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Riding an elephant

By Gay Published: December 7, 2009

I was just watching an Animal Planet show, and this episode was about elephants in the wild. Elephants are one of my very favorite animals, and while they don’t qualify as pets (you can hardly put a blanket on the floor somewhere and invite it to lie down, and I can’t imagine what one might use as a litter box—a refrigerator crate? Would you tell it to sit, and if it decided that would comply, what might it sit on? The complications get dicey), they are incredibly complex, intelligent, interesting beasts. Although we associate tremendous power with elephants, they can show a gentle nature.

Elephants and hippopotamuses are kept in reinforced areas in zoos, because both are unpredictable and can be deadly. But this is about elephants, not hippos, which are fascinating, but how many stuffed hippos do you give to babies? Elephants capture most everyone’s attention, because they are so enormous and yet are capable of exquisite gentleness. The big males, are the most potentially treacherous, and it is most true when they are in musth, a periodic time of greatly increased testosterone in bull elephants, when they are at their most aggressive.

A mother with her calf is also extremely dangerous. These are animals who, if they want you dead, you are dead, and forget about it deciding to leave you alone. It will stomp you flat. I cannot imagine why people want to do two things: train elephants (hey, to them a human is an insignificant piece of flesh and it is only their goodwill that allows a person to “train” them. Unlike dogs, you can’t go beating on an elephant. It will teach you a lesson—a final one. Nor do I understand why anyone would shoot an elephant for fun. Unlike the tiger, in my opinion, the most beautiful animal in the world, it hasn’t a beautiful coat and exquisite features. What is the point? In fact, what is the point of hunting in general? But that is for another blog.

As a child, I lived in another country, and I rode elephants on Sundays. We would go to a park, the mahout (elephant driver) would encourage the female elephant (Asian, not African) to kneel, and with the assistance of a set of steps, I would climb into the howdah, the little affair that sat atop the elephant. The mahout would lead us around and around the park. It was my favorite thing in life at the time. I couldn’t get enough.

When the ride was finished, I was permitted to feed the elephant, whose name was something like Hanhah (although don’t quote me on that). I had a large bag of peanuts, and she so delicately and gently took each from my hand. She used her trunk to sniff me, investigate me, caress me, inform me to keep the peanuts coming! The trunk of an elephant is so unbelievably soft, somewhat like the nose of a giraffe. It is a most useful appendage, and as I floated along atop the elephant, I would daydream of having a trunk. A trunk would have been useful to do my chores, and also, it would have been great to slap my arch-enemies silly.

I have a collection of elephants, mostly junky, some crafted of silver, and one that is of stone and is, I believe, very, very old and perhaps valuable. Certainly, it is to me. My Mother had a large collection of elephant jewelry as she was an outspoken member of the political party which uses the animal as its symbol. I do not share the beliefs my Mother had, but we did both love elephants. She never rode an elephant, leaving me to have that exhilarating experience.

During the Civil War, men who saw battle for the first time said that they had “seen the elephant,” as it was an incredible sight.

Elephants grieve more than any animal than humans. If a member of an elephant herd dies, the rest of the herd will stand by the body and mourn, repeatedly touching the body. They will return many times to pay homage. They must move on in order to eat, but on return trips, when all that is left but bones, some of the herd will take a bone and keep it near.

Personally, I think all animals grieve. I know that dogs I have had grieved, for their companions, human or animal. Cats will seek out again and again the spot a favorite friend liked to sleep in. But, there is something about these extraordinary animals, so dangerous and yet uncommonly gentle, exhibiting all the signs of unrelieved sadness.

In some countries, elephants indicate good luck. I hope you have lots of elephants, although the small kind one carries around are more convenient! But—sigh—if one had thousands of acres in, say, Texas, wouldn’t it be nice to protectively grow a hard?

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