At 4321m Mt. Elgon has the largest volcanic base in the world. Located on the Uganda-Kenya border it is also the oldest solitary volcanic mountain in East Africa. The slopes of Mount Elgon are riddled with caves carved out by moving lava and the erosion of soft volcanic deposits.
The elephants enter the caves as a whole family and walk as far as 160 metres into the pitch darkness just to find a salt seam in the rock, very often with their young in tow. They then excavate the mineral-rich rock by using their tusks to chip off chunks of halite, slowly making the cave deeper and deeper over time. The elephant population of Mt. Elgon are the world´s only elephants to venture underground into huge, dark caves and pass down the unique culture of salt mining to their young.
15 years ago the Mount Elgon Monitoring Team was initiated by the BBC Natural History Unit to learn more about these unique elephants prior to filming Sir David Attenborough's 'The Life of Mammals'.
They found there were only one group of elephants coming to the caves and they announced their presence with 'rumbles' as a greeting call.
It is hoped that this process – similar to the technique used by Diane Fossey to habituate gorillas – will eventually make it possible for tourists to accompany these specialised rangers and experience the thrill of tracking elephants, whilst also providing funding for the further development of the park.
Mount Elgon National Park has a variety of other attractions to tempt the eagle-eyed traveller including immense cliffs, the Sipi falls, breath taking gorges, bubbling springs and some of the finest Arabica coffee in Africa. However, the cave elephants of Mount Elgon are a genuine wonder of the natural world and unmissable for any visitor to Uganda.