« PreviousContinue »
THE ELEPHANT. AFTER the numerous histories, compilations, and anecdotes respecting the Elephant which have appeared either as separate treatises, or in the periodical publications of the day, it may with some reason be supposed that the subject has been already exhausted, and that another description of this, though it be the most stupendous and interesting of quadrupeds, can afford very little either of novelty or entertainment. But a careful review of these several accounts 'convinces us that an accurate description of the species and varieties of the genus Elephas, and a faithful recital of those qualities which render this sagacious animal so useful an auxiliary to man in the most important of our colonial possessions, may still prove interesting to the lover of zoology at home, and useful, it is hoped, to those who now are, or are likely to become, residents in the East Indies.
All the accurate knowledge which we at present possess relative to the mode of propagation, the growth, the disposition, and faculties of the elephant, is founded on observations made upon the Asiatic species : and it may be doubted how far we are warranted in referring the attributes of this to the less commonly known elephant, which ranges' uncontrolled in the wilds of Africa. Buffon indeed, and most writers previous to Cuvier, have applied the remarks of observers to both species indiscriminately, for it was not until they had been subjected to the penetrating scrutiny of the latter celebrated naturalist that their real specific difference was distinctly pointed out.
In this country it naturally happens, from our relations with the East Indies, that the elephant which is most commonly exhibited in menageries is of the Asiatic species. The two young individuals which have been seen to such advantage during the past summer in the Gardens of the Zoological Society are of this kind. In the menagerie at the Jardin des Plantes, however, there is at present a fine young African elephant (Elephas Africanus, Cuv.), as well as a noble Asiatic one (Elephas Indicus, Cuv.). Hence the most ample opportunities have been afforded to the eminent naturalists who have the charge of that truly national establishment
Zool. Mag. No. 2.
to determine accurately the sum and nature of their specific differences, and to furnish the world with figures of unquestionable fidelity, and executed under all the advantages of the present condition of the arts. These figures, which have recently appeared in the splendid illustrations of the Parisian menagerie, we have had faithfully copied and engraved for our present Number, so that the differences of form in the two species may be readily observed.
The head of the elephant of Africa is smaller, more elongated, and less irregular in its contour than that of the Asiatic species. The summit is rounded instead of being divided by a central longitudinal depression. But the most striking feature in the African elephant is the enormous size of his ears, which extend over his shoulders, and when agitated to and fro, beat the air with a violence and noise equal to that produced by the flapping of the wings of the condor or other huge bird. On the thick integument which invests the disproportionately small foot of the elephant five hoofs may be observed on the fore foot in both species, whilst on the hind foot four hoofs are observable in the Asiatic elephant, and three only in the African. We should be mistaken, however, in supposing that the number of toes strictly corresponded to these outward indications; for in both species, when the skin and flesh are removed and the bony framework is exposed, these huge productions of nature are seen to have been constructed on the same plan, and the ultimate divisions of all the four extremities are seen in the skeleton to be into five distinct parts or toes.
It has been observed that the extremity of the proboscis in the African elephant is better constructed as a prehensile organ, and that he seizes thin substances with greater ease and effect than his Eastern relative. The tail in the African species is shorter by half its length than in the Asiatic.
These characters are open to superficial inspection, and may be readily seized by the youngest student of zoology: but the most important specific distinction requires a closer investigation : it is derived from the differences presented by the worn-down surfaces of the grinding teeth ;-those of the Asiatic elephant presenting parallel transverse wavy ridges, while the African's grinders are marked by transverse lozenge-shaped ridges.
The degree of difference, therefore, between those two animals, when strictly considered with reference to the modern methods in zoology, is even greater than usually separates species such as the dog and wolf; and is equivalent rather to that which distinguishes the dog from the hyena. A distinct
generic name (Loxodonte) has therefore been proposed for the African elephant.
The obscurity which formerly prevailed respecting the mode of reproduction of the elephant has been dissipated in a great measure by the accurate and assiduous observations of our countryman, Mr. Corse. And it is a remarkable instance of the difficulty of eradicating a popular error or prejudice, that notwithstanding the circumstantial evidence and authentic description given by this gentleman relative to the above subject, it is still very generally believed that in a state of subjection the elephant is unalterably barren; and that though it has been reduced under the dominion of man for ages, yet, as if it had a proper sense of its degraded condition, it refuses to increase the pride and power of its conquerors by propagating a race of slaves. This circumstance was adduced by Buffon as one of the most striking instances of the superiority of the elephant, in its moral condition, over other quadrupeds.
