There is nothing about elephants that does not impress. Their sheer size (an adult easily weighs 6 tons), the vast quantities of vegetation and water they consume, their giant hearts, their outsize ears and trunks.
They also embody most of the nicest human traits.
Elephants are extremely emotional beasts. When clans reunite (after being parted for as little as a day), they fall upon one another, trumpeting noisily, trunks tenderly touching each other's open mouths.
Their lifespans are similar to ours too. Their babies are dependent on their mothers for roughly as long as ours, and the tender loving care lavished by elephants on their playful babies seems appealingly human.
When the Kruger National Park was formed at the beginning of the 1900s, though, they had almost been wiped out in South Africa by the ivory trade. In 1909, only 25 were counted. But over the decades numbers have risen steadily, and South Africa is now an elephant conservation stronghold.
Elephants also rival humans in sheer destructive ability, or as the biologists more diplomatically put it, in their tendency to alter habitat. When confined to small areas, their tendency to knock down or ring-bark trees can look like wholesale demolition.
In South Africa elephant conservation often forces difficult choices. An elephant overpopulation can destroy local eco-systems and threaten other species.
Most conservationists agree that the larger the area, the better chance nature has of being self-sustaining. Conservation islands, just like real islands, are continually vulnerable to population pressures. As a result, conserving elephants is indirectly driving the movement in South Africa towards megaparks and transfrontier parks.
More recently, initiatives are taking shape that create linking corridors between private and state-owned reserves so that South Africa's elephants - now numbering around 20 000 - can roam over wider areas, s they have for millennia.