The Story of the Elephant
by George Langford, Sr., Joliet, Illinois, after 1920 and prior to 1947
Edited and Copyrighted by George Langford, III, 2010
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The True Elephant

The True Elephant differs from the Mammoth in having a round prominent forehead instead of one flat or compressed from front and rear into a narrow peak; also his tusks are comparatively straight, never grotesquely curving or overlapping at their tips.  He has five toes on each foot, wherein he differs from the hairy Mammoth, who had four on the hind ones.  His molar teeth, however, are very like those of the latter animal with their thin and numerous plates.

This is the final chapter of Elephant history.  The Pleistocene period saw the culmination of the Elephant's development.  It was his time of glory, as was the Miocene in the case of the Long-jawed Trilophodon, and the Pliocene in the case of the Short-jawed Mastodon and Gable-toothed Elephant.  Our modern era with its human civilization is doubtless his period of degeneration.  Only one species of True Elephant lives to-day and that one is (Elephas Maximus or Indicus) the Asiatic or Indian Elephant.

This animal is a remarkable combination of original and old-fashioned ideas.  The former are represented in his head specializations; the latter in his primitive body and limbs, whose structure would tend to class him as the most primitive of hoofed animals.  His stomach, lungs and liver are of extremely simple type.  His limbs are of very ancient pattern in their arrangement of wrist and ankle bones and separation of the fore-leg bones (radius and ulna) and hind leg (tibia and fibula).  In most hoofed mammals, these pairs of bones are grown together.  The Elephant's limbs are straight unlike those of the majority, whose elbows bend backward and their knees forward.  The bones themselves are straighter, and in this respect the Elephant somewhat resembles Man so much so that fossil Mastodon and Mammoth remains were in times past mistaken for those of human giants.  The Indian Elephant dates back to the Late Pleistocene, and he is about the only one who can be indisputably classed as a True Elephant.  This may be a surprise to some who have been accustomed to considering the African Elephant as on a par with his Indian relative; but the two are very distinct, so much so that each is put in a family group by himself.  It is a matter of grinders again, and but for them, this high-browed Asiatic would not have the effrontery to look down upon the African Elephant as his inferior.

In the Indian Elephant tooth, the number of plates beginning with four, increases by four with each succeeding tooth, making the plate-count in the first (premolar), fourth (first molar) and sixth (third molar) teeth, four, sixteen and twenty-four respectively, a much finer milling surface than that of the African Elephant tooth.  Furthermore, the surface is broader, the crown higher and enamel cross ridges straighter and more regular.  It is this plate count and shape that is of prime importance in determining species of the True Elephant family.  Bones may mislead, but molar tooth peculiarities never will, if closely followed, and the shape and number of plates is the best authority.  This rule is a particularly useful one in determining species of fossil elephants, for the teeth being the hardest parts of the skeleton, are the most likely to be preserved, and one of them, the last molar preferred, goes far toward settling the matter.

As a tusker, the Indian Elephant falls below par, and because of this he is generally considered as a degenerate.  But like chin-spout growth in the Miocene "Long-jaw," tusk-development had been greatly overdone, and this is well illustrated in the New World and Hairy Mammoths.  Their grotesquely curving and overlapping ivories were little short of monstrosities.  Tusks were intended primarily for digging and food-getting, and ample provision was made for wear.  An elephant who worked hard and kept his tusk-wear balanced to their growth was in a class with the busy Beaver who gnawed trees incessantly, probably not realizing that a lazy life meant death, because his continually growing growing incisors would curl around through his jaws and head.  Unlike the Beaver, however, the Elephant's tusks grew outward instead of inward, inflicting no actual damage, but when over-developed, acting as useless appendages to impede their owner's progress.  The tusk-business among elephants in general was carried to an extreme.  The extraordinary development of the trunk may have occasioned this, in that it relieved the tusks of many duties.  The African Elephant, who feeds on roots and boughs, is an ardent digger, and his ivories, though large, are efficient.  That the Indian Elephant is but moderately equipped, may be more to his advantage than appears, even without considering Man's desire to possess good ivory.  He is a grazer and fruit-picker, and his tusks are not a matter of prime necessity.  In female jaws, they are rudimentary or lacking, and in some varieties, even the males have none.  A fine example would weigh not more than seventy pounds and one of record size, scarcely seven feet long, would weigh less than one hundred pounds, not half as much as that of the largest African Elephant.  In size, the Indian animal also falls short of his African cousin.  His ten feet, six inches to eleven feet compels him to look up to rather than down upon the lowly Lozenge-tooth.

