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Kerala Elephants

Kerala has 700 elephants in captivity. Most of them are tuskers. Unlike the African elephants, Asian elephants has tusks only in male. The Elephants of Kerala are an integral part of the daily life in Kerala, south India. These Indian elephants are loved, revered, groomed and given a prestigious place in the state's culture scape.
Kerala Elephants

Almost all of the festivals in Kerala include at least one richly caparisoned elephant. Elephants carry the deity during annual festival processions and ceremonial circambulations in the temples. The temple elephants are decorated with gold plated caparisons (nettipattom), bells, and necklaces. People mounted on the elephants hold tinselled silk parasols (muthukuda) up high, swaying white tufts (venchamaram) and peacock feather fans (aalavattom) to the rhythm of the orchestra.

Most of the Hindu temples in Kerala own elephants, and most of these elephants are donated by devotees. The most famous Guruvayur temple in Kerala has more than 60 domesticated elephants and thus the Presiding Deity, Guruvayurappan is said to be the owner of world's largest number of domesticated elephants. They have constructed the world's only Elephant Palace in Punnathur Kotta, 3 km from the temple for their elephants. One of the famous elephants named Guruvayur Keshavan was an elephant of this temple. Seventeen elephants are engaged for the daily ceremonial rounds to the accomplishment of Panchari Melam in the Koodalmanikyam Temple in which the head gears of seven elephants are made of pure gold and rest of pure silver which is a uniqueness of this temple.

Each elephant has three mahouts, called pappan in the Malayalam language. Mahouts may be classified into three types, called in the Sanskrit language: Reghawan: Those who use love to control their elephants.
Yukthiman: Those who use ingenuity to outsmart them.
Balwan: Those who control elephants with cruelty.

The most important duty of the mahouts is to bathe and massage the elephant with small rocks, and husk of coconuts. In the monsoon, the elephants undergo Ayurvedic rejuvenation treatments which include decoctions with herbs, etc. It is called Sukha Chikitsa in the Malayalam language.

Elephants are respected as the form of Ganesh, son of Shiva.
On special occasions the elephants are worshipped and fed by devotees to please Ganesh for well being. Cerimonial feeding of 101 Elephants takes place in Trichur on 17th July.

Vadakkunathan Temple - Pooram Festival (Thrissur Pooram)
Considered to be a people's festival, the 'Pooram' is held at the Thekkinkadu Maidan outside the Vadakkunathan Temple in the Malayali month of Medam (April-May). Beautifully caparisoned elephants in two processions representing the Thiruvambadi and Paramekkavu temples, compete to create impressive sights and sounds. The celebration eventuates in the early hours of the dawn and continues till the break of the next day. Each group is allowed to perform with a maximum of fifteen elephants and extensive efforts are made by each party to insure the best elephants of South India and the most colourful and artistic cloaks, several kinds of which are raised on the elephants during the display. The commissioning of elephants and parasols is done while maintaining an utmost secrecy by each party to surpass the other. The mammoths decorated with gold ornaments, each ridden with three priests, are a splendid sight to behold. Tourists can crowd at the maidan with their loved ones and see the elephants stand still, ears flapping nonchalantly. Soon a magnificent work of fireplay will enchant you as hundreds of cylindrical drums of the Chenda Melam orchestra rise to a deafning crescendo. The procession of the Thiruvambadi Pooram to the grounds of Vadakkunnatha Temple and back is not only fascinating, but much more than that. Listen to the magical euphony of the 'Panchavadyam', a combination of five percussion and wind instruments, a joy to the ears that is to be felt to be described. The revelry continues all night with the Vadakkunathan Temple act as a backdrop in a blaze of coloured lights.

In Trichur Venkitadri family makes ornaments for elephants for three generations. They make gold plated caparisons, umbrellas, Alavattom, Venchamaram, necklace etc. They distribute 150 elephants with ornaments for temple festivals.

Elephants in General

The Asian Elephant is a herbivore that favors bamboo, berries, mangoes, bananas, shrubs, tree foliage, wood, apples, wild rice, and coconuts. Since their bodies only make use of half of the food they consume, the elephant must eat between 330 and 350 pounds of food each day. In addition, they drink 22 to 30 gallons of water each day. To maintain this huge rate of consumption, the elephants must constantly travel to new areas in search of food and water.

