Plants and plant parts in the diet

The ancient Sangam literature (first-fourth centuries a.d.) of the Tamils makes numerous references to the elephant's fondness of bark. There is also an interesting observation that a pregnant elephant would abort its fetus if it fed on the young shoots of bamboo, one of the earliest references to a plant toxin (today, it is known that growing shoots of many plants may be protected from herbivory through the production of cyanogenic compounds). Most modern-day elephant observers in Africa and...

Ecology politics and culture

The origin of religious ideas can often be traced to the costs benefits of ecological processes, as anthropologist Marvin Harris has so elegantly done for a variety of cultural food taboos, including those for the pig in the Middle East and the cow in the Indian subcontinent. The imposition of supernatural taboos by a human culture on animal flesh may be the consequence of a deteriorating cost-benefit ratio for the use of a particular species by the community. Several thousand years ago, as...

Home range size

The big-game hunting literature of colonial Asia and Africa has many tales of the propensity of elephants to trek long distances using well-trodden paths, often across steep mountain slopes. Elephant bulls and family herds usually restrict their daily movements, as measured in a straight line, to a few kilometers or at most 10-20 km, but exceptional distances of 90-180 km have been observed in the dry Etosha region of Namibia. Of greater ecological interest is the range size of elephants on a...

Causes of death and mortality rates

Survivirship Curve Southern Sea Otter

The causes of death and the mortality rates are notoriously difficult to estimate for most wild mammalian species, including the elephant. Carcasses in the field are usually putrefied, making it difficult to identify the cause of death, especially if a pathogen is involved. Juveniles in the population are usually under-represented in a collection of remains discovered thus, estimation of age-specific mortality rates for the younger age classes, vital for understanding population dynamics,...