" Trees are Earth's endless effort to speak to the listening heaven." ~ Rabindranath Tagore

Profile of the Elephant

Subhasish Chakraborty is based in Kolkata, enjoys travelling, particularly to wildlife parks and sanctuaries, documents his travels and writes about environmental conservation and protection.

The elephant has references in Indian mythology. As the gods or Devas and the demons or Asuras churned the oceans during "sagar manthan" for the elixir of life that would make them immortal, there surfaced the "navratnas" - nine jewels. One of these jewels was the elephant. The elephant is therefore absolutely precious, to be preserved and protected as jewels are.

Elephants are intelligent and sensitive animals who have shown problem solving skills. They compensate for their poor vision which can see only to a distance of 30 to 60 feet, with keen senses of hearing and smell. An elephant's large ears amplify sounds, and its sense of smell is considered to be superior to any other land animal. It also has a very good sense of touch. For such a large animal, the elephant is very deft, having the ability to balance on two legs, if necessary, to reach leaves in a tree. It also shows incredible balance when lifting large objects.

Beautiful Beasts
Paradise in the Wild
The Ocean:Conquest
A Source of Solace
Sighting the Ocean
The Ocean in Verse
Childhood Dream
Hunt for Indian Tiger

Adventure activities
Rock Climbing
Scuba Diving

Leisure Holidays
Wild Life
Current Threats
Because elephants require much larger areas of natural range than many other terrestrial mammals they are often the first species to suffer the consequences of habitat fragmentation and destruction. Elephants are also considered a pest in areas of agriculture, especially populations surrounded by cultivated land; here crop raiding is frequent and there are occasional human deaths. Ivory poaching does not threaten the Asian Elephant as much as it does the African Elephant . Only Indian males carry tusks.
Conservation Projects
AProject Elephant was initiated in 1991 as the Indian National Elephant Conservation and Management Strategy. A task force has created a long-term conservation programme for the elephant in India under a specially funded initiative based on the ecological approach of Project Tiger. The objectives are to ensure the long-term survival of identified larger populations, and to evolve management plans for the smaller populations, involving reduction of elephant -human confrontations. Within elephant reserves, among other aims, the project intends to link fragmented habitats by establishing corridors, now initiated in Uttar Pradesh, and protect corridors currently under threat; and also attend to the socio-economic problems that may be associated with elephant conservation action.

Long Life Expectancy
The elephant has a gestation period of between 19 to 21 months. Given the best living conditions, it has been estimated that the interval between two calving is about four years. They can calve till the age of 60 or more. The elephant is a long-living animal. The longevity of the elephant in the wild is largely a matter of conjecture. The average life expectancy of a healthy animal is assumed to be around 70 to 80 years. The long reproductive period of the female of the species is a cushion against temporary setbacks suffered due to natural calamities like extreme drought conditions (not a common happening where the elephant now survives), or epidemic diseases like anthrax. This long life-expectancy combined with the fact that elephant are extremely adaptable in their preference of habitat - they thrive in all kinds of tropical forests except in dry scrub land and desert (which do not put off the African elephant), and slat-water mangrove - helps to explain why it has managed to survive in sizeable number despite a massive destruction of its habitat.

Matriachal Society
The elephant's is a matriarchal society. The leader of a group is a female, usually the oldest, the largest, and the wisest of the lot. This is also called the family group which consists of a nucleus of two or three mature cows, sub-adult animals still moving with their mothers, and calves. The basic unit consists of a cow with its unweaned calf. The size of such a family group can vary from three to 10 or more in number. Sometimes, in some particular season, especially when elephants are on the march, moving from one area of forest to another, several family groups come together to form what can be termed a "herd". They usually split up into smaller units once they settle down in any particular area for foraging.

There is enough evidence to suggest that, historically, the elephant had a very wide distribution in India. During the Indus Valley civilization (3rd to 2nd millennium B.C.) when, as available evidence suggests, the western part of the sub-continent had not yet been desertified, elephants were probably ubiquitous all over the land, barring the higher reaches of the Himalayan and the coastal salt-water mangrove swamps. Even in the Himalayas, evidence of casual visits by elephants has been noticed at a height of 10,500 feet (3200 meters) in recent times. Today, the Asian elephant is considered an endangered species.

The distribution of wild elephants in India is limited to four widely separate geographical zones. In South India they are found in Kerala, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu; very recently a small group has found its way into Andhra Pradesh, much to the amazement and understandable consternation of the local people who had never seen a wild elephant before. In Central India they are found in Orissa, Bihar and the adjoining southern part of West Bengal. In North India they live in the sub-Himalayan tracts of Uttaranchal and Uttar Pradesh. In the Nnortheast they are found in Arunachal Pradesh, Assam, Meghalaya, Mizoram, Nagaland, Tripura and the northern part of West Bengal; a few come into Manipur from Burma seasonally.

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Editor: Romola Butalia       (c) India Travelogue. All rights reserved.