Asian elephant (called a bull) weighs 7,000-11000 pounds. It has very large feet that distribute this enormous weight over a large surface area. Thick soles on the feet absorb shock and cushion legs when walking and running. Males have huge tusks, which are actually incisor teeth made of ivory that can measure up to 5 feet in length. The elephant uses these tusks to dig for food, clear debris, and carry logs up to 1 ton in weight. These tusks are very unique.

Elephants are very intelligent animals. They have shown very good problem solving skills. However, elephants have very poor vision. Their small eyes can only see 30 to 60 feet. They make up for their poor sight with keen senses of hearing and smell. An elephant ’s large ears amplify sounds, letting it hear sounds that other animals cannot. Its sense of smell is thought to be superior to any other land animal. It also has a very good sense of touch. For such a large animal, the elephant is very deft, having the ability to balance on two legs if necessary to reach leaves in a tree. It also shows incredible balance when lifting large objects. Its sense of taste is much like that of other higher animals. It is able to tell the difference between food that tastes good and food that tastes bad, as well as food that tastes preferable.

Reproduction and growth : Elephants are slow and difficult to breed with an average of only 4 offspring during a lifetime of 60 years. As a result of the isolation of wild elephant populations, the gene pool has become depleted with the result being inbreeding. Breeding success in captivity is poor; however, there have been recent advances in the use of artificial insemination resulting in successful elephant births. Unfortunately the cost is very high and unaffordable to most elephant owners.

People often ask if African and Asian elephants can interbreed. Because the species live in separate areas of the world this would not naturally happen. However, in captivity it is possible and did happen at the Chester Zoo in England in 1979. The resulting offspring lived only 10 days. This has been the only recorded case of the two species breeding. It is unlikely that any offspring would survive because of the physiological differences between them.

Hearing and Sight : One of the main visible distinctions between the Asian and African elephant is the size of their ears. The Asian elephants ears do not exceed the height of the neck whereas the African elephants do. All elephants have acute hearing far superior to humans and their large ears act amplifiers. There is a knuckle found at the back of the ear, which is one of the softest parts of their bodies; mahouts, using their feet will steer or give commands to the animal. Elephants communication is rich in infrasound (ranging below what humans can hear) with sound traveling over many kilometers. These long distance infrasonic calls are used in times of stress, excitement, during separation and to relay sexual information. Elephants have have small eyes and poor eyesight so they can only see clearly up to about 30-40 feet (10m). Their sight tends to improve when they are in shaded areas. and have no canine teeth.

Teeth : Elephants do not have canine teeth but they have four high crowned molars with a complex structure for grinding their food. These teeth do not succeed one another vertically in the usual mammalian fashion, but come in successively from behind, one tooth at a time. Think of them like a conveyor belt moving slowly from back to front. When the foremost tooth is so worn down and is of no further use, it is pushed out, mostly in pieces and replaced at the rear by a new one. An elephant grows only six complete sets of these molars during its lifetime; the final set finishes growing in at about the age of 40.

Skin : The skin is about 1 inch (2.5cm) thick, however it is paper-thin on the insides of the ears, around the mouth and the anus. The skin contains no sweat glands and is soft to the touch. Skin care is an important part of an elephants lifestyle. Wallowing plays an integral role in elephant society; it also serves as a way to protect the skin from insect bites, sunburn and moisture loss. A bath is important to both captive and wild elephants. It not only cleans them, but is also relaxing to them. Working elephants have to rely on their mahouts to give them daily baths.

Diet : Elephants are herbivorous creatures and spend a large amount of time everyday eating up to 300 Kg of vegetation, including grass, leaves, fruit and the bark of trees. The length of an elephant's digestive system is around 100 feet. Elephants that are tamed are fed on leaves, sugarcane, bananas and rice gruel.

Range : The Indian Elephant is found across India in protected forests and in Nepal, Bhutan, Bangladesh and Myanmar.

Zoological Name: Elephas maximus

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