Saturday, November 26, 2011

Elephants at Dubare

We visited Dubare Elephant Park, Coorg recently. The park is run by the Government of Karnataka and is on the banks of the Cauvery. You take a short boat ride (ETT - 3 minutes) from one end of the bank to the camp for Rs. 20 a head.
(click on the images below for a bigger picture)

The elephants for the famous Mysore Dassara celebrations used to be trained here. Elephants were also trained for to take part in logging operations - something that's now done by machines, forcing the elephants to take iVRS and spending their time here. 

The trip was slightly disappointing due to the promise-delivery difference. For example, they charge for "elephant bathing" - but you'd be disappointed if you thought they'll give you a chance to do that. They just allow you to see it. But you'll bump into people telling you with a proud smile that they bathed the elephants, lopped coconut shells and all. Maybe it's dependent on the crowd. To be fair their website doesn't claim that you can bathe the elephants but the guys at the counter do.

Similarly "elephant feeding" doesn't mean you get to feed them. You just get to see the cart-loads they gulp down. The obedient elephants won't even accept a banana from you if you don't go through the keeper! The best part is that the bananas are given by the department themselves for you to feed - only to be rejected by the elephant. Didn't the elephants like us? Anyway, we ended up gulping the bananas down. The elephant rides had a waiting queue of at least 45 minutes and we didn't have that kind of time. So we spent about 1.5 hours and exited.

On the bright side, the trip gave us a great chance to see elephants up-close. As in, cageless touch-feel distance.

And also enough to wonder at Mother nature's design. As in:

1) The elephant's trunk contains 100,000 individual muscles (not skeletal muscles). Damn! Damn! Yes, two damns! And the trunk is sensitive enough to pick up a pin. You bet. With 100,000 muscles.

2) The trunk can hold about 8 litres of water at once.

3) They have a total of 26 teeth (not two! - the tusks are like the human incisors) and unlike humans, they have about 6 cycles of dentition. 

4) They weigh about about 3000 kgs; 150 kgs of food and 80 litres of water a day keeps an elephant the giant it is.

5) They sleep for just about two hours a day. Why? Because they spend about 18 hours a day looking for and chomping their veggies.

6) To supplement their diet, they dig up soil for salt and minerals. Entire hills have been carved out due to this action! More about that here.

7) The skin feels tough to touch (the word pachyderm means thick skin) but it has so many nerve endings that it makes it sensitive enough to detect even a fly sitting on it. The pink coloration that you see in the snap below is due to depigmentation - characteristic of Asian elephants.

8) Elephants don't perspire. So they use their ears as fans which cools the blood near the ears by as much as 6 degrees Celsius which is then circulated to the rest of  the body

9)  They swim well but cannot jump or gallop; They need to have at least one foot on the ground.
10) They have a gestation period of 22 months. And here i was thinking 9 months was tough. 

11) They live in matriarchal groups led by (mostly) the oldest/largest female

So much for one animal. Great Mother Nature. What also amazes me is the courage of that first human group to have thought to domesticate this great animal.

...and oh, the wonders of the internet. There's a page that gives you tips on keeping your very own pet elephant! Best part:

Prevent the elephant from getting chilly after a shower

Facts and figures given above pertain to the Indian Asian Elephant (elephas maximus indicus). For difference between the African and Asian elephant see here. They even belong to different genera ! (loxodonta and elephas for African and Asian respectively. That seemed surprising to me as a layman but Wikipedia also says that there are no hard and fast rules for genus classification. Before this gets any more confusing, am going to stop.

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