There are some who would attempt to settle the question of superiority by calling attention to the Asiatic's high forehead and intellectual aspect but here they are apt to err.  True, the African's head is flatter but if one bores into the other's forehead, he will be a long time reaching the brain, for the beast's intellectual bumps consist of unusually thick diploe or bone air-cells. This gives the Indian Elephant considerably more forehead depth than the African beast, but as one has about as much brains as the other, the Indian Elephant cannot be credited with the intellectual superiority that some claim for him.  This thickening of the skull bones is a process that takes place in the course of each individual's life.  No infant elephant has it to start with. His skull at birth is comparatively low and thin-walled like those of other animals, and the brain fills most of it.  However as time goes on, the brain cavity expands but little, while the external portion develops enormously to provide attachment for the trunk in front and the neck muscles behind.  This separates the cranium into two parts: an internal or brain compartment; and an external shell on which to fasten muscles and ligaments.  The diploe or bone-cells fill up the intermediate space.  This change in head structure from infant to adult, which requires less than twenty years for its accomplishment, is an interesting one, in that it parallels the history of the race from Primitive mastodon to true elephant, wherein the process of heightening the skull consumed several millions of years before attaining completion.

The Elephant's large head may not denote unusual brain capacity, nevertheless the beast possesses his full share of intelligence.  He has a good memory and when sufficiently impressed, forgets neither his enemies nor his friends.  In matters pertaining to favorite foods, he can recall where he has previously obtained them and the time of their ripening.  As a weather-prophet he is credited with being something of a success, having the intuitive power to foretell approaching rains.  Although generally docile and susceptible to training, he occasionally becomes unmanageable and at such times destroys, not only his trainers, but everything else within his reach.  However, these outbursts are due to nervous paroxysms or mental derangements.  As a rule the beast is gentle and obedient and gives due warning of the change in him that means trouble.

Unlike most animals, the Elephant possesses a will and way to pick up anything that interests him and to hold it before his face for examination.  His trunk serves for this purpose and the finger at the small end of it is so flexible and sensitive that he has no trouble in picking up very small objects.  In the Indian Elephant, only the upper tip is prolonged into a finger while in the African animal, the upper and 1ower tips are both so constructed.  The trunk is pierced all the way through by two nostrils, giving the beast a long double-barrelled nose.  In addition to good hearing, his sense of smell is remarkably keen, and this sense he depends upon most, for his eyesight is comparatively poor.  An elephant's trunk is an extraordinary instrument and serves its owner many useful purposes.

In early infancy, the animal's body is profusely covered with hair, but this is soon shed.  The Indian and African elephants have little use for such covering in the warm region where they now live, but probably in the old days it was much different.  We know that the Hairy Mammoth was most luxuriantly clad, and no doubt most of the European and North American prehistoric elephants were likewise more or less protected.

Unlike the African Elephant, whose ears are huge and fan-shaped, the Indian Elephant has comparatively small and inconspicuous ears.  His trunk also lacks telescopic segments and tapers gradually to the tip.  Several varieties of this species now live in various parts of Asia.  Albinoes or white elephants are not uncommon in Burma and Siam.  In the latter country they are considered sacred as supposedly they contain the souls of dead men.  When captured, these animals are baptized and given over to the King to be retained as royal charges.  At death they are mourned over with great ceremony.  In southern Abyssinia, there is a cult of the White Elephant.  Even the ordinary animal comes in for some share of religious veneration.  In various districts of Indo-China, the belief is that the Elephant has a soul which can work injury after the animal's death, and so the beast's obsequies are performed with due solemnity.  In Cambodia
he is considered as one who brings good luck to the state, and in Sumatra the natives upon him as a tutelary spirit.

Before Man became all-powerful, the Indian Elephant inhabited most of southern Asia, but now his range is greatly restricted.  However his value is generally recognized and to prevent the race's extermination, elephant-hunting is forbidden except by governmental permission.  These animals being in great demand for show and transport purposes, the aim is to capture them alive.  Formerly this was accomplished by pitfalls, but so many of the animals were killed or injured, that this cruel method was abandoned, and now the end is attained by the use of stockades. Large areas were enclosed by driving stout timbers into the ground closely together and fastening each to its neighbor.  This enclosure had to be made strong enough to withstand an elephant's rush, for if one broke through, the others might escape.  When all was in readiness, beaters ranging through the forests, drove the wild herds toward and finally through an opening in the stockade and then blocked this opening.  Once inside the captives were kept there for a long time without food until they became tractable.  Domesticated elephants were then turned loose among them and the prisoners were in time tamed to do the bidding of Man.  At present the Indian Elephant is not a plains-dweller but a creature of the hills, and generally he keeps to the high places instead of the valleys.  Such habits are not exactly what one might expect of an animal with such perfected grazing teeth.  They would designate him as a creature of the plains. Perhaps he was, in the old days before human beings came to disturb him.  His present range is the forest-lands of India, Burma, the Malay Peninsula, Cochin China, Ceylon and Sumatra. The Ceylon animal (Elephas Zeylonicus) is tuskless, not a separate species, but a mere variation of the type (Elephas Indicus).  The same is true of the tusked Sumatran Elephant (Elephas Sumatranus).  When wild, the Indian Elephant travels about in small herds of from ten to twenty as a rule, sometimes in larger herds of from thirty to fifty and very occasionally one hundred. These are generally family parties led by females.  Rogues are solitary bulls that have left their herds to live by themselves and are as a rule ill-tempered.  The Indian Elephant has a great aversion to the hot rays of the sun and protects himself by keeping in the shade of trees.  Individuals have been observed fanning themselves with leafed branches.  They are extremely fond of water and love to bathe.  All elephants are good swimmers and can settle deeply in the water, with trunk-tips held above the surface like periscopes for breathing purposes.

