“Show them respect, they create the jungle,” Bagheera advised Mowgli as they saw a herd of elephants approaching. This is how a herd of the elephant is introduced in “The Jungle Book”.
Well that advice has a scientific as well as spiritual basis. Let us talk about spiritual base first. India is a truly spiritual country that is why so many religions caste creed and every type of living been thrives here since ages. In a country where every living thing is revered and valued, the Elephant has a special place. The elephant God Ganesha is known as destroyer of evil and bringer of prosperity and wellbeing. He is humanly god with face, large ears, head, trunk and tusk of elephant. Worship Ganesha – Pay your respects to him and he will ensure your prosperity and wellbeing. In fact this is reverence that has no other basis more reliable than scientific observation of wild elephants and behaviour.
Elephants are the largest animal on land and second tallest only after Giraffe. These are creature existent from times immemorial even before modern man arrived. Their evolution is very interesting and dates back to 60 million years ago when they roamed the earth without trunk, tusk and huge ears that we see today. This was even before the woolly mammoth and Mastodons who last lived on earth some 10000 years ago.
Let us look at some interesting facts about elephants to understand them better:
The habitats of elephants across the globe consist of deserts, swamps, forests and bush. They are true survivors and have adapted to the environment.
They are the largest mammal on earth. Heaviest elephant ever was measured at 3 tones. The weight of the heart is 20kgs for an adult elephant. Weight of tongue is 12kgs, tail 11 kgs!
Elephants are mammals like humans yet they are almost hairless. The only place where you see a lot of hair is the end of tail, eyelashes and in case of juveniles around the chin.
In African elephants, both genders have tusks whereas in Asian elephants only males have tusk. The size of tusk what is you see is only two-third (rest under front facia – hidden). The tusk is used as a hand to dig, plough, remove bark etc. The one that is used more gets more worn out. This is how you could tell whether an elephant is right-handed or left-handed, if it was human.
The trunk of the elephant has 40,000 muscles. It takes quite a few years for a baby elephant to learn usages of the trunk. Trunk is used for breathing, smell, holding, uprooting grass and feeding. Sense of smell is the biggest asset of elephants.
Elephants communicate using infrasound creating rumbles. Rumbles are frequencies beyond human’s ability to hear. We can only hear the trumpets and at best feel the rumbles. These rumbles can cover an area of 300sqkms at dusk.
The ears of elephant can weigh up to 60kgs and have unique patterns of holes, edges and nerves. It used by scientists to identify them. They are similar to our fingerprints.
The elephant’s ears also act as a cooling system, just like the radiator of the car. They flap them to ward off insects as well as cool themselves. They are also known to use the ears to communicate to threats as well.
They have largest brain size of all mammals yet the lightest brain cavity. This is the result of the ingenious design of air channels within the bony structure.
Considering these amazing facts these are gentle animals and closely resemble human-like features. They are quick learners and have a sharp memory. They are highly sensitive and display emotions. They have shown grief on the death of non-herd elephant and extreme protection and care of loved ones especially the younger one and calves. This is more so because gestation period of an elephant is 23months, one of the longest in the animal kingdom.
Elephants live in herds. These herds are matriarchal in structure and led by the oldest female elephant. Males live a solitary life. Males will join the herds only for mating, when in the mast. Elephants are grazers and also browsers if need be. They need at least 100-150 kgs of grass/food in a day to survive. This means they need huge tracks of land to survive. They migrate and cover huge tracks for food and water. India has close to 27,000 elephants in the wild. This is 55% of the world population of wild elephants and they need space to move and feed. Unfortunately, these tracks are now reducing drastically. Once found across the sub-continent Elephants can now only be found in pockets across India. Thanks to large plantations of coffee/tea, development of road-rail network infrastructure, mines that elephants have very little space for themselves. Resulting in the rise of man-animal conflict. In India, wild elephants can be sighted in the fertile hills of Western Ghats, some part of Eastern Ghats, plains of Bramputra at Kaziranga NP and Terai region in the state of Uttarakhand along foothills of Himalaya. Dedicated elephants corridors and stopping all human activity on their ancestral land is must to reduce the conflict and make sure they sufficient tracks to feed on.
The food habits of elephants have a very critical role in the survival of jungles. They create jungles. Let us see how. They use tusk to furrow for roots and water under the surface of the earth. This helps sustain all life forms. This ploughing brings up fresh nutrition to surface which is essential for new plants/grass to grow. They use the tusk and trunk to break and bend trees and chip off their barks. They munch on minerals and fibre from these barks and trees. They are even known to eat leaves from thorny trees along with thorns. Whatever remains under bark acts as food for birds and other herbivores. Even the excreta of elephants act as a source of nutrition to insects like a beetle and this makes the soil fertile. Elephants can change the entire landscape with their movement and action.
It is time we understand Ganesha is not just a spiritual being but a scientific being. Our ancestors understood the role of elephants and their value to the survival of all species. It is high time we give the due respect to Elephants, the biggest spirit of wild. Only wild spirits can re-draw the orientation of landscapes we live in, so that every inhabitant co-exists, prospers and thrives on a place we call, Mother earth!