Where: Rome, Italy

July 1, 2000 : Calimero, a twenty-year-old African elephant, who has been pining for his lost love, may soon find a new love. But romance may not come easy for this lovelorn jumbo because he will have to travel across the Alps in order to find his dream girl.

Calimero was brought to the Rome Zoo when he was barely a year old. Soon after, Carla, an African she-elephant from Gabon, joined him. The two elephants fell in love. They were inseparable and spent nine blissful years together. Calimero’s companion died in 1991 and the besotted Calimero went into a deep depression. It was only last year that the authorities finally woke up to the fact that the zoo’s star attraction was wasting away, pining for his lost love.

Finding a Match for an Elephant [Illustration by Sudheer Nath]
Finding a Match for an Elephant [Illustration by Sudheer Nath]

After some brainstorming, it was decided that Calimero would feel better if a new mate was found for him. The European Endangered Species Breeding Programme (which functions like a marriage bureau for rare animals) found three African she-elephants at the Basle Zoo in Switzerland. Of course, Calimero will have the final say. Since it is easier transporting one elephant instead of three, Calimero will travel to Switzerland to choose his prospective mate.

Some scientists feel Calimero may not get over his first love, Carla. That is because elephants are very, very loyal to their loved ones. How would you like an elephant for a best pal? For starters, they are friendly and normally travel in huge herds. Elephant trunks also come in handy when pals are upset. In times of trouble, elephants comfort each other by rubbing their trunks!

All of us know that the elephant is the largest living land mammal, but do you know that the elephant has an enormous family tree? Yes, the elephant had a whole bunch of ancestors; in fact more than 600 different kinds of elephants have walked on this earth. Now, there are only two elephant species left in the world — the Indian (or Asiatic) elephant, which is found in India and Southeast Asia, and the African elephant, which is found south of the Sahara in Africa.

The first of the elephantine granddaddies was a small hippo like elephant called the Moeritherium. Scientists estimate that this elephant was barely two feet high and lived in Egypt about 45 million years ago. The closest relatives of the present day elephants were the woolly mammoths. Mammoths are now extinct and were wiped off the face of the earth about 10,000 years ago.

Discoveries of mammoth fossils in Siberia and cave drawings in France help us in forming an image of what the animal must have looked like. Unlike the elephants we are familiar with, mammoths were as shaggy as Pomeranians with a prominent hump on their backs. These beasts also sported massive curved tusks that often reached lengths of more than 10.5 ft.

No one really knows why the different elephant species disappeared. Of the two remaining species, the African elephant is also fast disappearing. The African elephant can easily be distinguished from the Indian (or Asiatic) elephant by its greater size and its larger ears. The African elephant also has more wrinkled skin, and both males and females bear tusks. The Indian elephant, on the other hand, has smooth skin and only the male of the species have tusks.

568 words | 5 minutes
Readability: Grade 9 (14-15 year old children)
Based on Flesch–Kincaid readability scores

Filed under: world news
Tags: #switzerland, #indians, #scientists, #african, #tusks

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