Elephants



The elephants (Elephantidae) are a family in the order Proboscidea in the class Mammalia. They were once classified along with other thick skinned animals in a now invalid order, Pachydermata. There are three living species: the African Bush Elephant, the African Forest Elephant (until recently known collectively as the African Elephant), and the Asian Elephant (also known as the Indian Elephant). Other species have become extinct since the last ice age, which ended about 10,000 years ago, the Mammoth being the most well-known of these. The word "elephant" has its origins in the Greek, meaning "ivory" or "elephant".

Elephants are mammals, and the largest land animals alive today. The elephant's gestation period is 22 months, the longest of any land animal. At birth it is common for an elephant calf to weigh 120 kilograms (265 lb). An elephant may live as long as 70 years, sometimes longer. The largest elephant ever recorded was shot in Angola in 1956. This male weighed about 12,000 kg (26,400 lb), with a shoulder height of 4.2 m (13.8 ft), a metre (3 ft 4 in) taller than the average male African elephant.

The smallest elephants, about the size of a calf or a large pig, were a prehistoric species that lived on the island of Crete during the Pleistocene epoch. Elephants are symbols of wisdom in Asian cultures, and are famed for their exceptional memory and very high intelligence, on par with cetaceans and hominids.. Aristotle once said the elephant was "the beast which passeth all others in wit and mind."

Elephants are increasingly threatened by human intrusion and poaching. Once numbering in the millions, the African elephant population has dwindled to between 470,000 and 690,000 individuals. The elephant is now a protected species worldwide, with restrictions in place on capture, domestic use, and trade in products such as ivory. Elephants generally have no natural predators, although lions may take calves and occasionally adults. In some areas, lions may regularly take to preying on elephants. Read more ...




Elephant Symbolism

Elephants symbolize noble things such as wisdom, courage, stature and strength. Elephant tusks in particular are known to symbolize great strength. The origin of the elephant as a symbol of good luck comes from Hinduism, in which the elephant-headed god Ganesha is the elephant-headed luck-god Ganesh. Elephants are also symbols of longevity, because of their long lifespans.

Elephants have been the subject of various cultural depictions in popular culture, mythology and symbolism. They are both revered in religion and are known for their prowess in war. They also have negative connotations such as being a symbol for an unnecessary burden. Ever since the stone age, when elephants were represented by ancient petroglyphs and cave art, they have been depicted in the arts in various forms, including pictures, sculptures, music, film, and even architecture.




White Elephants



The legend of the white elephant began in Southeast Asia, the home of the White Elephant. In metaphysics we learn that any animal represented by the color white, supposedly is linked to mystical legends, giving it greater power. White represents purity, the Light. Elephants represent power and peace. When the trunk is lifted it means overcoming obstacles.

In the story of the Buddha, the white elephant is connected to fertility and knowledge. On the eve of giving birth to the Lord Buddha, his mother dreams that a white elephant comes to present her with a lotus, symbol of purity and knowledge.

At the heart of the first great Southeast Asian Empire, at the Angkor Wat in Cambodia, the might of the war elephants is depicted on murals of the region's armies. Over the next few hundred years, two states dominated the region - the forerunners of modern Burma and Thailand (Siam). In both, the elephant was a very important animal. It was key to military success - both in mass battles, and in the elephant duels. It was also key to royal pageantry - kings chose the biggest, most magnificent elephants for royal ceremonies and processions. Kings and courtiers spent a lot of time and energy hunting elephants from the forests. And the most powerful kings kept thousands in their stables.

In legend the Royal White Elephant brought sacred power. It brought fertility. For the kings of Burma and Siam, the possession of these sacred beasts became very important. A king who had many fine white elephants would be successful - his kingdom would prosper and his reign be long. If his white elephants died, it foretold disaster for the king and his kingdom.

