Mount Elgon’s Elephant Caves

Location RIFT VALLEY, KENYA / MBALE, UGANDA
The caves are a favorite gathering place for elephants. Every night,long convoys venture through the mountain forest. They head deep into the mountain to feed on the salt-rich deposits.
When the 19th century African explorer Joseph Thompson returned to England, his stories of cave-dwelling elephants must have seemed fanciful. Yet what he discovered on Mount Elgon in East Africa was, in fact, a unique series of deep caves where elephants and other wild animals came to find salt.
Mount Elgon is Kenya’s second highest mountain, rising over 14,138 feet (4,300 meters). Formed over millions of years during the creation of the Great Rift Valley, it lies 87 miles (140 kilometers) northeast of Lake Victoria, and straddles the Kenya-Uganda border. The mountain today is an ancient eroded volcano with a huge caldera and spectacular flat-topped basalt column on its summit. Yet its most dramatic feature lies within an extensive series of lava tube caves. Some caves are over 200 feet (60 meters) wide and frequented by elephants as well as other animals digging for salt. The four largest caves: Kitum, Makongeni, Chepnyalil, and Ngwarisha are all explorable with care. Kitum is the biggest and best known, extending some 656 feet (200 meters) into the heart of the mountain. In Kenya’s Maasai language, its name means “Place of Ceremonies.” For centuries the local Saboat tribe used the caves of Elgon as granaries and stables for its stock. At other times it sought refuge in the caves from bad weather and as a sanctuary during periods of inter-tribal conflicts. More famously, the caves are a favorite gathering place for elephants. Every night, long convoys venture through the mountain forest. They
head deep into the mountain to feed on the salt rich deposits that are excavated with their tusks. The gouged walls of the caves are scarred by the work of thousands of elephants over millennia. Mount Elgon is one of Kenya’s most wild regions, with vast areas of unblemished forest. It is home to about 400 elephants, as well as the buffalo, leopard, colobus and blue monkey, the giant forest hog, waterbuck, and other types of antelope. Over 240 species of birds have been recorded. Huge Elgon teak and cedar trees, some 82 feet (25 meters) tall, dominate much of the forest.