Books, Learning, Lists

E is for Elephants – Facts, Stories, and Reads

Elephants are definitely a big(!) part of India. Like cows (in my last post), elephants are embedded in the Indian diaspora. This is attested by the fact that India is home to over 50% of the Asian wild elephant population. And of course, we cannot forget the elephant-headed god, Ganesha, who is the god of beginnings, the patron of arts and sciences, the god of intellect and wisdom, and the remover of obstacles.

Symbolism:

The elephant is regarded as a symbol of power, intelligence, longevity, and good luck across various cultures around the world. With the elephant-headed god in India to the use of elephants in Feng Shui for protection, luck, and fertility, elephants definitely denote all things good.

In Hinduism, Indra, the god of thunderstorms and rain, is depicted riding a white elephant named Airavata. Airavata helps Indra by creating the clouds from the waters of the underworld.

In Buddhism, the story goes that the Buddha’s mother had a dream where a white elephant appeared with a lotus in hand, and entered her womb. Eventually, Queen Maya gave birth to the child who would grow up to be the Gautama Buddha.

In addition to these religions, elephants also find their place in other religions and cultures.

elephants everywhere
My mantelpiece elephants that triggered this post. That adorable guy on the right is from Indonesia – courtesy, my parents!

Engaging Elephant Facts:

Here are a few cool, fun facts that will endear elephants even evermore…

  • I love that elephant herds are matriarchal. They are certainly wise! The head matriarch leads a herd of 10-15 elephants and makes all decisions for the group.
  • Elephants have the longest gestation period of any mammal – 22 months. The mother picks babysitters to take care of her cub while she ensures she eats enough to feed her cub.
  • The elephant’s truck has more than 40,000 muscles (can be upto over 150,000 as well per some sources). These makes the trunk sensitive enough to pick up small objects and strong enough to lift heavier items.
  • While elephants do not have the best eyesight or hearing, their sense of smell is among the best in the animal kingdom.
  • Elephants rarely get cancer. Researchers link this to the 20 pairs of the p53 gene (as opposed to the single pair humans have of the same). In studies, these genes have shown to have cancer-inhibiting properties. Hopefully, nature can provide a cure for this ’emperor of all maladies’.
  • Elephants cannot jump or run, but boy, can they swim!
  • Elephants grieve for their departed, even the lone unknown elephants that they might come across. When the “elephant whisperer” Lawrence Anthony, died in March 2012, the herds of elephants he had worked hard to save and communicated with, walked miles across the Thula Thula reserve to his home at the edge of the reserve to mourn him.
  • Elephants can recognize themselves. This puts them in a select set of animals, including humans and dolphins, that have passed the mirror test..
  • Elephants and peanuts? Now, that one is not true..

And Then Other Things Related to Elephants:

While elephants seem to be revered so much across nations, on the flip side, they are on the endangered list for years now. An increase in human population means reduced habitats for all animals, including these majestic beasts. In addition, humans continue to poach them for their tusks, their meat, their skin, and …..

So before they slip further down than endangered, we as responsible world citizens, do need to act to protect this gentle giant. And there are so many ways we can do this. Some examples to help – via organizations like Save the Elephants, Born Free, and the World Wildlife Fund .

This quote from basketball great Yao Ming definitely caught my eye.

Only elephants should own ivory – Yao Ming

And while on the one side, there are stories we hear that make our hearts cry out at the pain these animals must endure (like this one about the loneliest elephant that lived and died alone), I am glad for stories like this one – about villagers working to unite a wild elephant with his family – that cheered my heart today.

h/t for facts and stories gathered above: From here, here, and here mainly.

More elephants, and Lord Ganesha around my home..

Elephantine Literature:

And elephants abound in the world of literature too.. Did you think I wouldn’t mention books? Well, nope! This list includes books I have read and those I have placed on my to-read list.

You can click on the links of the book titles to buy the book for yourself or for someone you know will enjoy the read. Again, these are books across age-ranges and I have included the same for your information. When no age ranges are included, they are reads for adults.

