askari" for the older males. They travel great distances in search of food, and often follow a seasonal route covering hundreds of miles. They have to drink water every day, often chasing other game away in times of drought although they are often the first to dig for water in dry riverbeds creating pools for other species.

Elephant hunting tips - the hunt
Elephant hunting is done mostly on foot by following promising fresh spoor until the animal is sighted. It is then determined if the tusks are of satisfactory trophy size. Usually this type of hunting involves hours of walking only to be disappointed by a large bodied small tusked bull.

Generally older larger bulls will have younger, more alert bulls in attendance and they often raise the alarm or cause problems by always seeming to be in the way of the path to the larger bull. In most cases, an Elephant hunt is a psychological battle of endurance, patience and persistence with many blisters, sunburn and exhaustion.

The shooting part of the hunt is fairly quick, usually a brain shot is recommended at close quarters with heavy grain solids from a large bore caliber. When facing the Elephant a frontal brain shot is aimed at the third or fourth wrinkle below the center of the eyes. With a side shot, aim for the area between the eye and the ear hole or directly in front of the ear hole where the hairy knob juts out. A heart shot is a better bet when it is difficult to get in close to the elephant, placed lower down, directly behind the shoulder

Early Ivory trade in TanzaniaEarly Ivory trade in TanzaniaCITES PERMITS
African Elephants are listed both under Appendix I or II of CITES depending in which part of the continent they occur. At times their listing is rather confusing and is concerned more with actual commercial ivory sales (from legal culls) than with hunting trophies.

More information can be found at the US fish and wildlife website ( or at the SCI Washington DC website (

USA importing guidelines
USA import permits

Elephant hunting tips - the caliber
The minimum is the .375 Magnum which is a legal requirement in many countries. Most hunters prefer something heavier starting from .416 or .458 Magnum upwards with heavier double rifles being the best choice.

hunting tips - the trophy
Score is taken from the weight of both tusks and they do vary quite considerable. It is not often that a good bull carries evenly matched ivory. Usually older bulls will wear down their favorite tusk digging and stripping bark, much in the same way we are either left or right handed.
A good set of tusks must protrude from the skin flap for at least a meter, usually much more depending upon the thickness. Remember a considerable portion of the tusk is hidden in the skin and skull bone, probably at least a third. The thickest part of the tusk is usually at the lip.

hunting tips - where
Most of the larger Elephant were hunted in the first half of the 20th century from the classic countries which held vast herds such as Kenya and Tanzania whilst in the 1980s, Ethiopia and the Sudan produced good, heavy ivory over 100 lbs per tusk. Recently a 100 pounder was taken in Zimbabwe which coincidentally has one of the largest remaining Ele

In Zimbabwe the Hwange region near Victoria Falls has always been good for big Elephant and if you choose the right time of year and operator you will shoot 60lbs plus.

North-east Namibia, known as the Caprivi strip has produced some big bulls probably due to the relative proximity of the Botswana population and their movement through the Caprivi into Angola.

Tanzania has produced massive long ivoried bulls along the Tarangiri National Park however permits are very limited and the price of these hunts are very high. As a rule Tanzania's elephant have long thin ivory which makes for a classic looking trophy while not necessarily the heaviest.

The Tembe Elephant reserve in South Africa has what I Believe are Africa's largest remaining tuskers. The park habitat is very dense thickets and it is believed that this is where elephant escaped and hid during the early ivory hunting days of the colony. I have personally seen Elephant here well over 100lbs per side and it is well worth visiting this small gem of a park to see these giants!

Zambia recently started hunting elephant in two regions of the country (under CITES approval), namely the Luangwa valley and the lower zambezi valley. In truth no big elephant have been taken here and if one was witness to the wanton destruction of these beasts back in the 1970's & 1980's it would be best to avoid hunting elephant here, it is not "right" to deplete a resource further especially one which is ill managed by the wildlife authorities.

did you know?
Bushmen would coat their bodies in elephant dung to get close to the animal for better arrow penetration. The Zulus believed that to die whilst hunting the King's royal ivory was the highest honor attainable.


"As you’ve been reading this, poachers likely killed another African elephant for its tusks – an atrocity that takes place, on average, every 15 minutes." Paul Allen - Philanthropist and Entrepreneur - Great Elephant Census