Sustainable solutions

for the coexistence

of wildlife and people




Cave elephants and the indigenous Ogiek people


A small population of steppe elephants lives in the mountain rainforests of Mount Elgon in western Kenya. These animals are something very special. Not only do they live as steppe elephants in the mountain rainforest. They are also the only elephants in the world that engage in “mining.” In order to get salt and important minerals, they have been digging them from the cave walls of the extinct volcano for thousands of years, dug the caves hundreds of meters deeper into the mountain. Just a few decades ago the population was around 1,200 animals, roaming through the mountain forests on both the Kenyan and Ugandan sides. Due to massive poaching and conflicts with local farmers, the number fell to a few hundred, who are extremely shy, sometimes aggressive and therefore difficult to observe. Estimated numbers range from less than a hundred to around 375 animals. If this local population dies out, a very unique “culture” among African elephants will be lost. The knowledge of how to penetrate the pitch-dark caves to get the vital salt has been passed on to elephants for many generations. Elephants that are resettled, for example, would not have this knowledge and could hardly survive in the mineral-poor mountain forests.


The Ogiek live in western Kenya on the slopes of the extinct volcano Mount Elgon in the mountain rainforest and in the Mau Forest, Kenya's largest forest area. Kenya's forests suffer from illegal deforestation for agricultural use and firewood. As part of the Kenyan government's protective measures to preserve the forests, all people living there were forcibly relocated from the Mau and Mount Elgon forests, including the Ogiek who, unlike settlers who had only been living there for a few years, had lived there for centuries have been used sustainably for generations. The Ogiek describe themselves as the guardians of the forest and are committed to preserving it. With our project we would like to make a contribution to protecting these elephants as well as helping the Ogiek people regain their land rights and hope to combine the two.