October: Elephant Moon

The largest land mammal on Earth is the African elephant. We have the privilege to still see appreciable numbers of these pachyderms in our game parks. The elephant is also the largest of the Big Five game animals. Bulls average about 4 metres at the shoulder and weigh up to 7,000 kg.

Elephants once roamed freely over most of South Africa but today South Africans and visitors can only see elephants in the larger game parks.

The African elephant (Loxodonta africana) has been hunted down to dangerously low levels in many areas in Africa for its tusks which are worth a fortune in the illicit ivory trade. It is estimated that poachers kill about 20 000 elephants each year.

Conservation efforts in South Africa have resulted in there being 160 times more elephants in South Africa today than there were in the 1920’s. As humans and cultivated fields encroach more and more on the areas where elephants roam, the confrontation between these magnificent animals and humans becomes greater and greater.

Unfortunately the huge increase in numbers is also causing serious environmental problems in the reserves where the veldt is being decimated by the elephants. Methods of controlling the numbers by culling or exporting them to countries such as China are controversial and have raised the ire of conservationists world-wide. A programme of darting the females and injecting a contraceptive has been running for a while and appears to be very effective in the trial areas.

Place names associated with elephants:

Gingindlovu is a village in the UMlalazi Local Municipality of the KwaZulu-Natal Province situated about 21 km south-east of the town of Eshowe in the Mtunzini district. The name is of Zulu origin and is said to mean ‘place of the big elephantʼ or possibly ‘swallower of the elephantʼ referring to Cetshwayo’s victory over his brother Mbulazi in 1856.

Mahlamba-ndlopfu is the name given to the residence of the State President of South Africa when he is in Pretoria replacing the previous name Libertas. It is in Xitsonga and metaphorically means ‘New Dawnʼ but literally translates to ‘the washing of the elephantsʼ. In the Kruger national park is a pan or depression about 13 km south-south-east of Shangoni that is called Mahlambandlopfu ‘where the elephants wallowʼ.

Olifantkliphoogte (Elephant-stone height) is a hill in the Matzikama Local Municipality of the Western Cape Province situated about 20 km west-south-west of the town of Lutzville. ‘Olifantklipʼ is apparently a colloquial Afrikaans term for ‘dolomiteʼ but ‘olifantʼ, ‘elephantʼ also refers to the Olifants River which flows into the sea 8 km south of the hill.

Olifantsdrif (Elephant-ford) is a village in the Kgatleng District of Botswana about 85 km north-east of Mochidi. It is situated at the confluence of the Marico and Krokodil rivers. The Setswana name for the village is ‘Dikgathloʼ, ‘confluenceʼ.

Olifantskrans (Elephant-cliff) is a holiday resort in the Langeberg Local Municipality of the Western Cape Province situated close to the town of Bonnievale on the banks of the Brede River.

Olifantshoek (Elephant-corner) is a village in the Tsantsabane Local Municipality of the Northern Cape Province about 60 km west of Postmasburg. The name refers to the skeletons of elephants found there and the name is partially translated from Setswana ‘Ditlouʼ.

Olifants River (Elephant-river): is the name of a rest camp in the Kruger National Park in the Limpopo and Mpumalanga Provinces and is situated about 27 km south-east of the Letaba rest camp.

At least three rivers are named the Olifants River: (1) rises in the Msukaligwa Local Municipality of the Mpumalanga Province between Breyten and Bethal. It is a tributary of the Limpopo River and is known as the ‘Lepelleʼ in Sesotho, ‘Baluleʼ in Shangaan and ‘Libhaluleʼ in siSwati. (2) rises in the Witzenberg Local Municipality of the Western Cape Province in the Great Winterhoek and Cold Bokkeveld Mountains and flows into the sea in the Matzikama Local Municipality. It was named by Jan Danckaert in 1660 but also possibly again by Starrenberg, the Landrost of Stellenbosch, in the early eighteenth century. The KhoiKhoi name for the river was ‘Tharakkammaʼ or ‘Trakammaʼ. (3) rises in the Gouritz basin in the Oudtshoorn Local Municipality of the Western Cape Province and joins the Gamka River 16 km south of Calitzdorp after which it becomes the Gouritz River which flows into the Indian Ocean at Gouritzmond in the Hessequa Local Municipality of the Western Cape Province.

Umkandandlovu is a stream in the Ray Nkonyeni Local Municipality of the KwaZulu-Natal Province 34 km south-west of Port Shepstone. The name is also encountered as ‘Inkandandlovuʼ or ‘Kandandlovuʼ. The derivation is from isiZulu ‘ekhandaʼ, ‘headʼ and ‘ndlovuʼ, ‘elephantʼ and thus means ‘place of the elephant’s headʼ said to refer to an old stamping ground of elephants marked by an elephant skull.

Thohoyandou is in the Vhembe District Municipality of the Limpopo Province and was the capital of the former Venda. The name means ‘the head of the elephantʼ and is taken from the name of the reputed founder of the Venda people.

The October Elephant Moon occurs only twice during the period 2020–2050.

The first Full Moon in October is the Whale Moon.

Date of Elephant Moon (2020–2050)

2020 Oct 31, 16:48

2039 Oct 31, 00:36

Further reading




Heritage Full Moons in South Africa

MonthFirst Full MoonSecond Full Moon
JanuaryMantis MoonLeopard Moon
FebruaryDassie Moon——
MarchHarvest MoonOchre Moon
AprilDiamond MoonGold Moon
MayFrost MoonFire Moon
JuneSisters MoonHoney Moon
JulyMeerkat MoonProtea Moon
AugustPeace MoonDusty Moon
SeptemberSpring MoonBlue Crane Moon
OctoberWhale MoonElephant Moon
NovemberMilk MoonWool Moon
DecemberSpringbok MoonEland Moon

Protecting South Africa’s astronomical heritage