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Man and Elephant working Together!

The relationship between humans and elephants has had its ups and downs.

17th century the Moghul Emperor Jehangir:
In past centuries, the forests of India literally teemed with elephants. Although no census or estimates of the wild population exist, it is said that in the early 17th century the Moghul Emperor Jehangir had 113,000 captive elephants throughout his empire. Extrapolating from this figure, it is easy to imagine a wild population comfortably in excess of a million.

The Wild side of Elephants:

Some people are out to destroy them, thinking that hunting of these massive animals is the ultimate thrill. Others don’t care if they are extinct but in the mean time they will slaughter elephants in order to make money from the sell of their ivory tusks.

While for the most part humans and elephants work well together, that isn’t always the case. When we hear stories of these animals being violent we have to remember that they are wild animals. The fact that we have become used to seeing them around people doesn’t mean that as a whole they have become domesticated. The temperament of each one as well as the personality is very different.

In many areas of the world including Asia, elephants are working animals. They are well cared for though with days off in between to help them cope. Females don’t have to work once they are pregnant and there is always plenty of food for these animals. They have the job of moving heavy logs and other items in areas where there isn’t machinery to do it.

For the most part elephants react very well to humans. Yet the won’t tolerate being treated terribly. There are known attacks of humans by elephants that have been carefully calculated and planned out. Some of them have destroyed entire villages after their own herds were attacked by people. Zoo staff and circus trainers can be attacked too for not offering proper care to the elephants that they are responsible for.

What is interesting is that there aren’t cases of elephants attacking people without being provoked except when these animals have consumed alcohol. Research on this indicates that becoming intoxicated changes their moods and their thinking process as it does for humans. This can make elephants as erratically.

There are some heroic stories as well of elephants stepping in to help humans. It can be to protect them from animals including other elephants at times. They have been able to help them when natural disasters occur, moving heavy items to get to people and to rescue them. Most researchers aren’t surprised by these acts at all though. This is because they elephant is well known to being intelligent and capable of experiencing the same emotions as humans.

Humans are the only real predators of elephants. The fact that we continue to destroy the natural habitat where these animals live is upsetting. Thanks to the efforts of many conservation groups pressure is being placed on governments and on society to stop these changes. They are working to keep the remaining population of elephants alive and well out there in the wild. Only time will tell though if their efforts are enough to make it successful or not.

However, the management of elephant populations in the wild isn’t an easy task to accomplish by any means. In some locations the efforts don’t go anywhere as they are fighting against other groups that want to save gorillas in the same area. There isn’t enough food for both to remain there so one of them has to be relocated or they will likely die out. Humans are intervening and making such decisions instead of letting nature balance it all out.

Effective policies have to be put in place for management as well. Buying enough land for them to be able to move around and to survive out there is important. Management efforts have to be carefully in place too so that there aren’t too many elephants trying to live in the same place and to compete for the same food sources.

The elephants are engaged in the following types of work:

India has a long history of elephants in domestication with the animals participating in many areas of Indian life from war and ceremonial use to transport, construction and logging.

Temple Elephants
A number of temples provide a permanent home for elephants, the presence of an elephant greatly enhances the temple’s status and money raising capability. However, temple elephants are not by any means well-cared for and some are permanently chained to the same spot for their entire existence.

Ceremonial and Festival use
During festival season in India, many towns and villages hold religious events at which it is desirable to have one or more elephants present. Often the elephants are richly caparisoned with decoration and colour. any of these elephants are hired out by private owners. The elephants often have to work every day of the week standing in the hot sun while noise and movement occurs all around them. It is exceptionally difficult work. After the festival is over, the elephants will face a long walk to the next festival.

Begging street elephants
Many owners and mahouts use the elephants to exploit the public’s reverence for the animals by using them to beg for money on the streets. Conditions in the cities are totally unsuitable for elephants and the life is exceptionally hard.

Tourist elephants
Approximately 100-120 elephants work in the tourist trade giving rides. Of these, 87 work at the Amber Fort in Jaipur and are reportedly overworked and in poor condition.

Forest Department Elephants
These elephants are largely used by Rangers to patrol protected areas.

Circus elephants
Elephants are highly intelligent and after training they are able to showcase many performances like painting with their tusks, playing football, etc. This is highly entertaining among the kids.

Zoo elephants
In 2009 India's Central Zoo Authority, a government body that owns all of India's zoos, mandated that all elephants be removed from the nation's zoos and circuses. The authority issued the order, which will eventually affect about 146 animals, after a five-year study by a citizens' committee found zoo life can be profoundly unhealthy for the animals. Unfortunately, the elephants have had no place to go.

India has some of the strictest elephant legislation in Asia, which should provide adequate protection for the country’s 3,600 domesticated elephants. However the laws are rarely adhered to or enforced and many of India’s captive elephants suffer as a result.

Captive Elephants:
Elephants kept under private ownership contribute a large percentage of captive elephants in India. These elephants belong to specific age-class indicating the interest of owners in commercial exploitation. Elephants under private ownership play a critical role in defining welfare status and the overall welfare of elephants in captivity. Other captive elephant management regimes, for e.g., forest camp, zoo and temple and even circus come under a structured management, have specific roles and could be held responsible for management of elephant. But elephants kept under private ownership have no structure, i.e. are individual based.

Negative conditions of elephant in Captive:

  • Keeping Absence of suitable captive environment, varying to a very high degree from the recommended, for elephants with private owners
  • Heavily exploited and overworked, for logging or rented out to temples or functions
  • Acquired illegally in most cases
  • Multiple elephants often under a single ownership certificate
  • Severe constraints of space/running water/shade/veterinary facilities Total isolation from con-specifics
  • Brutal methods of subjugation and training
  • Public and mahout safety issues

Learning from Elephants:
Elephants cooperate and help each other, Elephants work together as a team and understand when they need help from a partner. This is the finding of a jumbo-sized experiment.

In the test, two animals had to work together - each pulling on a rope in order to tug a platform towards them. Scientists claim that elephants' understanding of the need to co-operate shows that they belong in an "elite group" of intelligent, socially complex animals. Here's footage of the elephants in action: Link

Dr Joshua Plotnik said it was exciting to find a way to study elephant behaviour in such detail: "We see them doing amazing things in the wild, but we can see from this that they're definitely co-operating. When we released one elephant before the other, they quickly learned to wait for their partner before they pulled the rope. They learnt that rule [to wait for the other elephant to arrive] quicker than chimps doing the same task. And one elephant - the youngest in the study - quickly learned that it did not have to do any pulling to get a treat. She could just put her foot on the rope, so her partner had to do all the work."

The Asian elephants (Elephas maximus) had already been taught that pulling on a rope brought a food reward on a platform within reach.

However, the research changed the apparatus so that one rope was threaded all the way around a platform - like a belt through belt loops - so if one end was tugged, the rope simply slipped out and the platform did not budge. However, if two elephants each took an end of the rope and pulled, the platform moved towards them and they could could claim their treats.



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