Tuesday, 14 October 2014

Dortmund Zoo's director on a climbing Sumatran elephant and a very small elephant in Giza, Egypt

Naeema, an adult female (forest?) elephant in Giza Zoo, Egypt in the 1990s, only 1.8 metres high, and understood to be still living in that zoo. Photo: copyright Dr Frank Brandstätter

I recently got some unexpected Pygmy Elephants fan-mail from Dr Frank Brandstätter, Director of Dortmund Zoo.

Dr Brandstätter in the 1990s did some research for zoologist Wolfgang Böhme, who is mentioned in Pygmy Elephants in the context of 1980s reports of sightings of African pygmy elephants - "Zwergelefanten" in German sources co-authored by Böhme. Brandstätter notes that the 2005 standard work Mammal Species of the World lists Loxodonta pumilio (the alleged African pygmy elephant species or sub-species) "as a synonym for L. cyclotis" (the African forest elephant).

Pygmy Elephants looks into the great agility attributed to the alleged Asian pygmy elephant kallana. On the agility of one adult Asian elephant in particular, Brandstätter says, "when I was responsible for Neunkirchen Zoo, a small zoo in the Southwest of Germany, from 1995 to 2000 we had two Asian Elephants of which one, 'Chiana', was a female Sumatran Elephant (Elephas maximus sumatranus), aged approximately 30 yrs old by then. She had the typical features of a Sumatran Elephant: larger ears in comparison to the head, a shoulder height of 2 metres, a very light grey colouring and a flat forehead. She was very fond of climbing and even succeeded to climb and leave behind the massive steel fence (1.8 m) that surrounded the elephant enclosure."

"This she only did, when she was trying to reach interesting trees to far away for her to reach with the trunk. To climb the fence she had first to step with her forefeet on the upper steel bar and then to step with at least one of her hindfeet on the lower steel bar. When she was up there she simply lend over and fell to the other side. It was interesting for me to see, how good a climber an elephant could be."

The other elephant in the enclosure, "Samba", a female Indian Elephant (Elephas maximus maximus) was bigger and with typical outlines like the domed head and a high shoulder, and smaller ears, but approx. 2.4 m height, never tried to climb the fence."

"Both elephants had no problem climbing the steep and sandy hill, that was in their enclosure. They even liked to dig terraces in the slope where they could lay down and get up comfortably, which was much easier than lying on a flat surface." Both elephants have since died. He described this in a German-language article The latter I described in an article (BRANDSTÄTTER F. (1998): "Elefanten in Neunkirchen", Zoo magazin Süd Herbst/Winter 1998: 40-43. ). Sumatran elephants are regarded as the smallest accepted Asian elephant sub-species.

Brandstätter also described "a surprisingly small" female African elephant named Naeema, "as far as I could find out... still alive" in Giza Zoo (now Egypt Zoo) in Cairo, Egypt. He first encountered Naeema in 1992. Brandstätter soon came to regard Naeema as a forest elephant, based on her "reaching only 1.8 m in height, had a flat head and longer face and the typical round ears." He was kind enough to give me permission to reproduce his photo of Naeema above. 1.8 metres for an adult forest elephant is very small indeed, I've not heard any accurate measurements of any adult forest elephants being that small.

There's more from Brandstätter on the German-language Wesen der Edda. Band I. Was die Edda bisher verschwieg by archaeologist Rainer Mekelburg, on the possibility that "raging wild boar" in the mythology of both the Greeks and the Vikings were based on pygmy elephants or pygmy mammoths, and a reference to a small African elephant used for ploughing that appears in an illustration in Sebastian Münster's Cosmographia from 1545. A post on this will follow shortly.

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