Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Elephants... Big elephants... Really Big

And now for something completely different...

While filming in Kerala, Southern India last month, I visited Punnathur Kotta - literally the "Elephant Fort". Once the palace of a local ruler, its now famous for being home to some 64 elephants, who work for and are owned by the local temple.

The oldest elephant here is around 75 years of age, and something of a megastar. There is an annual festival held here where hundreds of elephants from far and near come to take part in. As part of the festivities, a prize and title is handed out to the tallest elephant of them all. And this seasoned old guy took the title for many years until his retirement - not because of his superior height; he's not that tall. Instead, he learned somehow that if he raised his head and held it high, he would beat his taller rivals, and be declared the winner. And he became a legend because of it... Now that is style!

Anyway I was awestruck by the sheer size and girth of Kerala's elephants, especially the tusks that many of them were carrying. Having spent most of my elephant-watching time in Sri Lanka, it was quite an experience to be close to these giants - they just don't get that big in Sri Lanka (any more).

I recall an old tale about the ancient Kings of Sri Lanka donating the island's best tuskers to the Maharajahs of India as a goodwill token many centuries ago - and as a result, much of the modern-day progeny of South India's elephant population still carry genes from those exported Sri Lankan tuskers - well, that would explain a lot wouldn't it?

No wonder they're such beautiful beasts...

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