The Babyhood of Wild Beasts/Chapter 5

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The Babyhood of Wild Beasts by Georgia McNally
Chapter 5

CHAPTER V

BABY ELEPHANTS

A BABY Elephant is indeed a most interesting animal. He is a helpless little fellow not even strong enough to eat without his mother’s help for several days after birth; but he is a wonder to look at.

His soft, wrinkled skin is covered with down, and his forehead with long black hair, the inheritance from his primeval ancestors who roamed over the North away back in the dim ages.

At birth the baby Elephant weighs from 175 to 200 pounds and is about two feet six inches tall at the shoulders. He is dark brown in colour but coal black when fresh from his bath. His trunk is short and small and of very little use to him while he is a baby. It grows in size and agility with use. His eyelashes are long and shaggy and give his hazel eyes a comical expression.

When a few months old the hair and down disappears, leaving his skin naked.

He is as full of tricks as a monkey. To raise a sudden yell of alarm and bring his ever anxious mother, wild with rage, to his side seems to him a great joke. To steal some delicacy, although he is too young to eat it, fills him with amusement. To nag and worry young animals less strong than himself is indeed a pleasant pastime for baby Elephants to indulge in.

They depend on their mothers’ care for several years, for they grow slowly and are unable to fend for themselves until four or five years old.

The baby Elephant suckles with its mouth like any mammal and not with its trunk, as many suppose.

Elephants are models of domestic virtue; for the parents’ devotion to their children is as great as their love for each other. Other Elephants—who are not members of the family—treat the young calves with great kindness.

The patience of the old Elephants is severely tried, for the calves are unusually frisky. They are up to all sorts of mischief. They like to run between the legs of their elders and nudge and but them from below.

They are exceedingly playful little scamps and like to have wrestling matched with the Elephant drivers. When a man was knocked down, the little beast would trample him with delight.

A big baby Elephant that I know of ran away from a circus one night. When morning came they set out to find him. In the late afternoon he was overtaken twenty miles from where he started. He was ruining every potato field he could find. He dug up several acres but didn't eat many. He wanted the fun of doing all the damage possible on his stolen holiday. When he saw his keeper approaching, he ran madly for the river and tried to hide himself under the water with only his trunk visible. He was promptly taken back to the circus and soundly scolded.

I want to tell you about Hattie, who is my friend's chum. He has known her since she was a helpless bundle such as I've just described to you. Their friendship began when he presented her with a harmonica and gently played into her big flapping ear. Hattie liked the sound mensely and soon learned to hold the harmonica in her trunk and play some elephant music all by herself. Following this exhibition of temperament came some wonderful music on a horn and military march beats on the kettle drum. She dances the elephantine waltz and sits up on her haunches and takes tea at a dainty tea table. She picks my friend up with her wonderful trunk and sets him up on her big, broad head and takes him for a joy ride.

The African Elephant has never been trained as his Indian brother has. This is due, in a great measure, to his great size and the cost of feeding him. That he is easily trained has been proven by that most remarkable trainer, Carl Hagenbeck, who trained five half-grown African elephants to carry men and burdens within twenty-four hours.

The memory of these great pachyderms (thick-skinned animals) has always been a question of interest. Hagenbeck writes of a sick Elephant that was under his care and who proved himself worthy of consideration and respect. The elephant’s name was "Bosco." He was affectionate and intelligent and would call his benefactor with loud, trumpeting tones whenever he heard his footstep or voice.

Bosco was an apt pupil and in six weeks’ time had mastered the tricks taught him and went on the stage.

Two years later Mr. Hagenbeck happened to be in the same town were "Bosco" was performing. He inquired where the great beast was quartered and, seizing a handful of sandwiches, hurried to the stables. On reaching the door, he called in loud tones, "Halloo, Bosco!" and instantly the big herbivore emitted a joyful cry. As Hagenbeck approached him, "Bosco" began gurgling in his throat, after the manner of all his kind when anything pleases them very much. As soon as he could reach Mr. Hagenbeck, he seized him by the arm with his trunk, drew him close to him and licked his face, all the time gurgling loudly.

The Elephant is herbivorous. His food is chiefly grass or hay, tender leaves and succulent water plants. He loves sweets and dainties and is exceedingly fond of sweet fruits.

He is very fond of the water. He likes to swim below its surface with only his trunk above like the conning pole of a submarine boat. He bathes often, spraying the water over his back with his trunk, and expresses his joy with loud purring sounds, like some giant cat.

He plasters himself with clay or mud to ward off the attacks of vicious and poisonous flies.

In India the Elephant is used as a beast of burden. They are used in the rice fields to do the heavy work in the same way horses and cattle are used in our corn and wheat fields. They also load vessels with great timbers and other products of the Far East. Elephants are often seen caring for the children, rocking the baby, and protecting the family he lives with in every conceivable way.

He serves both the rich and the poor of India. From carrying the royal howdahs loaded with noblemen on his back through the jungle in quest of tigers and big game to performing the simplest duties for the humbler of mankind, our friend the Elephant can nearly always be depended on.

There are rogue Elephants, to be sure, as there
Little "Coco" was caught running wild with his mother on the Island of Ceylon. Last year I met him at Barnum and Bailey’s Circus. He introduced himself by gathering wisps of hay from the floor, rolling them into a neat bundle and presenting his gift to me with his long, sensitive trunk. He took to civilization like a duck to water and has developed into the cleverest trick animal in captivity.
Our African Elephant is distinguished from its Indian cousin by its great, fanlike ears and corrugated trunk. The females of this species are constructed to be well-nigh tireless. The life of the average elephant is one hundred years, and in all probability the animal never lies down during his entire lifetime.
are vicious and insane men; but they are the exception and not the rule.

Elephants are our largest land animals. They inhabit the warm sections of Asia and Africa. One of the tallest wild specimens shot was eleven feet eight and one-half inches at the shoulders and weighted six and one-half tons. Jumbo was said to be twelve feet when he died. A medium sized elephant weighs three tons, or as much as fifty men. They do not get their full growth until thirty years of age and often live over a century. The dwarf elephant of the Congo is an interesting specimen.

This most remarkable animal is man's best friend. His great size and strength permit him to be very independent and it is only through love and gentle treatment that he will serve man to the best of his ability. For intelligence, sagacity and great endurance, he ranks first in the beast kingdom. He is loving and faithful and we hope he will be protected as he deserves to be and not shot wantonly as has been done by silly people who call themselves sportsmen.