The african elephant
In Africa, there are still animals as majestic as the lion, as beautiful as the leopard and as graceful as gazelles. However, none capture the attention of the photographer, of the hunter or of the tourist as the colossal elephant can. Why does this rough creature that lacks elegance eradiate such magnetism? Why does the hunter recall throughout his entire life the seconds when the African giant was right in front of his rifle? Why does the photographer keep the portrait of the Proboscidea as the most precious of trophies?
The secret of the attraction that the elephant exerts on man could simply reside in its size, in the fact that it holds the record for weight and volume among all Earth mammals, and just because human beings are inveterate conquerors of records. But it seems that the origin of our relation is much deeper, distant, and without a doubt, dramatic. All herbivores (i.e., animals that eat plants) are either persecuted or controlled or sometimes even exterminated by a specific predator. The zebras are the favorite prey of the lion; the gazelle, that of the cheetah’s; monkeys, that of the leopard’s; the deer, that of the wolf’s; the dove, that of the falcon’s. The only predator specialized in hunting elephants, the only hunter that has been controlling Earth’s population of the Proboscidea, which some of its race has been exterminated and reduced to a tenth of the density of the African elephant in the last fifty years, is the human being.
It is believed that the South American Indians exterminated the last Mastodons of the New Continent. Some European and Asian tribes of the Middle Paleolithic lived for millennia at the expense of the mammoth, a giant furry elephant of the Quaternary period, as has been demonstrated by the remains found in their old camps. The pygmies in the African tropical rainforests, traffickers, professionals of ivory and the so-called athletes from Europe and America were still gunning down elephants at an increasingly rapid pace in areas where they are not rigidly protected. The Proboscidea are so well endowed by nature that more than half a million years ago, without the continued persecution by man, they would have spread throughout all continents, at least throughout herbaceous vegetation or shrub regions.
However, the most spectacular and unexpected consequence of the interdependence between the man and the elephant (hunter and prey, respectively) has taken place in the great African parks.
Félix Rodríguez de la Fuente.
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