Saturday, 7 February 2009

10 facts about elephants you might not know:

  1. Elephants are not only the largest land animals, but also the second-tallest, after the giraffe.
  2. The Buddha’s mother dreamed a white elephant gave her a lotus flower on the eve of his birth. Possession of a white elephant has since been seen as a blessing by the monarchs of Southeast Asia. Because these animals were exempt from work, their upkeep was very expensive, and therefore also a bit of a curse. Hence the term ‘white elephant’ for prestige projects that cost (a lot) more money than they bring in.
  3. In South Asia, elephants were used to execute the condemned, by crushing them underfoot.
  4. The 37 war elephants used by Hannibal in his famous military campaign against Rome (in 218 BC) were probably North African forest elephants, a now extinct, smaller subspecies of the African elephant.
  5. As humans are either left- or right-handed, elephants are usually left- or right-tusked. The ‘master tusk’ is typically more worn down than the other one.
  6. The Prophet Muhammad was born in the Year of the Elephant (app. 570 AD), so named because the (Christian) king of Yemen attacked Mecca but failed to reach the Ka’aba because Mahmoud, a white war elephant, refused to enter the city. The story is related in the 105th surat of the Qur’an, entitled al-Fil (’the elephant’).
  7. Harun al-Rashid, the caliph of Baghdad, presented Charlemagne, emperor of the Frankish empire, with an elephant in 798. This elephant, named Abul-Abbas, actually only arrived in the empire’s capital of Aachen in 802. It was sent forth in battle against the Danish under king Godfred in 804 and died a few years later of pneumonia, possibly caught while swimming in the Rhine.
  8. Hunting of tusked elephants has increased the mating chances of elephants with the absent-tusk gene, raising the percentage of tuskless elephants from 1% (1930) to 30% now.
  9. Old elephants adapt to their last, worn-out set of teeth by moving to marshland with soft foliage. When their last teeth finally fall out, they die of starvation.
  10. Elephant Appreciation Day is on September 22nd.


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