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Articles Blog

India's Elephants

Karyn Planett

Man’s Best Friend

Let’s see, now.  The resume reads, “very sociable, smaller than my closest relative, agile for my size, and…has 5,500 years experience.” Wow!  What the applicant for the job of “man’s best friend” does not tell you is that he needs 300 pounds of food each and every day of his life.  But, no matter.  That’s a small price to pay for a worker as loyal and hard working as the Asian elephant.

He gets the job of man’s best friend!

Some Whopping Statistics

Elephants are the largest living land mammals in the world.  The Asian elephant, Elephas Maximum to be exact, can weigh up to four tons.  A mature male stands nine feet tall at the shoulder.  Even so, he is smaller than the African elephants that stand 13 feet at the shoulder and can weigh six tons.  (We mustn’t forget to mention the so-called pygmy elephant of western Africa which lives in the woodlands and is usually not more than eight feet tall.)  Elephants can carry up to 1,200 pounds and are so strong they can fare quite well in a tug-of-war against 50 able-bodied men.

Elephants feed constantly tearing bark off trees, ripping up grass, picking fruit from trees with their trunks.  They also use their trunks to drink, hail each other, squirt water or spray dust across their spanking clean backs right after their bath (much like a 4-year old at Grandma’s on Easter.)

Gestation takes 19 to 21 months.  At birth, a baby can weigh more than 200 pounds.  Elephants grow all through their life, even after becoming mature at about age 15.  At 50, they show signs of old age (who doesn’t?) and there is no record of them living past 100 years.

But, tragically, only one in five elephants lives till the age of 30.  As we all know, part of the reason for their shortened lifespan is that they are killed for their tusks which are sold as ivory.*  An average tusk weighs approximately 150 pounds and is about 10 feet long.  Several have weighed more than 225 pounds.  Today, there are only 50,000 Asian elephants left.

It’s Hard to Catch an Elephant

Elephant handlers have their work cut out for them when they want to catch an elephant.  They can’t simply put salt on his tail and cross their fingers, you know.  Throughout Asia, wild elephants are rounded up and herded into an area which then leads into a smaller area, and so on and so on and so on.  Then, the wild ones are staked down (not easy to do) for three days without anything to eat or drink.  After that time, they’re released and led by tame elephants to food and water.  Within one month, they will be relatively tame.

Once tamed, they will work hauling logs and rocks or transporting people and things.  No longer used in warfare, the elephant remains a religious symbol and is revered, especially by the Hindu people.

Its African Kin

The African elephant is larger than the Asian elephant, as mentioned, and is immediately distinguishable because its ears are also much larger.  In addition, the African elephant’s head is bigger and protruding more in the front.  Some 17 million years ago, give or take, the African elephant migrated to Asia and a separate species evolved as the Asian elephant.  No longer numerous in its former habitat, today the Asian elephant lives mostly in the high mountains of Sri Lanka, southern China, India, Indochina and Indonesia.

Oh, yes…and in zoos around the world.  Some animal fanciers are happy that these elephants have been rescued from the wild where hazards or even death might befall them.  Others argue that zoos are inhumane.  Whatever your position is, learn about these marvelous mammals that move easily through the thick jungle serving their masters and nurturing their young.  They are extraordinary animals, indeed.

Everyone is discouraged from buying ivory so the killing of elephants will come to an end.