National Geographic : 1934 Jun
NATURE'S MOST AMAZING MAMMAL Elephants, Unique Among Animals, Have Many Human Qualities When Wild That Make Them Fore most Citizens of Zoo and Circus BY EDMUND HELLER N ATURE is forever playing jokes on animals. When, in the course of its evolution, she exercises her sense of humor on an animal, it gets a tough break-often just where Nature seems to have made it invulnerable. Upon the elephant Nature bestowed the thickest of hides; but, just to be a bit devil ish, she installed a very poor heating plant; so the elephant has to live close to the Equator to keep warm. With its one inch of thick skin the ele phant ought to be able to defy cold. In stead, the animal is as sensitive to cold as a geranium. The slightest trace of frost curls it up with severe cramps in its stomach. In our climate, it must be kept in a warm house until June arrives, and enclosed again when October frosts send shivers down its gigantic spine. APPLYING A MAMMOTH MUSTARD PLASTER The cure for stomach cramps in an ele phant is a bucket of gin and ginger with a "kick" that only an elephant can survive and enjoy. With the drink usually goes a counterirritant-a gigantic mustard plaster over its belly and back. Two blankets wrapped around its wrinkled belly, with a thick layer of mustard between them, exert a pull which starts circulation toward its solar plexus. After one or two cures the elephant often becomes a crafty alcohol addict. It feigns cramps, lying down and groaning in a piti ful way. The gin and ginger go to the spot and relieve the pain-so the keeper believes-but the next day, and the next, the trick is repeated until the keeper realizes the sham. In a state of Nature, elephants are very sociable and live in herds, or family parties, usually from 20 to 40 animals. Herds of a hundred or more have been reported by hunters, especially in Africa. Such associa tions are not herds, but a number of herds living together in the same locality. I know of one place in the Lake Edward district of Uganda where numerous herds can be seen for a month or so, scattered widely over a level, grass-covered plain. "MY MOST THRILLING MOMENT" My most thrilling moment with elephants occurred while I was following Theodore Roosevelt through the rain-soaked jungles of Mount Kenya (see page 735). The Colonel was out for big game-the biggest animal which still roams our earth, the African elephant, or Loxodonta africana, if you would identify him scientifically.* The terra firma which Loxodonta in habits is not so firm at that; we often found ourselves half submerged by falling into rain-filled tracks. When going places a herd of elephants have a habit of stepping into each other's tracks. In muddy ground this "follow-the-leader" game makes holes deeper and deeper, as each six-ton pachy derm sinks his feet farther into the mud footprints of his predecessor. These cumulative footprints often are two and a half feet deep and five feet around. Such tracks hold a barrelful of water, and on rainy days they are filled. Following elephant tracks all day during the rainy season is a man's job, and the Colonel found it good sport! One morning we were up with the dawn, following the trail of a mud-plunging ele phant herd. About noon the trail got hot the scent was so fresh we could smell the elephants ourselves. Our hunter and his Wandorobo tribes men trackers tested the faintly perceptible air currents by lighting matches. The slightest human scent sniffed by any mem ber of the herd would have caused the ani mals to bolt. The air currents favored us, being chiefly head winds, but so gentle we had to pussyfoot like stealthy cats. Our procession changed to firing-line for mation. In advance were Colonel Roose velt and the hunter, carrying their heavy, * See "African Game Trails" and "Wild Man and Wild Beast in Africa," by Theodore Roosevelt, in the NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGAZINE for No vember, 1910, and January, 1911, respectively.