Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Elephants in Culture

Today, August 12th, is World Elephant Day. So I thought it would be a perfect time to talk a little about the elephant in culture. This, of course, is an important aspect of the theme behind Disney's Animal Kingdom. The park's theme is not really conservation or zoological education. Those surely are part of the theme, but the theme is even broader: The relationship between man and the natural world.

Statue of an elephant at the Boma on the Wild Africa Trek

And elephants are an important aspect of this. It's no secret that elephants are big, intelligent and unique. They are caring of their young and each other.  It should not come as a surprise that where elephants occur naturally (Africa, Southeast Asia, the Indian subcontinent) they are an integral part of the culture and mythology.

on the bridge leading to Anandapur

Ganesh is the Hindu elephant god. He is the remover of obstacles, the patron of both art and science, and even the god of beginnings. With such broad domains, he is one of the most revered deities in Hinduism. Buddha often references elephants in his teachings.

wall d├ęcor in Harambe

Obviously, the animals were domesticated and even used in war. We all know the story of Hannibal crossing the Alps on elephants. We have heard the history of Alexander the Great's conquest of the Middle East into even India fighting elephant cavalries.

The maharajahs used elephants

In Africa, elephants are well respected and even in some cultures feared. Tribes in some places would migrate away from herds avoiding them as much as possible. Other cultures believed the spirits of their ancestors were carried by elephants. Each tribe has a different take, but in all circumstances they were a fundamental part of life.

Even Mickey and Minnie are impressed

Today, elephants are some of the most popular zoo animals. They are the highlight of any African safari. People love them. They love to watch them. Despite all of this, poaching is on the rise and the species is in trouble, so on this day, we should reflect on how important they are to the culture of humans.

By Safari Mike

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