Elephants migrating into Angola seem to have learned how to avoid land mines, according to an article in National Geographic. During Angola’s long and gruesome civil war, thousands of elephants were slaughtered. Since peace has returned, so have the pachyderms.
Specifically, the elephants are making their way back to the Luiana Partial Reserve in the Cuando Cubango province. When they first began their migration, scores of elephants had their legs and trunks “blown off” by such mines, causing long, painful deaths. Quoted in the article however, Michael Chase, the head of Elephants Without Borders, claims that his team has “not seen any evidence of elephants being blown up or injured by land mine explosions in the three years we have been working in this area.”
Whether or not the elephants have learned to avoid the mine fields and then pass the information on to their compatriots–elephants are known for advanced means of communication–or have simply learned to smell the mines is still up to speculation.
Ian Whyte, a researcher at Kruger National Park in South Africa, speculates in the article:
“Maybe they are able to smell the mines. They move about with their trunks right on the ground, and it could be that they pick up the scent in this way. But they are also intelligent animals which move in groups. Maybe they learn to avoid places where they see other elephants get blown up.”
The elephants are migrating from neighboring Zambia, Namibia and Botswana. Botswana is experience an explosion in its elephant population currently, so the animals’ return to Angola is a particularly positive sign.