So, depending on your time zone, yesterday was the World Elephant Day, or today is the World Elephant Day for a few hours yet.
Elephants are majestic animals, creatures of wonder that have been with us throughout our history.
Transportation, heavy lifting, war machine, simple show of might and power, avataras of wise gods… humans have cast the elephants in a lot of roles.
And then there’s ivory, of course – a precious commodity, and the main reason why African elephants are an endangered species.
Now, when I think of elephants, there’s four things that come to my mind, as in a rush…
Then of course we all know how it ended, and yet the simple feat of crossing the Alps with his elephants is something that makes Hannibal into a history/pulp-lover’s icon1.
… and then of course Richard Halliburton
The young american that in 1936 crossed the Alps with his elephants.
Well, one elephant, actually.
At the time there was a lot of skepticism about the feasibility of Hannibal’s crossing, and so young adventurer Halliburton bought himself an elephants and then, well, crossed the Alps.
It was the first of many adventures – Richard Halliburton actually made a living out of adventuring. He wrote books, he had a radio program.
Another personal hero, and another man that loved elephants.
Are we kidding?
With Tantor, the elephant, he made friends. How? Ask not. But this is known to the denizens of the jungle, that on many moonlight nights Tarzan of the Apes and Tantor, the elephant, walked together, and where the way was clear Tarzan rode, perched high upon Tantor’s mighty back.
Certainly, for my generation, Tarzan movies where the first exposition to elephants in all their savage beauty – well before documentaries, circuses and the mandatory school trip at the zoo.
Much there was which Tarzan could make Tantor understand, and though the small talk of the wild was beyond the great, gray dreadnaught of the jungle, he stood with blinking eyes and gently swaying trunk as though drinking in every word of it with keenest appreciation. As a matter of fact it was the pleasant, friendly voice and caressing hands behind his ears which he enjoyed, and the close proximity of him whom he had often borne upon his back since Tarzan, as a little child, had once fearlessly approached the great bull, assuming upon the part of the pachyderm the same friendliness which filled his own heart.
One of the most persistent and fascinating legends about Africa, this again comes to me from Tarzan movies, but turns out – thanks to Wikipedia – that the legend was not something E.R. Burroughs (or some Tarzan movie screenwriter) made up.
Whether it’s the result of people chancing upon massive accumulation of bones, or from the observation that in times of famine elephants gather together to maximize feeding opportunity and therefore often die in group… whatever the origin, the elephants’ graveyard has been the Eldorado of ivory hunters for decades.
Today the idea that such a place exists is discarded.
But in this place we talk adventure, not ethology, and therefore we can dream – what if such a place existed?
Should we protect it – as Tarzan would surely do – or exploit it, using the old bones as a way to feed the market’s craving for ivory and so preserve the last remaining elephants?
- I’m making Hannibal’s entry short because my friend Claire is the Hannibal authority hereabouts, and I’m waiting for her post on the subject. ↩