Indian Elephant, Elephas maximus

Indian Elephant

© University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge 2013

© University Museum of Zoology, Cambridge 2013

Stuart Turner, Museum Assistant, writes about one of the largest specimens in the museum’s stores, pictured here in this archival photograph of the old Museum of Zoology (which was opened in 1865, but replaced by the modern building that now houses the museum in 1965).  The Indian Elephant is the large skeleton on the left, the skeleton on the right belonging to the African Elephant currently on display in the lower gallery.

This Indian Elephant specimen in the Museum was in life a Rogue male elephant which unfortunately had to be destroyed as it was a menace to people in Sri Lanka back in 1881!

The animal was shot by a member of the civil service there and the following is an extract from his notebook: “The Yatiantota Tusker, a notorious and proscribed rogue elephant (bull), that had done much damage to life and property. It was shot 6th February 1881 at Yakkela Kele (“forest of the devil’s stream”), near Malalpola, eight miles from Ruanwela, in the Kegalle district, Western Province, Ceylon.  Height, 9 feet ; tusks 4 feet 11 ½ inches, and 4 feet 10 inches outside curve—weight, 75lbs.”

We only have casts of the 75lbs (34 kg) tusks which were going to be carved out of wood until they decided that moulds made out of plaster of paris would be more accurate likeness. The real tusks did become available in 1904 but the £200 asking price was deemed too expensive at the time!

The elephant came to the Museum of Zoology by way of donation (It was registered in 1882) after being prepared and packed by the taxidermist of the Colombo Museum.

This elephant is still a struggle to handle in death due to its large weight and size (it takes two people just to move its skull) –It would be a terrifying prospect to have the elephant fleshed out and attacking as just the bones alone are an awesome weight.

I had to design, source and put together some new storage racking for the elephant to be housed in, unfortunately the best choice (industrial pallet racking normally used in warehouses) was only available in a garish colour combination of orange and blue which is very different to the beige of the rest of the roller racking! The maximum weight capacity of the racking that I choose for the elephant is actually a bit overkill as I did not want it to fail under load and cause the elephant to go rogue again by falling off the racking and injuring somebody nearby!

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