Elephants are sentient, emotional beings who, perhaps, have more “humanity” than humans. They still hold on to some of the vanishing virtues of the human race, such as patience- reflected in their unhurried pace; humility as evident in their reputation of being “gentle giants”; and compassion- shown in their care for fellow herd members.
Giant Hearts: Travels in the World of Elephants takes us into the world of the largest land animal on our planet. In this anthology, Jean-Philippe Puyravaud and Priya Davidar have brought together writers-eminent scientists, bestselling authors, veterinary doctors, photographers and artists- who are bound by a common affection for elephants and their desire to halt their extinction. Through articles comprising both personal anecdotes and in-depth research, they bring out the need to adopt a gentler path towards elephants. The book also reminds us that despite the superb advances of science, we will know little about elephants- for instance, their curiosity for colours and shapes, as evidenced by the drawings made by elephants that have been reproduced in this book.
Giant Hearts makes a fervent plea to humans to understand and appreciate other species and reverse the present trend of animal extinction.
Dr. Jean-Philippe Puyravaud is an ecologist and works with the Sigur Nature Trust, dedicated to conservation of biodiversity and endangered species. He resides in India.
Dr. Priya Davidar is a professor of ecology at the Pondicherry University. She spent several years at the Smithsonian Institution and at the Harvard University engaged in teaching and research.
Whilst I consider it a great privilege to have been able to grant over 130 orphaned infant elephant babies a second chance of life, I cannot deny that it has been a difficult fifty-year journey of a lifetime, encompassing a mixture of joy and tears in equal measure.
Elephants can read one’s heart and when replacing their lost elephant mother, and family, one’s love must be sincere and heartfelt, for pretence is not an option. An elephant baby will only live if it is happy and elephant happiness encompasses the family which is the single most important component in an elephant’s life.
Ties to the family are permanent and strong, as are ties of friendship to an animal that “never forgets”. Having lost their elephant mother and their elephant family, most orphaned babies simply want to die. To reverse their psychological trauma requires endless patience and understanding. But to be able to breach the great divide that separates humans from the Animal Kingdom, and to have been loved and accepted as part of an elephant’s “family” is, indeed, probably the greatest accolade any human could possibly aspire for.
As Gay Bradshaw says “Elephants are just like us”, and to this I would add “in fact, better than us”, for they can teach humans a great deal about selfless devotion, caring and nurturing, and also about forgiveness. Rearing elephants has demonstrated all these noble traits, besides providing a unique insight into the intelligence of these wonderful and compassionate animals, who have been endowed with the best human traits and only a few of the bad. Steering the orphans through fragile infancy, healing their heartache and their wounds, and treating them only with tenderness and kindness has brought those of us privileged to be their human surrogate family rich rewards. It has been my life’s mission and I have regarded it as my duty to bear witness to the very human emotional characteristics of elephants; to their astonishing sense of responsibility, even in infancy, and to their amazing powers of communication and mysterious perception that often defies human logic. Unlike us, elephants are born with an imprinted genetic memory of aspects important to survival and of how to fulfill their function within Nature. Yet, despite their strength and their strength and their awesome size, they have an innate gentleness and respect for others that is an example for humans. Elephants “never forget”, so their forgiveness of the terrible injustices we humans inflicted on their kind, robbing them of their loved ones simply for a tooth, is particularly humbling. Those of us who know them intimately cannot escape a sense of deep shame for such wicked injustice.
Gay Bradshaw, scientist and psychological has given us an insight into the elephant psyche, which has been an important milestone in countries the myth of “anthropomorphism” within the world of ethologists. To understand an elephant, one must be “anthropomorphic”, because elephants possess identical emotions to humans; the same sense of family- the same sense of death. I am proud to be an “Elephant Hugger” and to have earned the privilege of being regarded as part of the family by over 130 elephants. It was been a wondrous experience to watch them grow day by day, to understand their mind and their mood, and ultimately to be able to experience the greatest reward of all, the privilege of being shown an ex-orphan’s wild-born baby, to be allowed contact and to walk with the herd as part of the “family”. Elephant mothers that grew up as orphans bring their wild-born babies back to proudly show them off to their erstwhile human family. No reward could ever match that as a “thank you” for the years of nurturing and care involved in getting them to that point where they have the freedom of choice to return to the wild where they rightly belong, as and when they are ready to do so. To live amongst their wild kin in a protected area that is large enough to offer space for such great wanderers. The space they need for a quality of life in wild terms. That is the greatest gift any human can give an elephant- not to mention, enduring love and a deep respect.
