Adult elephant bulls weigh on average about six tons. They eat about five percent of their body weight everyday. This means they’re eating about 300kg or 660 pounds of food.

Every. Single. Day.

When you scan over the winter bushveld you start to wonder, “what on earth are these elephants surviving off?” The grass has died right back and what is left of it is depleted of nutrients. A majority of tree branches have shed their leaves and trees aren’t fruiting. Apart from one that is. The Torchwood tree shows how intrinsically intelligent nature is and that despite resources being low, these animals are always been given exactly what they need to survive.

Andrea Campbell, fellow ranger and friend, and I were discussing just how smart this really is. The Greenthorn or Torchwood produces its kernels between November and January when the tree has a lot of resources at its disposal. Then in the heart of winter they ripen and begin to fall from the trees, just when the animals need them most.

Torchwood, elephants

A herd of elephants feed below a Torchwood tree; picking up fallen fruit, which is very high in natural oils.

Hidden inside them is a rich, colourless oil, similar to olive oil, which if harnessed can even be used as fuel for torches, hence the name. At the moment, in this relatively arid environment, we see baboons, monkeys, impalas, kudus, duikers, warthogs, porcupines, steenbok and elephants congregating below these trees and feasting on the fruit. A few days ago, I even saw a cheeky young elephant bull chase a herd of impala from the base of a Torchwood tree as he greedily tried to monopolise the fallen fruit. Elephants have also been seen shaking these trees all over Londolozi, encouraging any fruit that may still be clinging to the branches to fall to the ground and within their reach.

In life there are times for all of us that we feel we’re lacking nourishment. Sometimes its related to food and we saw this in a very real way in the most recent of our Live Guided features, where Innocent Ngwenya tells the remarkable story of how hunger drove him from a life of poverty to one of purpose and power.  Sometimes it shows up in other ways though. Like in the feeling of lack related to opportunity, inspiration, adventure or love. Andrea and I were talking about how important it is in times like those to shift your gaze and look for the places you are receiving nourishment. Sometimes on a bad day, it may just be a kind smile from a random stranger or the much needed hug from an understanding friend or even just a warm cup of tea on a cold day. Because as the elephants and the Torchwoods show us, you are always being held by life and even if it doesn’t feel like a lot, we are always getting as much as we need to keep going.

About the Author

Amy Attenborough

Media Team

Amy has a rich field-guiding history, having spent time at both Phinda and Ngala Game Reserves. This diversity of past guiding locations brought her an intimate understanding of different biomes across South Africa, and she immediately began making a name for herself as ...

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on What A Hungry Elephant Can Teach You

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Another thought provoking piece Amy and once again you have provided food for the soul. Looking forward to your next blog. Thank you.

Wendy Hawkins

Oh just amazing this is Amy, thank you! Those cheeky ellies just being who they are dominant 🙂


This is quite a profound, informative and comforting piece. You packed a lot in there and it was exactly what I needed today. Thank you Amy!

Kim Jacobson

Always so interesting and informative….I constantly learn new things from your Blogs….Thank You !!!


Thanks for reminding us Amy 😊

Susan Strauss

Cutie pie elephant

Judy Hayden (Corpus Christi, Texas)

Those impalas are smart. Get away from the fruit. Thank you for that video and the information. Captivating as usual..


Amy, when we scour through elephant droppings we often find the pods of the torchwood tree,more or less intact, undigested save for part of the skin. I understand that an elephants digestive tract is not as efficient as ruminants and so the pods may in fact help in the breakdown of roughage in the stomach rather than have a huge nutritive value. Birds and crocodile do ingest grit and stones to aid digestion, so perhaps ellies do the same. Great blog, well done.

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