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Reader's Digest World Presents The Living Edens Bhutan, The last Shangri-la
 
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Elephant Elephant
The elephants of Bhutan are confined to the southern plains and foothills, where they inhabit the tall forest. The elephant population moves between India and Bhutan seasonally, spending the winter months in Bhutan. In recent years, they have been spending increased amounts of time in Bhutan, which has become a relative haven against the poaching endemic in Indian Manas. Individuals of various sizes and ages associate in herds, which may vary from five to 30 animals. Fodder is rarely scarce, and therefore, the herds do not generally break up into small pods. The large tuskers are usually seen feeding at some distance from the main herd. When they reach maturity, the bulls tend to live as solitaries, or two males may associate together. Because the herds are generally undisturbed, the Bhutanese elephants pursue a regular and ordered routine, drinking and feeding in accustomed places and lying up to rest in the usual retreats.

Herds are divided into two types of family unit -- one comprising cows nursing calves, the other , non-lactating cows and juveniles. Both come together near water as members of the extended family. While immature, the elephant can be expected to form strong social bonds with its mother, brothers and sisters, invariably copying one another's activities. They all tend to feed, walk, rest, drink and wallow together, usually within a few yards of one another.

The stability of the group is most affected by the environmental conditions. Young cow elephants help raise the rest of the family. Bulls leave the group when they reach the age of puberty. They may not depart from the group immediately, but hang around near the family for several years before making the final break. They do not meet aggression from the other wandering bulls unless they challenge them over water rights of cows. Bulls associate freely with one another and with the cows and calves again once they have become too big to be chased away. Young bulls form small bachelor groups or gangs of roaming youths, or they may attach themselves to other bulls, keeping separate from the family groups.

Family groups show consistent association patterns with one to five other family units to which they are probably related. These groups have been termed bond groups. Because of their long period of play and learning together, ties between individual family groups may be strongest between calves of similar age with different mothers; consequently the leaders of aggregates of family groups may be cousins rather than sisters when there is no clear matriarch.

Elephants recognize each other at a distance and display great excitement when meeting again, even after a short absence. They run together screaming and trumpeting, greeting one another by raising their heads in the air and clicking tusks, intertwining trunks and rumbling loudly, and flapping ears and holding them in the greeting attitude. Urinating and defecating, accompanied by loud rumbling and trumpeting, can last up to 10 minutes. Although this excitement when meeting constantly reinforcing the group bonds, cows rarely spar.

ElephantKautiliya, an early scholar of Buddhism in India, said, "A king who always cares for the elephants like his own sons is always victorious and will enjoy the friendship of the celestial world after death."


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