Thai Elephant

There are two main species of elephant in the world. The African Elephant – Loxodonta, Which is larger with bigger ears and a less docile nature. The ears help the animal to lost heat on the sunny open country it inhabits in Africa. The Indian elephant-Elephas, is a native of thick forrest, so is smaller, with much smaller ears. There have also been reports of pygmy elephants in South East Asia, only 1.5 metres tall, but these are probably extinct.

The Indian elephant is 3 metres from the ground to the highest point of the shoulders(males 50 cm bigger). They weigh about four tons, and need 250 kgs of food a day, and 60 gallons of water. They are vegetarians ,eating a wide variety of plants. In Thailand, their favorite food is tamarind ,but as anyone who has been to an elephant camp knows, they seem to love bananas and sugar cane. Both sexes have tusks, although they are far larger in the male. Some males do not grow tusks, and are supposed to be better workers.

The trunk is a highly sensitive organ – capable of very delicate manipulation. I saw an elephant with an itchy leg pull down the branch of a tree to scratch itself. This did not quite do the trick, so it put one end of the branch in its mouth and chewed it a little, then tried again,with better results. This was a clear example of tool making and using – which used to be a definition of ‘Human’.


In the wild, elephants stay together in herds of 5 to 20 individuals. There is always a leader, the strongest male. When threatened, the males, normally docile, will charge their foes. When families give birth, after a gestation period of 22-24 months, she goes to a grassy, comfortable spot with a ‘friend’, who acts as midwife. This friend clears up the afterbirth and placenta, and keeps mother and baby apart. There are cases of mothers; confused and exhausted, killing their new-born, if there is no friend to stop it. There is nothing sadder than a mother elephant that gives birth to a still born baby. She will stay with the dead body for several days, grieving. The life expectancy of elephant is in the 70’s, and many over 100 year have been reported. The usual cause of death in the wild is the teeth, which were out ,and the elephant dies of slow starvation.

Elephants only sleep for three or four hours a day , usually from 11 pm to 3 am. They simply lie down, yawning and later snoring just like humans. Only sick elephants sleep standing up.


Elephant calves begin their training when they are about four years old. They quickly learn obey the words of command. They get to know their driver(mahout), and get used to being mounted and dismounted. For the first month they are kept restrained in a wooden ‘crush’ while they learn the basic.

Later, they learn more complex instructions needed to work with teak logs, including kneeling picking things up, dragging, rolling, pushing, carrying etc. By the age of ten. They are ready for ‘graduation, and the work of an adult. A working elephant can lift 700 kg, and haul two tons of wood one kilometer without a break. Their natural walking speed is about 4 km per hour. They reach their physical peak at 25 year old , and work until they are 60 year old, then they are retried and set free.

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