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The Asian Elephant: Background information when reading The Story Hour

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The Story Hour

by Thrity Umrigar

The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar X
The Story Hour by Thrity Umrigar
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  • First Published:
    Aug 2014, 336 pages
    Paperback:
    Jul 2015, 352 pages

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Book Reviewed by:
Norah Piehl
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About this Book

The Asian Elephant

This article relates to The Story Hour

Print Review

Asian ElephantAs Lakshmi recounts her history in India, we learn that she considers one of her best friends to be an elephant, Mithai (which means "sweets" or "dessert"). Her youthful courage in defending Mithai foreshadows her later courage in dealing with the greater complexities of adulthood.

Asian elephants are perhaps not as well known in the West as African elephants, although they are also highly endangered. The Asian elephant is smaller than its African cousin and, in particular, its ears are smaller and more rounded. They also have a single "finger" on their trunk, compared with two in the African elephant. They live in thirteen countries in Asia - India, Nepal, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Thailand, Malaysia, Vietnam, Cambodia, Burma, Laos, at the southern tip of China, and on the islands of Sri Lanka and Sumatra.

Sri Lankan festivalThe Hindu deity, Ganesh, is depicted with the head of an elephant, signifying the centrality of the elephant in Hindu culture. Many Asian elephants are domesticated and play significant roles in ceremonies, symbolizing good luck and harkening back to the time when elephants played an important role (as beasts of burden and modes of transportation, for example) in developing the cultures of the region.

This reverence for the Asian elephant has not helped preserve it in the wild, however. Rapidly growing human populations threaten its native habitats. According to one figure, 20 percent of the world's population lives in or near their rapidly dwindling range. Although they aren't as reliable a source of ivory as their African cousins (a significant proportion of male Asian elephants are tuskless), ivory poaching remains a concern. In Thailand, for example, there were 100,000 elephants at the beginning of the twentieth century, but that number has dwindled to just 5000 today, half of which are domesticated. Asian Elephant and babyOnly thirty to fifty thousand Asian elephants remain worldwide. Many organizations, including the World Wildlife Fund and the International Elephant Foundation, are working to raise awareness and halt habitat destruction of these magnificent animals.

Male Asian elephant, courtesy of Yathin S Krishnappa
Elephants at a grand festival in Sri Lanka, courtesy of Chanakal
Baby asian elephant (with his mother) born in the Lao Elephant Conservation Center in Sayaboury, courtesy of Sophie47

Filed under Nature and the Environment

Article by Norah Piehl

This "beyond the book article" relates to The Story Hour. It originally ran in September 2014 and has been updated for the July 2015 paperback edition. Go to magazine.

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