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Monday, 28 July 2014

War Elephants Myth Debunked

Heads of asian and african elephants
Heads of asian and african elephants (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
I appreciate I am very late in here, but I was going through my archive emails and noticed this interesting piece of history. When I began collating my various pieces of research together and got down to writing my book, "The Legend of Salt and Sauce", I was immediately struck by how linked my story was to the history of domesticated elephants. Salt and Sauce were part of George Lockhart Snr's second group of elephants. Both he and his younger brothers (Sam and Harry) had established their reputations as elephant trainers, and the world of the turn of 20th century was abuzz with elephant acts. The methods being employed to create these performances had their roots tied up in the domestication of Asian elephants. African elephants were trained too and would also become popular much later in the 20th century, but at the time they did not have good a reputation for domestication.

By the time they were used in music hall, vaudeville and circus, Asian elephants already had over 1,500 years history in domestication, leading back to the logging culture of the Indus Valley and a time when they were employed as war elephants. African elephants had also been used in this manner. During the huge saga of wars that occurred following the death of Alexander the Great there is the only recorded incident of Asian elephants being pitted against their African counterparts. This battle - the Battle of Raphia between Ptolemy IV, the King of Egypt, and Antiochus III the Great, the King of the Seleucid kingdom - recorded by Greek historian, Polybius, where Antiochus's Asian elephants outmatched their curiously smaller counterparts in Ptolemy's army apparently led to Asian elephants being called Elephas maximus. This fascinating account by (e)science explains how DNA evidence revealed what species of African elephants were used at this fateful battle. 

Read the article here.

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