Elephants are majestic creatures that have captured the human imagination for centuries. From their incredible size and strength to their complex social behaviour, they are truly one of the most fascinating animals on the planet. What does the world of elephants look like and what are its roots? What is their cultural and ecological significance? Whether you’re a wildlife enthusiast or simply curious about these magnificent creatures, read on to go on a wild tour!
The Drift Between African & Asian Elephants
Elephants are native to Africa and Asia. African elephants are known to be the largest mammal living on land, with Asiatic elephants taking 2nd place. Although closely related, they are 2 distinct species with several differences in physical appearance and behaviour. Their relationship can be traced back to their ancient ancestors, who were once part of a single species that roamed across what is now Africa and Asia. Fossil evidence suggests that these elephants began to diverge into separate species around six million years ago as a result of continental drift.
Today, both species share similarities in terms of intelligence, social structures, and their crucial role in their ecosystems, they have evolved independently for millions of years and have distinct genetic differences. African elephants are larger and have larger ears, while Asian elephants have smaller ears and a more rounded forehead. African elephants see tusks in both males and females, while tusks are only found in males in Asiatic elephants. Despite these differences, both species face similar threats such as habitat loss and poaching. Overall, the relationship between African and Asian elephants is one of coexistence, as they occupy different geographic regions and play important roles in their respective ecosystems.
Elephants & India – An Ancient Connection
The Indian subcontinent is not only a marvellous cultural melting pot but also home to majestic wild creatures like the Asiatic elephants, Bengal tigers and rhinoceroses. About 60% of the Asiatic elephants are spread across the jungles of India. This residence has come through historic routes.
Elephants have been an integral part of Indian culture for centuries, with a rich history that spans from ancient warfare to modern-day recreation. They were once used in battles and for logging – tasks far from their natural calling. Remnants of this culture can still be found in certain parts of the country, where elephants are used to transport people for both practical and leisurely purposes. However, the coexistence between elephants and humans in India hasn’t always been harmonious. As human populations continue to expand into elephant habitats, many elephants are subject to harm and conflict. This ongoing issue serves as a stark reminder of the need for balance and respect between humans and animals.
On the other hand, there is a world in India where several tribes have been living in harmony with the forests and their inhabitants for generations. These tribes have formed close relationships with elephants and have learned to coexist in a mutually beneficial manner. Through their understanding and respect for the natural world, these communities have found a way to integrate themselves seamlessly into the environment, forming an important part of the delicate ecosystem.
Despite the contrasts between different aspects of Indian culture, one thing is clear: elephants are a vital part of the country’s heritage and identity. From ancient times to modern-day life, these majestic creatures continue to capture the hearts and imaginations of people across the country, reminding us of the importance of respecting and protecting the natural world.
Ecological Role of Elephants – The World is Their Garden
Elephants are meant to live in forests because forests need them just as much for survival. All elephants are herbivorous and can eat over 100 kgs of food every day. They consume over 200 varieties of berries, fruits, leaves, roots and grasses. They travel in herds for hours a day consuming what the forest gives and dispersing the seeds in their lofty dung across forests. Their size and group movement alone helps in large-scale seed dispersal across regions, and across forests, promoting a far-reaching biodiversity. For all these reasons and more, they are a keystone species – if they thrive, other species thrive, if they survive, others do too.
Social Behaviour of Elephants
Elephants are known for their complex social behaviour and their ability to form strong bonds with members of their herd. In a typical herd, led by a matriarch, female elephants will stay together for their entire lives, forming strong family units that are essential for survival. Male elephants, on the other hand, will leave the herd when they reach adolescence and will often join up with other male elephants to form their own groups.
Within the herd, elephants display a range of social behaviours, from tactile communication to vocalization and body language. They use their trunks to touch and explore one another, conveying information and establishing social bonds. They also use a range of vocalizations, from trumpeting calls to low-frequency rumbles, to communicate with one another. Overall, the social behaviour of elephants is an essential part of their survival and is crucial to the health and stability of their communities.
Corridors of Compassion
Live and let live – the simple rule elephants abide by. One can easily get lost in forests, but these creatures are intelligent. They make their own pathways with their massive strength and then stick to them in order to move safely from one place to another in their own gardens without disturbing the other garden dwellers including humans.
They have the power to wade through dense forests and leave behind clear trails that lead to waterholes and food, allowing other animals of the forest to survive, who in turn, have their own ecological roles to play. These pathways created by elephants are called elephant corridors and they efficiently connect natural regions. Any person who is aware of the life these majestic animals lead will steer clear of these corridors as elephants tend to move frequently through these lanes in large numbers.
Threats to the World of Elephants
The gender disparity among Indian elephants is a long-standing threat to the survival of the species, with only around 1000 of the estimated 27,000 elephants being bull elephants. Male elephants are especially vulnerable to poaching for their ivory, and this has gone as far to cause an evolutionary response, with more elephants being born tuskless to avoid poaching. The rapidly growing human population is also increasing the demand for infrastructure and development, leading to the fragmentation and destruction of elephant habitats.
Studies show that the average home range of Asiatic elephants is 100-1000 sq.km while that of African elephants is 11-500 sq. km. The smaller and more fragmented the forests get, the farther elephants have to travel in search of food, further increasing the chances of human-animal conflict. Increasing home ranges are not a good indicator of the health of the forests and the wildlife of the region.
This complex web of issues is slowly but steadily encroaching on the land that rightfully belongs to these creatures, leaving them with little space to survive and thrive. The extinction of these “mammoth” creatures would be catastrophic for the planet, with significant consequences for the ecosystems in which they play a crucial role.
We at Beforest are constantly trying to coexist with all the creatures of the forest. Our Poomaale Collective in Coorg is located in the heart of the Western Ghats, which is a biodiversity hotspot. Elephants corridors run through the estate and we find these noble creatures creating more paths every now and then as they visit the estate. We are grateful for having a home in a place full of potential for such beautiful phenomena to unfold. Our next wilderness collective, Poomaale 2.0 Collective, lies adjacent to the Poomaale Estate and shares many geophysical properties, including these corridors of compassion in the wilderness.
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