May 6, 2021

Throwback Thursday: The Horses of the Himalayas

Elephant Transport in Nepal, Olympus XA, March 1988

I never could quite fall into that protest against Nepali elephants. It finally occurred to me why: Elephants are the horses of the Himalayas. Maybe Hannibal couldn’t get them across the Swiss Alps, but here at the roof of the world, elephants thrive carrying goods and people. Is that any less humane that how we treat horses in the flatter parts of the world?

The comparison to horses gets pretty interesting. Tiger Tops in Nepal is a conservation park where the World Elephant Polo Championships take place. If you thought polo was boring, then you’ve never seen a herd of three-ton beasts stampeding around the field with players trying to hit a ball on the ground 10 feet below them. It may be hard to understand that these elephants are actually domesticated creatures (like most horses) and really can’t survive here in the wild. That’s mainly because they can’t find the 300 pounds of food in the wails that’s required to sustain them daily. Trunk jokes aside, an elephant is formidable pack animal. As you can see in the photo, this one is carries people and a pack.

Our guide was in the warrior caste and could pretty much seemed like he ran the country. Mr. Chetri waved his hand and the elephant came to a full stop. He pulled a peanut out of his pocket and held it to the elephant. The elephant snagged it with his trunk and popped it in his mouth. Mr. Chetri held up some money (a note of a few rupees) and the elephant grabbed it with his trunk and handed it up to the driver. Smarter than a counting horse I tell you.

Unlike some spots in the world, Nepal has a reputation for treating elephants with great reverence. While still protected there in the wild, the government established an elephant breeding and training center at Chitwan National Park for domesticated elephants that are used in Hindu ceremonies and even patrol for poachers. But a primary commercial use of elephants is still as a mammalian tow truck. Capable of lifting 600 pounds with just their trunk, an elephant is capable of about 80 horsepower.

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Learn how this photo was copied from a 35mm Kodachrome slide with a Moment 10x Macro lens and an iPhone.

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