The magnificent king needed seven things: a perfect wife, and able treasurer, a wise chief minister, a swift horse, a wheel of the law and a precious gem to guide his actions: and the most noble of white elephants. The kings hunted eagerly for these fine and special beasts. Occasionally royals presented white elephants to one another as marks of diplomacy. Wars were fought over them for the represented their rule as chosen by the gods. The Royal White Elephants were not taken to war, and not ridden in procession, Rather they were kept within the confines of the palace, entrusted to the care of senior officials, fed well, washed regularly, and worried over constantly.

When the British envoy came to Amarapura in 1855, Mr. C. Grant, the artist, drew beautiful pictures of the royal white elephant, Nibbana. Grant also made an eyewitness account of the noble beast - The color of the animal was a cream very slight dun, his magnificent tusks nearly touch the ground. He was in bands of crimson cloth or velvet and gold, studded with large bosses of gold, margined with innumerable rubies.

By the nineteenth century, the white elephant was firmly established as one of the special wonders of Siam. American Frank Vincent titled his book on Southeast Asia, The Land of the White Elephant.

From Burma came reports of the kings' extravagant care for white elephants. Though his favorite white elephant was clearly dying, the last Burmese king, Thibaw, loaded him with treasures, making him the wealthiest person in the country. His forehead was decked with a spray of diamonds to ward off evil spirits. Diamonds were set into each tusk. A golden plaque, inscribed with his titles, hung from his head - golden pendants hung from his ears. Four golden umbrellas protected him from the heat of the sun. Above his gold feeding trough, a mirror specially ordered from France was installed to reflect his splendor. Yet the white elephant died. The pundits predicted plagues, floods, earthquakes. But the real disaster was more prosaic. The British took over Burma and deposed the king.

In neighboring Siam, the kings revered the white elephant and put its likeness on their new flag. But with elephants no longer so vital for warfare, elephant hunts had become less common, and fewer of the rare white elephants were found. The Siamese king passed a law demanding that any white elephant found in the kingdom had to be presented to the king. He sent out scouting parties and offered rewards. The discovery of a white elephant became a special event, a time for national celebration.

In the 1820's After Sir John Bowring arrived in Bangkok. He negotiated the main trade treaty between Britain and Siam, the Siamese king sent to Queen Victoria a tuft of the white elephant's hairs; and to Sir John himself, a few hairs from the tail.

In the 1860's King Mongkut heard that America had no white elephants. He offered to send several pairs of young male and female elephants turned loose in the forest where there was an abundance of water and a suitable climate. President Lincoln replied that the American climate was probably unsuitable, and that they preferred to use steam power. But he thanked the Siamese king for the gift of two magnificent elephant tusks.

King Mongkut's son, King Chulalongkorn traveled to Europe in 1907. One of his German hosts had heard about the Siamese love for the white elephant. He hired a local artists to make a flag with a white elephant and hang it all around the house where the king was lodged. The King thanked him very much for the thought. It had made him feel very much at home. But it was a pity the artist had probably never seen an elephant. The animal on the flag looked more like a cow. He would send them a proper elephant. What he meant by this was the Order of the White Elephant - a decoration granted by the king for service to the state.

Today White Elephants are very rare. They are still revered in Southeast Asia- Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam. The last white elephant in Burma was found in 1961. They are different than the descriptions of the Royal White Elephants in legend. White elephants' sculptures, paintings, wood craves, murals and archives can be found in temples, palaces in Southeast Asia, especially in Thailand.

In August 2004, a rare Albino elephant
was spotted spotted in Sri Lanka.




In the News ...


Elephants possess 'superior' sense of smell, study finds   PhysOrg - July 22, 2014
The African elephant's genome contains the largest number of olfactory receptor (OR) genes - nearly 2,000 - said the study in the journal Genome Research.




  Elephants recognize human voices   BBC - March 11, 2014
Elephants are able to differentiate between ethnicities and genders, and can tell an adult from a child - all from the sound of a human voice. This is according to a study in which researchers played voice recordings to wild African elephants. The animals showed more fear when they heard the voices of adult Masai men.




