Sketches of Natural History of Ceylon eBook

J. Emerson Tennent
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 590 pages of information about Sketches of Natural History of Ceylon.

[Footnote 1:  Mahawanso, ch. xxxviii. p. 254, A.D. 433.]

[Footnote 2:  PALLEGOIX, Siam, &c., vol. i. p. 152.]

[Footnote 3:  Mahawanso, ch. xviii. p. 111.  The Hindu sovereigns of Orissa, in the middle ages, bore the style of Gaja-pati, “powerful in elephants.”—­Asiat.  Res. xv. 253.]

[Footnote 4:  ARMANDI, Hist.  Milit. des Elephants, lib. ii. c. x. p. 380.  HORACE mentions a white elephant as having been exhibited at Rome:  “Sive elephas albus vulgi converteret ora.”—­HOR. Ep.  II. 196.]



* * * * *

Habits when Wild.

Although found generally in warm and sunny climates, it is a mistake to suppose that the elephant is partial either to heat or to light.  In Ceylon, the mountain tops, and not the sultry valleys, are its favourite resort.  In Oovah, where the elevated plains are often crisp with the morning frost, and on Pedura-talla-galla, at the height of upwards of eight thousand feet, they are found in herds, whilst the hunter may search for them without success in the hot jungles of the low country.  No altitude, in fact, seems too lofty or too chill for the elephant, provided it affords the luxury of water in abundance; and, contrary to the general opinion that the elephant delights in sunshine, it seems at all times impatient of glare, and spends the day in the thickest depth of the forests, devoting the night to excursions, and to the luxury of the bath, in which it also indulges occasionally by day.  This partiality for shade is doubtless ascribable to the animal’s love of coolness and solitude; but it is not altogether unconnected with the position of the eye, and the circumscribed use which its peculiar mode of life permits it to make of the faculty of sight.

All the elephant hunters and natives to whom I have spoken on the subject, concur in opinion that its range of vision is circumscribed, and that it relies more on its ear and sense of smell than on its sight, which is liable to be obstructed by dense foliage; besides which, from the formation of its short neck, the elephant is incapable of directing the range of the eye much above the level of the head.[1]

[Footnote 1:  After writing the above, I was permitted by the late Dr. HARRISON, of Dublin, to see some accurate drawings of the brain of an elephant, which he had the opportunity of dissecting in 1847; and on looking to that of the base, I have found a remarkable verification of the information which I collected in Ceylon.

The small figure A is the ganglion of the fifth nerve, showing the small motor and large sensitive portion.


The olfactory lobes, from which the olfactory nerves proceed, are large, whilst the optic and muscular nerves of the orbit are singularly small for so vast an animal; and one is immediately struck by the prodigious size of the fifth nerve, which supplies the proboscis with its exquisite sensibility, as well as by the great size of the motor portion of the seventh, which supplies the same organ with its power of movement and action.]

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