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Elephants

( Originally Published 1936 )

Elephants are the largest of the land mammals, and are at once distinguished from all the other members of the order by certain remarkable characters. The upper incisors are enormously developed and project as large tusks from either side of the mouth, the rest of the teeth are greatly reduced in number. The appendage known as the trunk is a very long and flexible projection of the nose and upper lip together, the end being developed into a short finger and thumb. The Elephant uses this trunk in many ways, curling it about leaves and branches of trees in feeding, and picking up objects from the ground; and without it, owing to the extremely short neck and long legs, the animal would be quite helpless. It is practically hairless, although in a strong light vestiges of hairs may be seen along the sides of the body and on the trunk, and, curiously enough, this hair is of the same reddish colour as that of fossil mammoths, specimens of which have been found almost entire, frozen in the ice in Siberia.

The legs of the Elephant are straight and very post-like in form, in order to support the immense weight of the body, and instead of lying down as most animals do, it kneels like a man, the knees actually touching the ground. This is owing to the fact that the hind foot is very short, and in a sitting posture it is held stiffly out behind, and not bent as in the horses and cattle. The foot is large and round, and the toes are encased almost to their tips, in a fleshy pad, very elastic in texture and affording sufficient spring to relieve the great weight upon the ground.

We now know much of the history of fossil forms of these creatures, and of late years small and undeveloped species have been found in North Africa that were not much larger than the present tapir, and had four tusks, two in the upper and two in the lower jaw, all very much smaller in size than those of the Elephant of to-day. On the other hand, the mammoths and mastodons of North America and Europe possessed enormous curved tusks, some as much as twelve or fourteen feet in length and of great thickness and strength. From the specimens of these huge creatures found preserved in ice, we know that they were covered with long reddish wool that protected them from the coldness of Arctic winters, and they were altogether larger and bulkier than any existing species of Elephant. Sketches of these animals made by the prehistoric inhabitants of Europe, evidently from life, have been found traced on pieces of mammoth tusks.

Indian Elephant (Elephas indicus)

So far as is known, there is only one existing species of Indian Elephant. In the wild state it is comparatively rare, but large semi-domesticated herds are kept for various uses. The Indian Elephant is among the most intelligent of animals, and wonderful stories are told, and substantiated, of their great sagacity under various conditions. Although so large, it is not by any means clumsy or stiff in action, but on the contrary is remarkably flexible and is able to perform tricks that are impossible to many smaller animals—standing on its head or walking on its hind legs with equal facility, and doing many other wonderful things. In India these animals are used as beasts of burden in numerous ways, and they carry and pile up with their trunks the heavy teak logs of that country with almost mechanical precision. They are also used by the rajahs and other potentates as means of transportation and in their hunts for tigers and leopards; and in ancient times they were used in war, and we often see representations of them in the various paintings and bas-reliefs that have come down to us.

In Assam and Borneo great reverence is paid by the natives to various individuals which are lighter in colour and known as " White Elephants"; the term being misleading, however, as they are not white, but merely a light pinkish colour, particularly on the head and trunk.

In form the Indian Elephant differs considerably from the African. In the former species the top of the head is the highest point of the body, whereas in the latter the head is always carried lower than the shoulders; that of the Indian is larger and more rounded than his African cousin's, and the trunk is longer and more heavily-built. The skin also is much finer and more delicate in texture.

African Elephant (Elephas africanus)

The African Elephant is somewhat larger in size than the Indian, large specimens measuring as much as eleven feet in height, and having tusks from six to eight feet in length. The ears are of enormous size, devoid of hair, and very thin, and flap back and forth like the sails of a ship. They are about three times as large as in the Indian species, and when at rest the upper portions are folded back and meet in the middle over the neck; but when alarmed or ex-cited, these great ears are extended at right angles to the head, and at such times give the animal a most extraordinary and startling appearance. The skin on the body is coarse, and on the trunk is divided by many heavy wrinkles, distinguishing it at once from its Indian relative. The creature has a curious dried and shrivelled appearance, always looking thin and in poor condition. The feet are smaller and the legs longer, and the back too is different in form, there being a deep hollow in the line between the shoulders and hips. See Plate 36, Fig. 153.

At the present day this species is confined almost entirely to the higher regions of the central parts of Africa, and many are found in the mountains of that country where they have probably been driven by the pursuit of hunters. In travelling and feeding the herds show great sagacity, always being under the leadership of some quick-witted and intelligent individual whose business it is to see that no harm comes to them. While feeding their trunks are continually raised and lowered in order to snuff the wind for any approaching danger.

The African Elephant has but three visible hoofs on the back feet, while the Indian has four, both species having five on the front feet.

Of late years a smaller form has been discovered in Africa, much less in stature than the common African Elephant, with smaller and much more rounded ears, and skin finer in texture, like that of the Indian species.



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