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Introducing the Kitum Cave elephants, Mount Elgon’s salt-miners

Buried underneath the border-topping Mount Elgon, is a cave that, by night, is the foraging ground for a group of mining elephant. The Kitum cave elephant have adapted to the mineral poor environment surrounding Mt. Elgon by mining for salt under the earth.

Kitum Cave is an ancient lava tube formation. It stretches over 200 meters into the mountain’s depths, and it has long been used by human societies living on Mt. Elgon’s sloping bounds. Within the cave, there is evidence suggesting of its use as a shelter for local human communities and even as a site for ceremonial meetings.

There is also plenty to suggest that this is, and has lengthily been, an elephant mine.

The Kitum Cave elephant come to mine salt from the earth

Mt. Elgon gets a lot of rain. So often does it rain there, and with such volume, that, despite the fact that volcanic areas are often mineral rich, Mt. Elgon’s slopes tend to lose their minerals to the rush of water.

Inside the cave, however, the richness of the volcanic area’s minerals is maintained. It is in the search of sodium-rich salts that the elephant of the area are encouraged to venture underground.

Elephant, like many other animals, require minerals to maintain their physiological balance. Sodium, in particular, plays a crucial role in their diet. The 300 or so elephant that call Mt. Elgon home often venture into Kitum Cave at night, looking for loose rock that will satisfy this craving for sodium.

The Kitum cave elephant use their trunks to hoover up any loose rock that they find within the caves. If they find none, they use a combination of their tusks and brute strength to break off sections of the cave’s interior walls. In this way, the Mt. Elgon herd has shaped Kitum Cave; the mark of their mining here is immediately obvious to any visitors.

Furthermore, it is thought that the salt mine underneath Mt. Elgon may serve some purpose in the fostering of Mt. Elgon elephant society.

The mineral-rich salt deposits act as a gathering spot, and they are thought to have long attracted different herds from the surrounding areas. These congregations present opportunities for social interactions, mating, and the sharing of vital information about resources and territories.

Conservation challenges relating to the salt-mining elephant of Mt. Elgon

The ecosystem surrounding Mt. Elgon was once home to much larger concentrations of elephant. The Kenya-based population is now thought to be around 300 strong. The population of elephant that exist on the Uganda side of the border is functionally non-existent. There are no permanent elephant residents to Uganda’s part of Mt. Elgon.

There are a number of challenges inherent in protecting and propagating elephant populations in the region. It is quite densely populated by people and there are a great deal of commercial activities that go on in the region, including farming. Deforestation and human-elephant conflict are the present’s greatest threat to the long-term security of these cave-mining elephant.

There is work being done to protect these uniquely inventive and adaptable creatures. The Mt. Elgon Elephant Project is presently spearheading the drive to ensure that this amazingly resourceful behaviour is preserved.


Elephant, as many of you will know, are capable of living in a great variety of habitable conditions. If you found this article interesting, you might enjoy this one on why there are red as well as white elephant in this world. 


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