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Indian Elephants

by Krishnanand Kamat
First Online: August 9, 2001
Page Last Updated: January 11, 2018

Animals lovers all over the world have very fantastic notions about elephants of India. Many of them are exaggerated stories told by Mahuts, the domestic elephants trainers and keepers. The role of elephants in Hindu mythologies and epics is as responsible for the mystery and the fascination, as the huge size of these species. The wild herds of Indian elephants (a.k.a. Asian Elephants) are found in the forests of Karnataka, Tamilnadu, Kerala (map - topics - pictures), Uttara Pradesh, Orissa, and Assam. A typical herd consists of forty elephants which include five male tuskers and quite a few young calves. They are very gregarious and march from forest to forest, seldom staying in one for more than a few days. However, some of males, in their prime of youth prefer to lead a solitary life. On the move, the females lead the herd, with the tuskers lagging behind, unless alerted to some approaching danger. 

On an average, an Indian elephant weighs four tons. The height of a male at shoulder is nine feet and that of female, about eight feet.  The males have tusks measuring about six feet. The females have shorter version, called "tushe," which measures less than a feet. Though an elephant's body weight is sixty times that of man, its brain is only five times that of man. Its power of scent is among sharpest in the animal kingdom. Its hearing is not so sharp as the size of its ears might indicate, and its range of vision is limited. 

The elephant can neither gallop, nor canter, not trot, it can only walk with a speed of about ten kilometer per hour. It can charge at twice this speed, but only for up to fifty meters. Due to its enormous size, the elephant sways in all directions at once. It feels out soft ground with the trunk and does not forward for fear of getting bogged. Except for a short siesta at noon and a brief spell of sleep around midnight, the wild elephants feed almost constantly. They make great fuss over their eating, cracking tree branches and trumpeting. They have a great fondness for bamboo scrubs and for grassy plains dotted with ficus trees. They have immense liking for sugarcane and hence enter cultivated sugarcane farms. They destroy more than what they feed on. 

The life span of an elephant is strikingly similar to that of a man. It sexually matures at the age of eleven to twelve years and reaches its prime of physical condition at the age of about twenty-five years. It show signs of old age at in its sixties. It is common among the male elephants to fight over the same female and the victorious gets her. In the fearsome fight, it is common to lose tusks, eyes and limbs. The gestation period runs eighteen to twenty-two months and calving takes place between September to November. A new born weighs 160-200 pounds and stands about 26 to 36 inches in height. Multiple births are almost unheard of. The elephant is one of the slowest breeders among the animal world.

The elephants have ingrained fear of the unknown at their backs. Faced with the danger an elephant will always curl back its trunk and keep it out of the way. The elephants have neither the desire nor the need to tangle with tiger, except to protect their calves. A staunchest elephant can not stand tiger claws on its body. When an elephant transgressed in tiger's territory, it will be attacked by the tiger. In the fight that takes place may end up in death of both the fighters! 

The man is the greatest enemy of wild elephants. The "Elephants Preservation Act of 1879" in India helped them to hold their own against extinction. However, modern man with extremely sophisticated weapons is a great challenge to their survival. A notorious  elephants poacher Veerapan of Tamilnadu has killed hundreds of male elephants for their ivory in Karnataka and Tamilnadu. This has resulted in cows craving for male companion. The Indian elephant faces a great battle ahead for its survival as a species.

See Also:

The Elephants of India
Indian Elephants

Herd of Wild Elephants Visiting a Water PointA Majestic Tusker in the WildThe Lone TuskerA Domesticated Elephant
The Elephant WalkFeeding the Elephant GodLogo of the GangasElephant Hunt
The Royal Elephant RideMysore Dasara ProcessionA Lone Tusker in Bandipur National ForestThe Mahut and his Pet
Elephant, Amber PalaceSculpture of Elephant in Rut

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