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How Hannibal’s Elephants Crossed the Alps


Hannibal was determined to get his whole army – men and animals – across the treacherous path through the Alps.  But how did he handle 37 elephants? Expert Dr. Tori Herridge speaks with Santiago Borragan Santos, Chief Veterinarian at Cabárceno Park in Spain, to learn how the park controls Europe’s largest herd of captive African elephants.


His soldiers might have lost all hope, but Hannibal was determined to get the men and animals across.

But how did he handle 37 elephants?

Cabárceno Park in Spain is home to Europe''s largest herd of captive African elephants.

Tori Herridge is meeting Chief vet Santiago Borragan Santos, who has studied their behaviour for decades.

His expertise might shed light on how Hannibal''s men would have controlled these giants.

SANTIAGO: This is Penny.

Penny is the matriarch of the herd.

She''s the boss; she''s the one who decides where the herd goes, what they do, how they behave.

Every morning Santiago uses a strict protocol to release the elephants from their sleeping quarters.

TORI: Which one''s this?

SANTIAGO: This is Jumbo Penny is always the last elephant released.

Santiago: This is Penny.

When she is finally let out, the herd flock to greet her.

TORI: Oh look, they''re all coming.

SANTIAGO: We always let Penny out the last because, as the matriarch of the group, she is the one who dictates over the others.

So we let them come out from the least dominant to the most, the ones who dominate less come out first, and the ones who dominate most come last, for that reason.

To ease the work of the keepers.

Instinctively the elephants would follow the matriarch.

Penny coming out last means she can no longer lead the others, or trap them in all day, which has been known to happen.

SANTIAGO: If we leave the elephants follow the matriarch, they''d be almost uncontrollable.

It''s very important to break the structure of the group, to be able to work together with the elephants.

TORI: When they were marching in an army, you have to break the group to have the human control.

SANTIAGO: That''s right.

The elephant is an animal that mentally considers himself superior to us, which is why it''s very important to dominate him mentally, because physically we wouldn''t be able to.

TORI: She''s coming to let us know I think.

SANTIAGO: Penny get away, Penny, Penny, okay, let''s go.

Penny, we''re out of here.

TORI: Bye, Penny.


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