Ahmed the elephant. For thousands of years, in the endless wilds, his size was his safety. Then he ate out of the understory of the dwindling forest, the last pause, the last exit before the zoo….
The largest land animal on earth would prowl the bush in northern Kenya, near Marsabit, where, inaccessible to airborne safaris, he may survive to his full span of about seventy years. His name is Ahmed and he was a national monument, so designated by the Kenyan government. No one dared harm him.
Ahmed may have weighed seven tons. His tusks two feet around at the base and weigh two hundred pounds apiece. He was a dream, a fantasy in the flesh, for he represented man’s infatuation with the notion that size has value and that, therefore, great size means excellence.
Ahmed may have indeed been an excellent animal, and it is surely his size that put his ancestors beyond the reach of almost all hunters. Size gave him the strength of a bulldozer and a brain weighing ten pounds; size made him the once dominant animal of Europe, Asia and Africa. Size enabled him to shake fruit out of a tree, or knock the tree flat. He could pound a ramp into mud with pile driving feat and, with friends, haul a stricken colleague out of a bog. He could swim submerged with a trunk held up like a snorkel. Size gave him a hug heart, a slow-paced lifestyle, and great longevity. Because he was so secure, he developed a pacific way of life and intense, humanlike comradeship with his fellows.
Best of all the elephant is adaptable, made so by prehensile trunk that can lift and smash, suck and blow, dig and fondle. His trunk, his upper teeth, are the most dangerous natural weapon known. He eats hundreds of different plants, feeding on plums, figs, coffee berries, olives, butternuts, dates, celery, bamboo, raspberries, papyrus, and mahogany leaves. He is a seasoned partygoer, and with fermenting fruits or the buds of certain palm trees in his gut, he could get so crocked that his lurching, belching passage through the forest was a disaster for most forms of life.
But size created problems for him. To sustain his bulk, he was compelled to eat three hundred pounds of fodder a day. His death rate is sixteen per thousand, but his birthrate is ninety.This is somewhat neutralized by his long migrations from one food source to another: from Kenya to Kilimanjaro, his migrant armies miles long, the rumble and roar of his hundreds deafening. On these marches, his young die. He contracts anthrax and lethal fevers, harbors ticks as big as strawberries and maggots that, tiny inside such bulk, can reach his heart. ( to be continued)…