Elephants and Kings

Elephants and Kings

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In this book, renowned historian of India Tom Trautmann presents an ecological history of Indian kingship in which elephants play a surprising role. Despite the fact that the economic landscape of ancient India was tied to agricultural fields, and kings depended on the taxation of farmers, they were also tied to forests because of the institution of war elephants. Given the enormous food requirements and slow maturation of elephants it was not economic to raise them from birth. Rather, they were captured as wild adults at age 20 and trained for warfare. Thus kings had to have forests containing wild live elephants and they had to protect them from hunting. This unusual form of domestication was devised in India around 1000 BC and explains the persistence of elephants in India as opposed to China where the population of Asian elephants declined precipitously due to poaching for the international ivory market. Trautmann explains the differences between India and China on the basis of their differing attitudes toward domestic animals and the persistence of use of war elephants by Indian kings. His book covers the entire span of the war elephant as a living institution; its prehistory in Egypt, Assyria and Mesopotamia, China and the Indus Civilization; and its reign, until quite recent times, as the timber elephant, showing how the knowledge of elephants and of elephant bodies in the war elephant culture did and did not carry forward. It ends with brief consideration of the present prospects for the persistence of wild elephants under the nation-state form. In short, the book uses war elephants as a way to get at the peculiar quality of the relation of Indian kingship to forests that is so different from that of Chinese kings and contributes to such different ways of organizing the ecology.As we have seen, the report of the Elephant Task Force of 2007 gives the scale of the problem in round numbers: an ... such as being hit by a train or truck, or electrocution by touching a transmission line. ... Crop-raiding bulls will often have small-arms bullets (.12 and .22 caliber) in their hide from skirmishes with farmers.

Title:Elephants and Kings
Author: Thomas Trautmann, Thomas R. Trautmann
Publisher:University of Chicago Press - 2015-08-03

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