Animal Info Elephants History

About the history of elephants, their uses by man, their appetite and diet and use as prey in hunting.

ELEPHANTS

HISTORY

The elephant is an animal of many talents--warrior, worker, circus clown--with a superior brain and, unless sick or mistreated, a docile disposition. Asiatic (or Indian) elephants have been captured and trained to work as beasts of burden and living war machines for more than 5,500 years. They still make an important contribution to the lumber industry in Laos, Thailand, and Burma.

African elephants were tamed by the Egyptians (for the first time in written history) about 300 B.C. The Carthaginian general Hannibal crossed the Alps with elephants in 218 B.C., to do battle with the Romans. Barnum's famous circus star Jumbo was from Africa, but most "educated" elephants come from Asia.

In spite of their massive size, elephants are remarkably agile and light on their feet. The gentle Goliaths can balance on spinning balls, walk narrow planks, play catch, stand on their heads, and dance. To many "big top" buffs, elephants are the circus.

Elephants have been hunted by men--their only real enemy--for more than 20,000 years, sought after first as food, then for their valuable ivory tusks. Today, most wild elephants live in protected environments in Africa, India, and Southeast Asia. Nevertheless, thousands are still destroyed every year by poachers and--in some cases--by government representatives.

Existing forests can't support the elephant's voracious vegetarian appetite. Because elephants digest only 40% of their food--the other 60% leaves the body undigested--they may consume up to 500 lb. of food and 60 gallons of water daily. A hungry herd can strip a forest bare. Thus, the elephant is literally eating itself into extinction.

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