Majestic giants terrified of a tiny bee!

Majestic giants terrified of a tiny bee! Gripping tome reveals little-known facts about elephants – including how flying insects are used to keep them away from farmer’s crops

  • Levison Wood sparks a conversation about ensuring the survival of elephants 
  • In a tome, he reveals there’s fewer than half a million of the animals left in Africa 
  • Author examines how bees are used to keep elephants away from farmer’s crops 

THE LAST GIANTS

by Levison Wood (Hodder £20, 272 pp)

Did you know that Queen Elizabeth II is a Knight of the Elephant? She’s got Denmark to thank for that: the Order of the Elephant is their highest honour.

It’s a typical example of the fondness with which humans have always viewed this fascinating animal. When the King of France sent one as a gift to Henry III in 1255, crowds flocked to the Tower of London to see it eating beef and drinking buckets of red wine.

Yet at the same time, humans are threatening the elephant’s very existence. In 1982, the continent of Africa boasted a million of them — now there are fewer than half that number. And the worldwide illegal ivory trade is worth as much as the illegal arms trade.

Levison Wood shares facts about elephants and the need to ensure their survival in a fascinating new book (file image)

Levison Wood’s book is both an entertaining summary of what we know about the elephant, and a call to change our behaviour to ensure its survival.

Right from birth, an elephant’s sheer scale is astonishing. Newborns can weigh 16 st (having spent 22 months in the womb) and drink 23 pints of milk a day. If you think that sounds tiring for the mother, add in the fact that she’ll spend up to 50 years rearing calves.

A large adult weighs the same as four family cars, with passengers. But they’re surprisingly good at creeping up on you: as one of Levison’s guides puts it, an elephant is ‘seven tons of silence’. And don’t try running — with a top speed of 25 miles per hour, the elephant will outrun you.

Elephants eat for 18 hours a day (much like a human during lockdown). They get through six sets of teeth in a lifetime. An elephant’s tusks can pick up a fully grown buffalo and toss it into the air, while its trunk contains 40,000 muscles. Your whole body contains just 629.

Keeping a body that size from overheating takes some doing — the animals pump 30 pints of blood a minute into their ears, where the blood cools before returning to the rest of the body.

THE LAST GIANTS by Levison Wood (Hodder £20, 272 pp)

Yet for a creature so huge, the elephant displays incredible sensitivity. It can differentiate the rumbles of 100 other elephants, and even pick up on those through vibrations in the ground up to 12 miles away.

And elephants are one of the few species other than humans which can recognise their own reflection in a mirror. Researchers in South Africa’s Kruger National Park found one particularly handsome young male walking alongside their vehicle, admiring himself in the windows.

So perhaps it’s no surprise that elephants form bonds with people. A female in a herd adopted by Lawrence Anthony, the South African ‘Elephant Whisperer’, sought him out just two days after giving birth, to show him her new baby. When he later reciprocated with his own granddaughter, the herd trumpeted in celebration.

Levison is careful to point out the complexities of conservation — a ban on trophy hunting (in which Westerners pay a fortune to kill elephants) might simply result in the land being taken over by agriculture, so losing the elephants their habitat altogether.

But at least the charity Save The Elephants has found an ingenious solution to prevent them being killed by angry farmers when they destroy crops: the giants hate being stung by bees, so now crops are protected by wires attached to hives. If the elephant disturbs the wire, the infuriated bees come out and chase it away.

It sounds like something from a Disney cartoon. But it works. Perhaps Dumbo’s future is safe after all. 

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