National Geographic : 1991 May
brokers will haggle at a local fair where the majestic animals will be rented, traded, and sold for use in logging camps, festivals, and religious ceremonies. How? ... The wind was still in my favor, and I'd been dead quiet. Then I understood: He hadn't sensed me-not yet-but another bull nearby was sending out an alarm in fre quencies too low for the human ear to detect. Since biologists Katharine Payne and William Langbauer's recent discovery that elephants communicate through infrasound,* Joyce Poole has cataloged 15 different types of rum ble sounds that are partly "silent" and that can transmit information over many miles. No wonder earlier elephant-watchers some times thought the animals had ESP. In Kerala state, at the southern tip of In dia, Venkatadri Ganapathy dresses elephants in gold for religious festivals and marriage processions. He told me about an elephant handler, or mahout, who worked most of his life hauling timber with a very stout bull. Come payday, this mahout, who was also quite stout, would ride his elephant to the tavern in a nearby village and buy the beast Elephants--Out of Time, Out of Space a bottle of rice liquor -and several more to drink himself. When he finally keeled over, the bull would pick him up like a log, wrap ping his trunk around the mahout's body and resting him on his two great tusks. Then he would bear his drunken friend home. Once there, he laid the mahout on the doorstep and waited until someone came to drag him inside. They might have grown old together, for, like us, elephants reach sexual maturity around age 13 or 14 and enjoy a potential life span of more than 60 years. But the bull died suddenly of rabies. One week later, the mahout died of causes unknown. Maybe he went to look for his elephant. Exactly what kind of creatures are these, besides the biggest and strongest of all on land? Their closest kin are furry, tusked rock *In the August 1989 NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC Katharine Payne, supported by an NGS research grant, reported that elephants use infrasound to com municate across distances of several miles.