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Elephants

Kirsty

Regular visitors will remember the site of our Children's Farm as the former enclosure for " Kirsty ", our Indian elephant. In 1987 for humanitarian reasons, Kirsty was moved to Chester Zoo where, in a group of elephants, we felt she would be happier and might breed.

Unfortunately, the ensuing years showed that Kirsty was in reproductive terms " non-cycling " and unlikely ever to breed. It was decided by the UK Elephant Management Group (a consortium of different zoos) that she be moved to the new enclosure at Dublin Zoo, which she would share with several other females.

The space thus vacated at Chester could be used by a " cycling " female from another zoo, with more chance of breeding success.

December 1997, an Indian elephant calf was born at Chester, the first of many we hope, and we are pleased to have played a small part in this.

Kirsty's former house and enclosure have been converted to a walk-round Children's Farm, staffed almost entirely by people contributing much of their time on a voluntary basis, but under the supervision of senior zoo staff.

When Kirsty went walkabout

Do Elephants Have Toes?

Question: My Four year old twins need to know if elephants have toes?

This is the sort of question I hate ! Hate because the answer can be 'yes' or 'no', depending on how rigorous and academic the questioner is being.

Answer:
If the question means: Do elephants have frilly bits at the ends of their fore and hind limbs? - then the answer is 'no'.

If the question means: Do elephants possess the standard pentadactyl limb of land vertebrates? - then the answer is 'yes', although their limbs have been adapted through evolution to support their great weight. The digits are embedded in a soft cushion of white elastic fibres enclosed within a fatty matrix. The bone structure is intermediate between that of a human (plantigrade, where the heel rests on the ground) and that of the horse (digitigrade, where the heel is raised off the ground). Elephants have 4-5 digits on their forefoot and 3-4 on their hindfoot.

My suspicion is that the teacher means the first question . . .

Are Elephants really scared of Mice?

Fiona, Victoria and Emily all of Giffnock Primary School wrote asking if it was true that elephants are scared of mice.

Richard O'Grady; Director-Secretary of Glasgow Zoopark responds:

My practical experience is that elephants are not frightened of mice or rats. In fact, if there is an infestation of hundreds of rats, as I once saw in an old zoo down in England, the rats will even nibble at the elephant's feet when it is lying down sleeping, causing significant injuries.

I think the reputation for being frightened arose because elephants are easily frightened by sudden, unexpected sharp movements. A bolting rat moves like greased lightning, and this would make anything rear up.

Wages of Bravery

There is another historical link between Glasgow and elephants as evidenced by the memorial to Major Archibald Douglas Monteath to be found in the Necropolis graveyard, lair 13 of the Upsilon area. It cost 800 when built in 1842, which was a lot of money back then. As an officer in the East India Company one would be justified in wondering just how such an expensive memorial could be afforded from such modest employment.

Well, apparently, during one Maharaja's procession in India, one of the elephants stampeded and ran amok. It was Major Monteath who was spurred into action, chasing after the elephant he caught it and managed to bring it under control. No mean feat when you consider an angry elephant is a formidable juggernaut when in motion.

The elephant had been carrying a casket of precious stones and jewellery, and it was these which the Major took as payment for his efforts in bring the animal under control, and these which provided the finance to build the memorial after his death.

Early Scottish Elephants

An early instance of the exhibition of an exotic animal near Glasgow is recorded in the papers from Hamilton Palace.

In April 1706, 'the man who brought the Elephant to show her grace' was paid two guineas (28 - 8 shillings Scots), whilst his servant was paid a dollar (2 - 18 shillings Scots).

We do not at present know the species, sex, or age of the elephant. Other questions which present themselves include:

  • Where did the elephant came from originally?
  • How did it get to Great Britain?
  • How did it get to Hamilton?
  • What was the name of the owner?
  • For how long and where did it stay in Hamilton?
  • Where did it go next?

There is, remarkably, another record of an elephant in Scotland in 1706. An elephant died near Dundee that same year (see Clinton Keeling: Where the Zebu Grazed (1989)). Were these actually the same animal? Probably, because there could not have been that many around at that time.

Anyone who can provide any answers, please send us a message!

The Zoological Society of Glasgow and West of Scotland is grateful to his Grace the Duke of Hamilton for providing access to the original Hamilton document and for granting permission to include this information in the Glasgow Zoopark website.