This book, Giant Hearts: Travels in the World of Elephants, is inspirational because it shows that people of different walks of life have also developed a close bond with elephants. From near, like the tribal people mentioned here, or far, like scientists, photographers, conservationists, any one to some extent can develop this bond. As an author mentioned, it does not matter where you are in the world; if you care for elephants, you can take steps in helping to protect their environment, chose better tourism options or insist for appropriate treatment of these magnificent beings.
Elephants are the largest land animals. They belong to the order Proboscidea, a roup of animals with a trunk. The mammoth, gomphotheres and mastodons also belonged to the Proboscidea, but are now extinct. It is suspected that humans played a role in the extinction of several of these cousins of the modern elephants. There is no need to take a precautionary tone about today’s elephants: we are exterminating them.
Three species of elephant are recognised by specialists: the African bush elephant (Loxodonta africana). the forest elephant (Loxodonta cyclotis) and the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus). In this book we focus on the African bush elephant and the Asian elephant, not because we did not want speak about the forest elephant, but because we-the Editors-were not acquainted with any author working on this relatively smaller species. But the remarkable intelligence and qualities of the bush and the Asian elephants are shared by the forest elephant.
An introduction to elephants is hardly necessary. Everyone knows them. Some details though, may be worth noting. The African bush elephant has large ears, two protrusions at the tip of the trunk, and both males and females have tusks. The males reach ca. 7.5 tons. The Asian elephant has smaller ears and one finger-like projection at the tip of its trunks. Only males, which weigh about five tons, have tusks. In Sri Lanka, both males and females do not carry tusks. Elephants are herbivores. They eat grass, tree parts and fruits in large quantities. The African elephant and the Asian elephant have slightly different behaviours but we will not concern ourselves by these details. They are social animals and form herds.
Once upon a time, there were millions of elephants. Through evolution, their ancestors became large enough to avoid predators and no other animal could challenge or threaten them as adults. From Senegal to Kenya, from Ethiopia to South Africa and from Arabia to China, they could roam entire continents. Large continents with plenty of food, abundant water and long migration paths to avoid unfavourable conditions, were the ultimate reason why elephants could evolve to be so big and grow in such large numbers. Imagine herds of thousands upon thousands of elephants following the seasonal rains to fertile grounds.
This was before Homo sapiens, our species, began to conquer the earth.
Today, because of the indiscriminate trophy hunting of the last two centuries and present land- use changes, both the African bush elephant and the Asian elephant are Threatened species. They run the risk of becoming extinct in a few decades. If you desire to acquaint yourself with the International Union for Conservation of Nature (lUCN), consult their website (http://www.iucn.org/). It has the most important and relevant database on threatened species with regular updates. The population of the Asian elephant is no more than 40,000, a crude guess according to experts. African elephants are a few hundreds of thousands. Not only are the overall populations relatively low, but elephants are distributed in "pockets" with little or no possibility of movement between these pockets. The elephants, these ultimate continental cruisers, must now survive in small disconnected areas, with dangerous outcome for their genes. Isolated populations are known to be more prone to extinction than contiguous populations. Elephants now need active conservation to survive.
The conservation of elephants, because of their sheer size and requirements, is a daunting task. Large tracts of connected and pristine territory must be maintained for them. Human population continues to increase in countries with wild elephants and the need for land is pressing. The pessimistic scenario is that agricultural lands will continue to expand till the last wild elephant dies of starvation. But though this looks like certainty, happily it is not. Firstly, in spite of political inertia, the public has become highly aware. In India for instance, there is a strong movement in favour of an appropriate management of the environment, sometimes emanating from people who are neither scientists nor from elite backgrounds. Secondly, land-use changes are often initiated by financial speculation and populism. In some places, speculation has been curbed with stringent regulations. In the Nilgiri Biosphere Reserve in India, for example, tough regulations are sought to be enforced to maintain contiguous elephant habitats. Lastly, elephant-countries are not the only entities responsible for the preservation of these species. We are all responsible, in different ways. Responsible tourism, still in its infancy, can potentially "force" local operators to adopt better practices. And ultimately, we all could share the cost of keeping wild areas in poorer nations. Therefore, as long as there are elephants, there is hope, and we should not overlook the fact that our children may want to live close to nature; they may be willing to make a greater effort than us to maintain their natural heritage.