Mr. Corse, who resided for more than ten years at Tiperah, a province of Bengal, where herds of elephants are taken every season, and who for five years had the Company's elephant hunters entirely under his direction, has completely disproved these assertions. Twice during that period he succeeded in breeding from elephants in a state of captivity and servitude, and observes that this mode of supplying the Indian community with so useful an animal is abandoned only from its being more expensive than the ordinary method by the capture of the wild herds; since the elephants, after being reduced by the process of training, require rest and high feeding to bring them into the requisite condition.
In this way was ascertained the precise period of gestation in the elephant, which Mr. Corse states to be twenty months and eighteen days. The young animal when born is 35} inches high. It soon begins to nibble and suck the breast, pressing it with its trunk to make the milk flow more readily into its mouth while sucking. It has never been observed to use its proboscis in any other manner during this act, but invariably seized the nipple with the side of its mouth.
At this period it is a common practice with the elephant attendants to raise a small mound of earth, about six or eight inches high, for the young one to stand on, and thus to save the mother the trouble of bending her body every time she gives suck; for she has never been observed to lie down for that purpose. The nipples are two in number, and are situated between the fore legs. It is remarkable that the elephant, although having but one
young, has by no means a strong affection for it: instances have occurred of the mother leaving her offspring and escaping into the woods. If a wild elephant happens to be separated from her young for only two days, though giving suck, she never afterwards recognises or acknowledges it. “I have been much mortified," says Mr. Corse, “at such unnatural conduct, particularly when it was evident the young elephant knew its dam, and by its plaintive cries and submissive approaches solicited her assistance."
During the first year the elephant grows eleven inches, and is three feet eleven inches high ; in the second he grows eight inches; in the third six ; in the fourth year five inches; about the same in the fifth
three inches and a half; and in the seventh year two inches and a half,—measuring then six feet four inches in height. During the succeeding ten years the growth is comparatively slow.
The male is longer in attaining his full growth than the female, seldom having acquired it before his twenty-sixth year.
The height of the elephant has been much exaggerated. In India the height of the female is in general from seven to eight feet, and that of the male from eight to ten feet, measured at the shoulder.
“ I have never heard,” says Mr. Corse, " but of one elephant, on good authority, that much exceeded ten feet; this was a male belonging to the Vizier of Oude. The admeasurements of this animal were as follow :
Feet. In. From foot to foot over the shoulder .
22 104 From the top of the shoulder, perpendicular height
“ The Madras elephants have been said to be from seventeen to twenty feet high : but to show how much the natives of India are inclined to the marvellous, and how liable Europeans themselves are to mistakes, I will relate a circumstance that happened to myself.
“ Having heard from several gentlemen who had been at Dacca that the Nabob there had an elephant about fourteen feet high, I was desirous to measure him, especially as I had seen him often myself during the year 1785, and then supposed him to be above twelve feet. After being at Tiperah, and having seen many elephants caught, and finding all of them much inferior in height to what I supposed the Nabob's
elephant, I went to Dacca in 1789, determined to see this huge animal measured. At first I sent for the driver, to ask some questions concerning this elephant; he without hesitation assured me he was from ten to twelve cubits, that is, from fifteen to eighteen feet high ; but added, he could not without the Nabob's permission bring me the elephant to be examined. Permission was accordingly asked and granted. I had him measured exactly, and was rather surprised to find he did not exceed ten feet in height.”
The Hon. Company's standard for serviceable elephants is seven feet and upwards, measured at the shoulder in the same manner as horses are. At the middle of the back they are considerably higher, the curve of which, particularly in young elephants, makes a difference of several inches. After an elephant has attained his full growth, it is a sure sign of old age when this curve becomes less, and still more so when the back is flat or a little depressed. A partial depression of the spine is however not unfrequently observed even in very young elephants, and is in general the effect of external injury: for in herds of wild elephants just taken, Mr. Corse observes, “it is no uncommon circumstance for the large elephants, both male and female, to vent their rage upon the young ones, putting the projecting part of the upper jaw, from which the tusks grow out, on the spine of the young ones, and pressing them violently to the ground, while they roared out from pain.”
Having thus described the differences which characterize the African and Asiatic elephants, and traced the latter from its birth to its maturity, we shall next briefly advert to such circumstances as may
be most usefully known to those destined to reside in our Indian dominions. The impositions practised by the elephant dealers upon the inexperienced European in the purchase of this expensive animal, are as common in India as those of the horse-jockey in our own country; for not only do the elephants participate in as many various bodily defects as the horse, but they exhibit as great varieties of disposition.
When the price of a perfect elephant is demanded, the buyer should assure himself, first, that the animal is of the full size-if a male, not less than eight feet high, with the arch or curve of his back rising gradually from the shoulder to the middle, and thence descending to the insertion of the tail; and that all the joints are firm and strong : the nails should not be overgrown, and should be perfect in number, viz. five nails on each of the fore feet, and four on each of the hind ones, making eighteen in all; the tusks perfect and unbroken;