Monday, May 14, 2012

Pattaya Thailand Trip, Stone Park Elephant Soap Opera

I love this video of The Stone Park elephants feeding. We had just finished spectating at one of the many crocodile shows in the croc arena just up from the elephant grounds. It was later in the afternoon; most of the other visiting tourists had moved on to other parts of the park. We were happy to just sit rest and enjoy watching our big buddies as they ate and socialized in the shade of their supersized umbrellas.
My up close and personal introduction to elephants has caused me to look into them more closely. One of the things I learned is how different Indian elephants are from their African cousins. They are so distant on the taxonomic scale that they are actually classified into two different families.

Asian elephant species have the most variation within the order, Thai elephants basically coming from the Indian elephant species. Asian elephants are decidedly smaller than African elephants. Asian elephants’ ears are about half the size of their African counterparts. And one difference I learned about between them that I certainly captured in my videos is the Asian elephants’ greater penchant for making more use of their feet. I definitely saw an example of their deft footwork while observing them using their tootsies to dexterously tear apart whole pineapple plants into bite sized pieces.

factoid about elephants is that they can and will eat just about any plant. It makes sense that the park would feed them the pineapple plants. Once the fruit is harvested, what else could such a substantial farm waste product be used for other than as a very difficult to compost item? Making them into elephant food is perfect.

If you’ve ever seen a pineapple plant you’ll know how tough and stringy the long leaves are. These leaves also have sharp serrated edges leading up to a hard needlelike point at the end. I certainly wouldn’t want to work in a field of them without some long protective gloves, yet the elephants tore into them as if munching on soft mouthfuls of clover.

Notice in the YouTube clip the way they nimbly use the very ends of their toes at times to hold the tough plants down to the concrete floor as they use their proboscis to tear off individual leaves. As I said above, Asian elephants have a remarkable predilection for using their feet.

But the reason I love this short clip so much is the interplay between two of them especially--the large one on the left and the smaller happy-go-lucky one in the middle. I just showed it again to my wife using the following narrative:

Grumpily, the large elephant on the far left complains to any who will listen, “Hey! Why am I the ONLY one out here without a pineapple plant to munch on? Come on! I’m HUNGRY! Gimme some! Someone, ANY one!”

The large hungry fellow walks over to the little one, bumps him on the hindquarters and asks, “Hey little man, you gonna eat all that?”

All the elephants ignore the big one and continue to tear apart their pineapple plants. Some of them like to tear one, two or three leaves off at once, and then wave them around, sometimes slapping the hard long leaves against the top of their head or flapping them against their sides before popping them into their mouth.

The big hungry guy is beside himself in frustration. He paces about, crosses his legs once, backs up as far as his chain will allow before approaching the smaller elephant again, continuing to ask for some afternoon “roughage,” “So dude, come on man, I KNOW you can’t eat ALL of that. Give me SOME! Please?”

The big fella reaches out as far as he can with his trunk but cannot quite reach the plant. The smaller one is obviously younger but he’s not stupid; he keeps the plant just out of reach.

The hungry one backs off and tries to talk the far elephant into giving up some plantage but to no avail. That one completely ignores the request and blithely continues to tear and munch away at his plant.

Aggravated and obsessed, the big fellow continually jabbers away at his companions, asking them to share. FINALLY, the smaller one takes pity on his big brother, grabs his own plant by a single leaf and lifts it high. He waves it side to side in front of him and releases it just at the right moment so that it flies behind him up the left side of his body toward his famished friend. The little guy finishes up his little act of mercy by trying to use his left hind foot to push the plant backwards toward the larger elephant who immediately takes the opportunity to reach out and grab the object of his desire.

 With great gusto he puts one foot on the plant and ravenously begins to pull it apart and devour the individual leaves. At this, the charitable little guy goes over to the even larger elephant to the right and tries to socialize with him, but the bigger one is not interested. In fact, so determined NOT to socialize he even walks away from his own pineapple plant rather than submit to the advances of the playful adolescent.

While that is going on to the left, the far elephant, failing to pay attention, allows his plant to get too close to the supposedly hungry big one, who sneaks over and snatches away the unattended plant. Evidently he thinks that the pineapple plant is greener on the other side of the concrete! Now, he has TWO pineapple plants. That'll show em.

Like I said, I never got tired of watching them. Who would have thought that elephants have the same foibles as we do!

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