“Zito” the Bull Elephant

Grumeti · April 2020
By George David Tolchard
Head Guide

Zito in Swahili means “weight” (due to his lovely ivory, of course) and it was absolutely fantastic to see him back on the Singita Grumeti reserve this month. The last time he passed through was in June 2019 and we have not seen him since… until now! This beautiful bull elephant is around the age of 50 years old and one of the last giants of the greater Serengeti ecosystem.

Zito is an absolute pleasure to view out in the field, always gentle and unassuming and usually incredibly relaxed in our presence. This really makes him a little easier to photograph and being such an impressive bull, it really is a joy when you find the right angle with your camera!

An elephant’s tusks are modified incisors that continue to grow throughout the elephant’s lifetime. Other animals possess tusks such as hippos and warthogs, however, these are modified canines.

The tusk is composed largely of dentine and with age the outer layers can begin to darken off or yellow. Tusks are without doubt incredibly important tools for the elephant and perform many functions to aid the elephant through life. More often than not you may see that one of the tusks is worn significantly more than the other and this is often due to the elephant having a more favoured tusk whilst at work…. just like us favouring to write with our right or left hand!

Tusks are used for defence purposes and for competition between bulls when battling for breeding rights with cows. The tusks are used in many ways to harvest a food supply whether it be ripping branches from the trees or gauging out strips of bark from the trunk to then peel off with the trunk. Elephants will often use their tusks to dig in river beds for water or at the edge of waterholes when drinking or mud spraying. When pulling grass and plants up from the ground with the trunk the elephants will use the tusks to beat the grass or shrubs on in order to remove much of the mud or sand that maybe attached to roots before popping it into the mouth.

These great old bull elephants, as they get older, will begin moving into retirement meaning that they will pay less attention to the breeding herds and females in oestrous within the herds. Wandering giants that move great distances where they want and when they want. A true relic of time and the real king of the jungle.

Since first locating Zito out in the west of the reserve, a few days later, he had moved some distance and was sighted in the Ridge Hills, a stone’s throw from Sasakwa Lodge.

By George David Tolchard
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