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Elephants, Marburg & King Solomon

The Elkony Caves have some remarkable stories attached to them.

For a start, elephants love them and, while rarely seen, are known to ‘mine’ for salt from the walls of the caves. This process has been captured in BBC footage that has appeared in a number of natural history series, including Elephant Cave (2008). Kitum cave holds your best hope of glimpsing them, but sadly the number of these saline-loving creatures has declined over the years. Nonetheless, a torchlight inspection will soon reveal their handiwork in the form of tusking – the grooves made by their tusks during the digging process. Other animals are also known to enter the caves to lick salt from the walls, including hyenas, leopards and buffaloes.

Far more worryingly, in 1980 and in 1987 visitors to Kitum contracted the Marburg virus, a frightening illness closely tied to the much-better-known Ebola virus. The outbreak was attributed to the bats that inhabit the cave and their dung – to learn more about the outbreaks and the cave as a repository of the virus, read The Hot Zone (Richard Preston; 1994). It is worth noting that despite such sensational accounts, thousands of people visit Kitum every year with no ill effects.

As if all of this wasn't enough, the caves have a distinguished literary heritage. They were mentioned in the account of the first colonial journey across Masaailand, Through Maasailand (Joseph Thomson; 1885), while some historians have claimed that the caves (and perhaps Thomson's account) were the inspiration for the 1885 bestselling classic King Solomon's Mines by H Rider Haggard.