Elephants rarely breed in captivity, and consequently the domestic trade depends upon freshly-captured animals.  In the wild state, one calf at a time is born, occasionally two.  The youngsters suckle with their mouths and not with their trunks. 

In olden days of human civilization, the Indian Elephant was much used in war, and the sight of a squadron of these huge beasts bearing down upon a hostile army was enough to strike terror into the latter, but those opposing such attacks learned by experience; and many a tusker was frightened into a panic and driven back to stampede among and trample down those for whom he fought.  The African Elephant was an even worse offender in this respect, being intractible and so easily disturhed that he was often as dangerous to his friends as to his enemies.  However, the ancients looked upon all elephants as valuable allies.  Great members of the intractable African species were used by the Carthagians in their wars against Rome and Hannibal, their great general even brought a squadron of them into Spain, marching them over the Alps into Italy during the Second Punic War.  Pyrrhus, King of Epirus, had used them before Hannibal's time, and in the battle of Heraclea, his defeat of the Romans under Laevinus, although costly, was due in great measure to the fine performance of his elephants.  Alexander the Great during his Asiatic campaign acquired deep respect for the Indian variety at least, for many of them were sent back to Macedonia to be employed as fighters by Seleucus and others of Alexander's successors in their various conflicts with other nationalities.  The Ptolemies also made similar use of the beasts and established stations on the southern shores of the Red Sea from where captive elephants from the interior were gathered together and shipped to the royal stables there to be trained and made into fighting machines.

Indian potentates of modern times have employed the Elephant in war, but in general this animal became useless as Man's weapon when gunpowder was invented, for no matter how well trained, he becomes easily frightened at smoke and strange noises and cannot be depended upon.  At present his greatest service to Man is in transporting and piling timber and it is surprising with what seeming ease he can move the heaviest logs.  Besides various other uses, he is frequently employed in tiger-hunting, an extremely dangerous pastime even for a full-grown elephant.  The big striped cat is his most formidable enemy, as was the Sabre-tooth in the case of mastodons and mammoths during prehistoric times.  The elephant's trunk is his most sensitive spot and if this is disabled the Tiger usually scores a victory. More often than not, the Elephant takes fright and runs away.  A fearless animal will roll up his trunk out of danger, and as the Tiger leaps at his forehead, will stab with his tusks or shake off his enemy and crush him with his forelimbs.  In such contests, it is only fair to the Tiger to say that nowadays there are generally half a dozen or more elephants opposing him and on the back of each is a stout box containing several men armed with high-powered rifles.  Under such circumstances, the Tiger is conceded only a sporting chance, for he is a pest and elephants are too valuable to waste on him.  There is a certain amount of danger, however, to elephants and men both, particularly when the Tiger is cornered and driven to desperation.  And yet with so many elephants and guns opposed to him, the result is rarely in doubt.  Unless the Tiger can escape by flight, he might as well consider himself dead, for association with Man in such contests has given the Elephant experience and confidence in himself, and no tiger can best a big fighting-elephant who "knows the game."

But regardless of his friendliness to Man, civilization but degenerates the True Elephant.  His period of progression has passed and his course in now downward.  His deterioration may be slackened, but unless unforeseen conditions arise, our modern era will be to him as was the Pliocene to the Dinotherium and the Pleistocene to the American Mastodon.  But why did such a creature as the Elephant ever exist?  Simply because he is one of those innumerable manifestations of a Supreme Power which displays itself in everything that lives and grows.  He is one result of a plan, wonderfully thought out and executed, so that each individual beast, bird, fish, and plant is given a chance to enjoy life according to its attainments, and this by the inborn power of adapting itself to varying conditions.  This power is neither inherited nor acquired but is a part of the life-source which controls the universe and which all men recognize regardless of creed, giving it names of many sounds but with one meaning.
[from the original, typewritten draft with hand-written corrections - GL,III, ed.]
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