How are elephants as strong as herbivores?


Elephants are the largest living land animals. All elephants still alive today are endangered in terms of their population, as their habitat is constantly shrinking and until recently they were hunted for their valuable ivory tusks. Elephants are without exception herbivores and feed primarily on grass and leaves, and when there is a shortage of food they eat branches, thorn bushes and similar food. No animal is as closely linked to Sri Lankan life as the elephant.

A calf weighs up to 100 kilograms at birth and the gestation period is 20 to 22 months, the longest of all land mammals. Depending on the species, an elephant can average between 2 and 5 tons of body weight and a size of up to 4 meters.

The Asian elephant occurs in two subspecies: Ceylonian elephant and Ceylonian marsh elephant. The number of pachyderms has decreased by 70% since the beginning of the 20th century and is currently estimated at 3,100-4,400 specimens, plus around 400-600 domesticated elephants who work in rubber and coconut plantations.

The most popular foods are bananas, sugar cane and rice plants. A fully grown jumbo weighing 5 t devours an average of 200 kg a day.

No war and no festival took place without elephants. Due to the good training of the Jumbos, they were known beyond their borders and a coveted export hit. Even the Medici Pope Leo X received an elephant as a gift from the King of Portugal in 1514. However, the ivory made it a popular prey for colonial big game hunters. Today only 5% of the elephants in Sri Lanka have tusks in contrast to the south Indian elephants with 90%.

The elephant god Ganesha is considered to be the protector of the jungle, and a white elephant used to be a guarantee of happiness for kings. Numerous sanctuaries are decorated with elephant reliefs. The most honorable job on the island has the most beautiful and powerful elephant, who is allowed to carry the copy of the tooth relic through the streets of Kandy on the annual Esala Perahera as "Maligawa Atha" - wrapped in the finest cloth, accompanied by elephants also decorated with the finest fabrics.

The Pinnawela orphanage for elephants, 10 km east of Kegalle, has existed since 1975. It is the island's most popular tourist attraction. Today over 65 animals live on a 9 hectare area at Ma Oya. Most of them are victims of a difficult to resolve conflict with the growing population. Because their living space is becoming more and more restricted, herds of elephants destroy fields or even farmers' houses. The residents try to drive away the gray giants by fire or rifle shots. The elephants that have become orphans are raised in the orphanage, later come back into the wild or start out as working elephants. Pinnawela is also one of the most successful rearing stations in Asia.


Paper made from elephant dung

Due to its rapid food burning, the elephant leaves behind enormous amounts of feces every day. The sun-dried manure is collected and mixed with rice meal, tea scraps and, most importantly, cinnamon, mashed and cooked for several hours. The paper is then drawn from this pulp. The handmade paper has a soft, fibrous structure. Each sheet of paper is different, depending on what the elephants ate before. The production follows ecological principles. No bleaching agents or chemical additives get on the paper. Only natural substances are used. The paper is processed into gift or letterhead paper, as a lampshade or photo album. This is a welcome alternative source of income for residents in the area and it helps ensure the survival of the Sri Lankan elephants.