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The Emperors of the Elephant World - By Dr. Dame Daphne Sheldrick - 11/12/2012
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Elephant Bulls who carry enormous Ivory Tusks that touch the ground are the true majestic monuments of the wilderness. Their majestic bearing epitomizes grandeur and nobility, power and stature and is a spectacle of awesome magnificence. They are the Emperors of the Elephant World; true Kings whose mere presence demands the respect and admiration of all, and none more so than their Elephant peers both large and small. Sadly, in todays world, all elephants that carry ivory, even those with small tusks, are under siege due to the demand for ivory in countries of the Far East, especially China. Poaching is driving these magnificent animals towards extinction, and those Emperors of the Elephant World are becoming extremely rare due to the evil and greed of humankind. some of whom aspire to ownership of those beautiful Ivory tusks depriving the rightful owner of them by ending a life that should span three score years and ten.
Just like growing human boys, young Elephant boys all aspire to Role Models, for identity; how they are rated amongst their male peers overrides even how females rate them in life. Like growing human boys, growing Elephant ones love nothing more than to be able to rough and tumble with one another to prove strength and dominance, but young Elephant boys have to be obedient to the discipline of Elephant society in that contestants must be matched in age, size and strength. Bullying is not tolerated by the Females of a family, for it is the females who are the disciplinarians. The Elephant Role Models for all Bull Elephants are those stately Elephant Emperors and during their growing years and even beyond adolescence it is very normal for young Elephant Bulls to develop a hero worship on their older and bigger peers. It is the cherished dream and a special privilege to be able to travel in the company of the Biggest and the Best of Elephant Society those magnificent Huge Elephant Tuskers who walk tall and who have attained the pinnacle of Power and Respect, adorned with ivory tusks that reach to the ground. Those who enjoy this privilege have always been known as the Askaris of the Big Boy, or Soldier Guardians of the King.
Elephant Ivory is, in fact, an Incisor tooth which grows throughout life simply to replace the normal wear and tear of tusks, for Elephants, like humans, are either right, or left- handed, except in their society, the trunk and right and left tusks replace the handed description. They use tusks to dig up roots, break down or bend branches, loosen soil with which to dust themselves and to deter confrontational rivalry from others less well equipped, combined with Natures hormonal checks and balances to limit conflict in such powerful adversaries. Elephant Bulls fight seriously very rarely, and then only if matched in tusk and body size and age. The size and the shape of their ivory is mainly an inherited genetic trait, influenced by the mineral content of the water they drink and the browse they consume. There can be Huge Bodied Elephant Bulls who carry only small tusks and Huge Bodied Elephant Bulls of a similar age who carry enormous tusks. However, the respect aspect comes with AGE and this also plays a part, for all elephants inherently are taught to respect their Elders from a very early age, but it is the size of their Ivory Tusks that give the Bulls that extra element of Power and Beauty to the respect of age.
I have been more fortunate than most in that I have been privileged by circumstances to have been able to share most of my adult life with Elephants, spending hours watching them in a wild situation, and rearing their orphaned young from newborn infants, through adolescence and even into adulthood and beyond. Because of such a long and intimate association, filled with both pleasure and tears, I can claim to know them well, for I have been a foster mother to over 200 elephant orphans and have enjoyed their confidence and deep love. Over 140 of those are still living today, but there have been many who died and did not make it. I think the tears I have shed over elephants through the years would fill a bath-tub, for each and every one steals ones heart and is uniquely precious as a special individual. Because of this long association with Elephants, I have been able to gain an insight into the workings of the elephant mind, and been humbled, and filled with a sense of awe and wonder. For I have come to understand that elephants are perhaps more human in their intelligence and emotions than most other creatures, which is not to suggest that others are less so only different. Elephants have all the best attributes of humans, and few of the bad in fact, they are just like us, but better than us in many ways. Their tolerance, their sense of family and of death, their compassion, their depth of feeling and their love of family match our own. They share with us the same span of life and duplicate a human in development at any age. They have all the human emotions they can be happy or sad, they grieve the loss of a loved one deeply, and visit a last resting place for years afterwards, just as we visit a grave. They rejoice during the good times and stoically bear their sorrow in times of hardship. Elephant children can be moody and disobedient, mischievously playful and endearing or downright naughty and disobedient. They are competitive, sometimes jealous of one another, harbour grudges, and have a giant memory that far surpasses our own. The saying that an elephant never forgets is, fact, true. They are endowed with many mysterious senses and abilities we still barely understand, have an inherited memory of everyday matters important to survival, the ability of long distance communication through low frequency infrasound hidden to human ears and a mysterious perception that defies human explanation but is very real nevertheless. With measured strides they move quietly and gently in their world, despite their strength and size, surrounded by family and friends, but stalked by the agony of perpetual persecution from mankind in most of their ancient haunts. Where once elephants covered huge territories during their annual migrations, unerringly following the rain and the fodder, today they are being compressed into areas that deny them the space they need, cutting them off from family members and friends far a field, their ancient migratory routes now dogged by the encroachment of expanding human populations and their existence threatened by the avaricious greed of mankind for their ivory tusks. Yet, orphaned elephants who have witnessed the slaughter of their Mother and Elephant family can pass on to humans the important message of forgiveness and tolerance, for in their hearts they harbour both.
One huge Bull Elephant visited the Ithumba Orphans Rehabilitation facility in Northern Tsavo East National Park recently, and on his flank was a suppurating wound obviously caused by the poisoned arrows of an African Poacher who wanted to kill him for his ivory tusks, which he would sell to a Middleman Trader for K. shs. 25,000/- per kilo a great deal of money for an unemployed, impoverished tribesman. This Bull who was in his late thirties or forties obviously knew all about the human enemy, yet had been told by others that the Ithumba Stockade compound water trough was a safe place at which to drink and spray cool water over his suppurating wounds. Many of his friends often came to drink there observing the love and trust the Orphaned Young had for the human Keepers who replaced their lost Elephant family. We named this magnificent Bull, who had thick heavy tusks, Mshale (the Swahili word for Arrow) and we summonsed the Tsavo Mobile Veterinary Unit funded by the Trust thanks to a grant from Vier Pfoten, which operates throughout the Tsavo Conservation Area attending to the wounded and injured headed by a competent KWS Veterinarian in the person of Dr. Jeremiah Poghorn,. Dr. Poghorn drove to Ithumba and was able to immobilize Mshale the next time he turned up to drink at the Stockades. The poisoned arrows were removed from deep inside that great body, and having flushed the sepsis from the wound and packed it with antibiotic ointment and Green Clay, a long acting antibiotic injection was administered before Mshale was revived. Once back on his feet, he surveyed the scene with outspread ears, turned and wandered off into the bush with slow measured strides.
Following this intervention Mshale healed entirely, and became a regular wild visitor to drink at the Orphans Ithumba Stockade water trough, contemplating the Keepers who worked in the yard with interested curiosity but no malice. He was always accompanied by admiring Askaris but more recently his Askaris were none other than Trust Ex Orphan Bulls RAPSU and KAMBOYO, reared from an early age through our Nairobi Elephant Nursery, but now living wild as part of Ex Orphan Yattas Unit. The Trust is proud to have been able to save the life of this magnificent Tusker and even prouder that two of our own Boys have enjoyed the privilege of escorting him and learning from him the discipline that Elephant Bulls need to know.
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