Proof that I am an intellectual magpie hopelessly derivative an amazing synthesist – a blog post that brings together two of my (many) favorite Fretmarks posts – Facts and Figures and It must be the weather. Via the Federation of American Scientists Project on Government Secrecy we have FM3-05-213 (warning – large PDF), aka Special Forces Use of Pack Animals. Regarding elephants we are advised:
10-41. Elephants are considered an endangered species and as such should not be used by U.S. military personnel. There are about 600,000 African elephants and between 30,000 and 50,000 Asian elephants. Approximately 20 percent are in captivity, so it is difficult to estimate their numbers exactly. The Convention of International Trade in Endangered Species regards both species as threatened. Elephants are not the easygoing, kind, loving creatures that people believe them to be. They are, of course, not evil either. They simply follow their biological pattern, shaped by evolution. The secret of becoming a good trainer is to learn this pattern. The handler can then apply it to himself and the elephants under his control.
There you have it – “not evil either” – applies pretty well to most animals! The rest of the manual looks quite interesting – most of what I know about pack horses and mules I learned by reading Norman Maclean and can be summarized as one, loading is an art and two, done poorly it is a very bad thing.
A siege of Megara during the Wars of the Diadochi was reportedly broken when the Megarians poured oil on a herd of pigs, set them alight, and drove them towards the enemy’s massed war elephants. The elephants bolted in terror from the flaming squealing pigs often killing great numbers of the army the elephant was part of (Aelian, de Natura Animalium book XVI, ch. 36). *
I’m pretty confident that quite a few readers of this blog will recognize the type of handgun pictured above and know why it’s included in an ‘elephants’ post. If I ever fall into a pile of money (very unlikely I’ll get that kind of coin by the sweat of my brow) one of my eccentricities will be a collection of howdah pistols. They are an echo from a different time – tangible, beautiful evidence of a world that is no more.
For those that aren’t up on obscure firearms, a howdah pistol was sometimes carried as a last line of defense when tiger hunting from atop an elephant. If an extremely upset tiger tried to get into the howdah with you, you’d use the pistol. Heavy caliber, not too accurate, brutal recoil, but better than a mauling…