Why another book on elephants? Anyone who observes elephants with attention ends up asking the same question: are these beasts or beings, say, like us? This question is not answered by science and some would argue that it is not a scientific question. But to perceive intelligence (among other things), one needs to be intelligent in the first place. It took a patient, dedicated and unconventional (for being a woman) observer-Jane Goodall-to discover that chimpanzees use tools. This deceptively simple realisation shattered the definition of the human species itself. Till then, humans were thought to be apart, the only "creatures" to use tools. The classical work of Stephen Jay Gould on the measurement of human intelligence made the point superbly: all depends on ... the tests. It is not up to the elephant to fill-up questionnaires. It is up to us to be smart enough to understand them. Galileo was one of the first to look at the sky with a telescope and wonder: "There are far more stars than I thought!" Friends of elephants, small-time Galileos, wonder: "There are far more emotions than I thought!" This book has been put together to share this awe. We stand before a bridge to another species. There is no doubt in our minds that elephants have emotions, love each other, have compassion for others and mourn their dead. We must go and meet them. And we have fantastic guides in this book.
The authors of the articles that follow have had very different experiences. Some, like Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick, who was kind enough to provide a foreword despite her tight schedule, are towering authorities on elephants. Others are renowned scientists and best-selling authors. Still others, and particularly the Editors, are no more than witnesses.
The authors are from India, Thailand, Kenya, Tanzania, New Zealand, South Africa, Germany, Australia, U.S.A. and France. It was important for us to show that concern for elephants was not reserved for rich "wildlifer s" of the West alone. Local people share strong bonds with elephants as well. Some of the stories were inspired by individuals who had rarely left their village. Superb texts, drawings, pictures and poetry were generously provided from all continents as a testimony of the love and care for elephants.
Most astonishingly, and we are particularly proud of this, we have elephant authors among us. Some of the paintings in this book were graciously contributed by the Elephant Art Gallery, Thailand. No doubt, elephants should be living free in sufficiently large areas and not in any form of captivity. That is the ultimate message of this book. But it is not always possible and the Elephant Art Gallery conducts conservation projects by selling elephant paintings. The paintings are done spontaneously, as a recreation, not in a factory-like manner as in many other places. At the very least, the drawings express the playfulness, curiosity and abilities of the elephants. The mystery of these paintings is mind boggling. Think about it: the aptitude to draw and judge the forming of colourful shapes, as suggested by symmetry.
Some texts describe the work of elephants in nature, others the bond between tribals and elephants. Some essays are striking in their novelty and boldness, yet others relate to known elephants that marked a life.
As not everyone can live with elephants, we wanted to convey the need for a change of attitude. Meeting with elephants is not achieved by rushing at them in a four-wheel drive. Many wildlife programmes presented in the media are both misguided and unethical. Each encounter in the wild is a new opportunity for friendship, and friendship cannot be forced. Most of the time, elephants will react to imposed human presence, perhaps even charge and kill people. They do that because they are overstressed and find humans dangerous. Moreover, they are not pets but wild animals. In rare instances however, they may become curious, forget their traumas and be friendly. This is when we are drawn into a magical world. Perchance we may see the young playing in the mud, mothers and aunts exchanging glances of mutual approval and understanding on how beautiful the brats are. This is when an overpowering male approaches willingly, stops and examines closely, and smells the strange humans that we are.
This gentleness and respect are the key to elephant encounters in their natural habitat and the cue to saving them. This is our message. We need to become gentle and respectful to meet the biggest animal that roams the earth.
Before we launched into the world of elephants, we had to find a flow for the texts. It seemed that some of the titles of 2001: A Space Odyssey, the novel written by Arthur C. Clarke, fit particularly well in order to situate our travels in an alien territory. “Who’s There:” introduces the elephants, their abilities and suffering. "Before Eden" talks about how we humans look at the elephants in the wild or in fairly natural settings. “Encounter at Dawn” dwells on the more personal encounters that changed outlooks on elephants or even radically changed lives. "Beyond the lnfinite" is a jump into the unknown and goose bumps are guaranteed. And lastly, "Rescue Party" focuses on elephant conservation.
We are deeply indebted to all authors and artists (including four elephants) of this book who spontaneously joined our project. Again, splendid texts, pictures and paintings were provided gratis. Without this wonderful generosity, this book could never have carried so much significance, and we hope we did justice to all the authors. The shortfalls, if any, are only ours.
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