Sunday, November 8, 2009
"Ptolemy Philadelphus was presented with a young elephant which understood the Greek language of the district where it had been brought up. Hitherto it was believed that elephants understood only the language spoken by Indians."
The tradition of training elephants goes back some 4 thousand years, developed in the Hindu valley, as far as the oldest painting and statues document. All over Southeast Asia the traditions of contagious and teaching wild elephants spread. In most cases the elephants were possessed by rich kings, for war or prestige, and the trainers formed into particular castes, trained and disciplined by superior trainers in the kings elephants stables, forming the elephant cavalries. By this time the elephant handlers were entitled great honor and prestige.
Formerly, an art of hunting tribes, that used to capture elephants now and then, it became a profession, where knowledge was handed down from old generations to younger. In large stables the riders were soldiers, and organized like a cavalry. Elephants were caught with lassos from tame elephants (mela) trapped in pits, or scared into large palisades (keddha).
After capture, a selection were done, and the most promising animals were kept to be tamed. They would be roped, and pulled out from the Keddha, with help of specially trained elephants called Kungkhies. After a period in a Kraal, a cage with wooden bars, were the elephants could be approached in safety, and where the first contact was made with food, water and rewards, as well as punishment for agressivness, the elephants would undergo training with Kungkies and experienced mahouts. The training included being overpowered and pulled down in lying position with help of ropes, but there was less hitting than what people in general expect. The more an elephant gets hit during this period, the more dangerous is the work for the trainer, and the longer time it will take to reach a stage, where the trainer can approach the elephant, and stand beside it, without being attacked. The sooner the captured elephant starts to cooperate, the sooner the work gets safer for the mahouts, and the training progress develops. After some three or four months, the captured elephants would be taken to work with the other tame elephants.
The tradition slowly spread towards the west.
Hannibal, the Cartesian warlord, used war elephants 264 BC against the Romans, and again they were used 262 BC on Sicily, 250 BC. (28 elephants) at Palermo, Sicily, 217 BC. 73 African elephants were battled against Asian Elephants. (War between Ptolemaios IV-Anthiochus II)
More than a century later, in the battle of Thapsus (February 6 46 BC), Julius Caesar armed his fifth legion (Alaudae) with axes and commanded his legionaries to strike at the elephant's legs. The legion withstood the charge and the elephant became its symbol. Thapsus was the last significant use of elephants in the West
The first historically recorded elephant in northern Europe was the animal brought by emperor Claudius, during the Roman invasion of Britain in AD 43, to the British capital of Colchester.
Around AD also African elephants were used in wars and in arenas, but they seem during this period however, never have been trained "south of the Sahara", except for Ethiopia and Somali, where famous hunting tribes became skilled with elephants. Greece and Rome had arenas permanent circuses, and one of the more famous was owned by Queen Hat-Shep-Sut of Egypt.
Among the earlier Zoological Gardens in Europe after the fall of the Roman empire, was the three menageries owned by emperor Charlemagne, (Karl the Great) Aix-la-Chapelle, Nijmegen and Ingelheim. In 797 he received the elephant Abul-Abbas as a gift from Harun-ar-Rashid.
In 1255 Louis IX of France gave an elephant to Henry III of England, for his menagerie in the Tower of London. It was the first elephant to be seen in England since Claudius' war elephant, and is claimed to have died in 1257 from drinking too much wine.
The elephant Hanno, or Annone, was a white elephant presented by king Manuel I of Portugal to Pope Leo X on the occasion of his coronation in 1514. He died, probably of an intestinal obstruction misdiagnosed as angina, with Pope Leo at his side in 1518. His story is told in Silvio Bedini's The Pope's Elephant
Hansken, a female elephant from Ceylon that became famous in early 17th century Europe, was touring through many countries demonstrating circus tricks, and sketched by Rembrandt and Stefano della Bella.