elephantine reads for all ages - books about, featuring elephants
  1. The Unexpected Inheritance of Inspector Chopra . A truly delightful read that I rated 4.5/5 here. Inspector Chopra has an elephantine sidekick to help him solve his cases.
  2. Small as an Elephant by Jennifer Richard Jacobson – for ages 10 – 14. This sounds like a book that will tug at my heartstrings throughout.
  3. The stories of Babar, the elephant – for ages 4 – 8. We still have a couple of Babar books that I held on to though the kids have long outgrown them (well, they spark joy, as do all the other books I am holding on to!)
  4. The White Elephant – A Burmese Folktale – for ages 4-8. This is a treasured book I have in my library – a gift from my uncle years (tbh, decades)ago.
  5. Meet Miss Fancy by Irene Latham – for ages 5-8. I just added this to my list a few days ago on finding it on another blog.
  6. The Dr.Seuss Stories featuring Horton – for ages 5 – 9 (and up!). This includes Horton Hears a Who and Horton Hatches The Egg
  7. Rudyard Kipling’s The Elephant’s Child
  8. Mo Willem’s Elephant and Piggie stories – For 5- 8 years. Mo Willem’s books find their place in many a little one’s library and rightly so!
  9. Ganesha’s Sweet Tooth by Sanjay Patel – for ages 4- 8. Sanjay Patel’s illustrations are eye-catching to say the least, and this story of Ganesha with a twist is sure to enchant young readers.
  10. The Magician’s Elephant by Kate de Camillio – for ages 8 – 12. I have read other books by her and I know I won’t be disappointed when I read this one too
  11. What Elephants Know by Eric Dinerstein – for ages 8 – 12. The cover caught my attention first, and then the editorial reviews.
  12. The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate -for ages 8 – 12. My kids loved this read, and I am yet to read it.
  13. An Elephant in the Garden by Michael Morpurgo – for ages 10 -14. This one is inspired by a true story during WWII and that inspires me all the more to read it.
  14. Chained by Lynne Kelly – for ages 8 -12. This one is going to turn out to be hearttugging .
  15. Water for Elephants by Sara Gruen – for so long on my TBR now that I have forgotten about it
  16. West With the Night by Beryl Markham – I discovered it now and reading what Ernest Hemingway said about her after he read this book, “But [she] can write rings around all of us who consider ourselves writers. “, makes me want to read this autobiographical read of a fascinating woman even more.
  17. Rosy is my Relative by Gerald Durrell – for all ages, based on what I have read of it so far. A hilarious read great for reading aloud, And I have enjoyed reading Durrell before so I will be adding this one to my TBR as well

So which of these books have you read? Any other suggestions you have for me? Do let me know in the comments.

Linking to ABCWednesday

40 thoughts on “E is for Elephants – Facts, Stories, and Reads

  1. Elephants are certainly majestic creatures. Before I gave birth to my first-born, a friend brought me a present from Thailand: a carved wooden elephant mommy with a baby elephant inside her tummy. It was such a special and symbolic gift.

  2. yay! I love elephants! my son had an affinity for elephants when he was a baby, so I introduced him to Ganesha through mythology and folktales. I took as a good sign for him in all ways. I found Water for Elephants to be a fun read – there were some sad parts, for sure, but it was a good story that I enjoyed. give it a go, it’s worth it!

    1. thank you for the comment about Water for Elephants, will be reading it, hopefully sooner than later.. And love that you introduced your son to all things elephants, including Ganesha ..

  3. Thank you for such an informative post – so many great facts about elephants! We love elephants in our house, in fact it is the theme for our babies nursery.

  4. These are good to know facts about elephants. I had no idea about it. Thank you so much for sharing. You just made me appreciate more the elephants that I saw from the zoo.

  5. This was a really informative post on elephants. I have a stupid question: Is this why elephants are sometimes used in Indian weddings? Also, I looked through your books list and I just finished Water for Elephants. It was such a great book I could not put it down! I’m not sure if you have heard of Jodi Picoult, but she wrote a book centered on elephants called Leaving Time. The book is fiction, but she did extensive research to understand the cognitive and emotional side of elephants for the book. It was very interesting to read how complex they are, both cognitively and behaviorally. From my memory of that book, I can definitely see how the elephant is a symbol for some cultures.

    1. Thank you!
      Regarding your question about elephants in Indian weddings (and certainly not a stupid one): I am guessing you are referring to when the groom arrives on a horse or an elephant for the wedding – this is called the baraat and is traditionally part of the Hindu wedding ceremony in North India… and yes, the symbolism of elephants did play a role in their use in weddings.
      I will check out Jodi Picoult’s book – that sounds interesting…

  6. Nice “deep dive” on elephants and “Elephantine Lit” – I found an elephant-related short story via deal me in in the book, “A Knowing Look” and other stories (linked at my old blog post https://bibliophilica.wordpress.com/2014/08/16/rebecca-emins-class-of-1990/ ). It was rather poignant but I remember liking the book cover too.

    I don’t know much about the Pantheon of Hindu Gods, but I do remember when I did read up on them a little bit that I decided Ganesha was my favorite. 🙂

    1. thank you Jay for one more short story book to add to my list 🙂 And yes, Ganesha is truly likable and a (universal) favorite. I have two more weeks to catch up on now for Deal Me In. I have both the reading and the reviewing to complete.

  7. I’ve always found elephants to be very interesting, this is such great information about them. I didn’t know they carried their baby for 22 months. I have a friend that is obsessed with elephants Ill be sure to pass this on to her. Thank you for sharing.

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