Asian Elephants Console Each Other When in Distress   Live Science - February 18, 2014

Asian elephants reassure other distressed elephants by touching them and "talking" to them, which suggests they are capable of empathy and reassurance, according to new research. There is 50 years of behavioral observational research out of Africa that elephants are highly social, they have empathy and they can think about their social relationships and make specific social decisions that impact themselves and others. They were able, for the first time, to really confirm this through our work in Thailand. The study was conducted in Thailand, and the researchers observed the behavior of 26 elephants in captivity over the course of a year.




  Elephant mimics Korean with help of his trunk   BBC - November 1, 2012

An Asian elephant called Koshik has astounded scientists with his Korean language skills. Researchers report that the mammal has learnt to imitate human speech and can say five words in Korean: hello, no, sit down, lie down and good. The zoo animal places the tip of his trunk into his mouth to transform his natural low rumble into a convincing impression of a human voice.




'Let's-Go Rumble': For Elephants, Deciding to Leave the Watering Hole Demands Conversation   Science Daily - October 3, 2012

In the wilds of Africa, when it's time for a family of elephants gathered at a watering hole to leave, the matriarch of the group gives the "let's-go rumble" -- as it's referred to in scientific literature -- kicking off a coordinated and well-timed conversation, of sorts, between the leaders of the clan. First, the head honcho moves away from the group, turns her back and gives a long, slightly modulated and -- to human ears -- soft rumble while steadily flapping her ears. This spurs a series of back and forth vocalizations, or rumbles, within the group before the entire family finally departs.




Elephant pregnancy mystery solved   BBC - June 20, 2012

The mystery of the elephant's long pregnancy has been unravelled by scientists. A quirk of biology allows the unborn calf to develop in the womb for almost two years, giving it the brain power it needs to survive from birth. The research, detailed in Proceedings of the Royal Society B, will help elephant breeding programs in zoos. It may also lead to the development of a contraceptive to control wild populations of elephants in Africa.




Little Elephant Shows Big Brains   Live Science - August 19, 2011

A 7-year-old Asian elephant named Kandula at the Smithsonian National Zoo wowed his keepers when he devised a strategy to use a large plastic cube to obtain out-of-reach food. And when the cube wasn't around, Kandula found other means, including using a tire and stacking multiple, smaller objects, to reach toward the food




  Do speedy elephants walk or run?   BBC - February 12, 2010




Pink elephant is caught on camera   BBC - March 21, 2009

A wildlife cameraman took pictures of the calf when he spotted it among a herd of about 80 elephants in the Okavango Delta. Experts believe it is probably an albino, which is an extremely rare phenomenon in African elephants. They are unsure of its chances of long-term survival - the blazing African sunlight may cause blindness and skin problems for the calf.


Elephant Painting a Self Portrait YouTube




Elephants, Human Ancestors Evolved in Synch, DNA Reveals National Geographic - July 24, 2007
The tooth of a mastodon buried beneath Alaska's permafrost for many thousands of years is yielding surprising clues about the history of elephants - and humans. A team of researchers recently extracted DNA from the tooth to put together the first complete mastodon mitochondrial genome.




Elephants Recognize Themselves in Mirror National Geographic - October 30, 2006

Elephants can recognize themselves in mirrors, according to a new study. Humans, great apes, and dolphins are the only other animals known to possess this form of self-awareness. All of these animals also lead socially complex lives and display empathy - concern and understanding of another's feelings - researchers report.




Scientists unravel the secret world of elephant communication Science Daily - May 27, 2005

A research associate in the Stanford University School of Medicine, O'Connell-Rodwell has come to one of Africa's premiere wildlife sanctuaries to explore the mysterious and complex world of elephant communication. She and her colleagues are part of a scientific revolution that began nearly two decades ago with the stunning revelation that elephants communicate over long distances using low-pitched sounds that are barely audible to humans.




Animals of the Tsunami, Do Animals Have a Sixth Sense? January 8, 2004

After the Indian OceanTsunami ...





Do elephants talk with their feet? BBC - July 2002

Elephants may be listening to and communicating with each other through their feet. Recent research by US scientists supports previous claims that elephants can interpret slight vibrations they pick up in the ground.





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