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Elephants in History

4 000 years of elephants and man

Elephants have been hunted for their ivory and used as working animals for thousands of years.

They have travelled the world and been prized by kings, emperors, warriors and hunters. They have also featured in books and films and have even painted valued pictures and performed music.

Scroll down to see how elephants and man have interacted for over 4000 years...

2 000BC

c. 2000BC: Earliest evidence of tamed elephants in the Indus valley

1750-1123BC: Chinese Yin dynasty tames elephants

1 500BC

1 464BC: Egyptian pharaoh Thutmose III slays 120 Asian elephants for their ivory in Syria

1 352BC: Egyptian King Tutankhamun is buried with a casket inlaid with 45,000 pieces of ivory

1 100BC: Assyrian King Tilgeth-Pileser I hunts elephants

1 000BC

c. 1000BC: King Solomon orders a great throne made of ivory overlaid with gold

8 79BC: Assyrian King Ashurnasirpal II collects entire elephant herds and keeps them in a zoo


c. 500BC: Syrian herds of Asian elephants are driven to extinction


c. 400BC: The sacred Hindu epic the Ramayana describes the City of Ayoda being filled with violent elephants'


326BC: 200 Indian elephants are used by Porus in the Battle of Hydaspes against Alexander

313-289BC: Indian Emperor Chandragupta Maurya issues coins featuring elephants

301BC: 500 Indian elephants help Seleucus' smaller army win the Battle of Ipsus against Antigonus I in Turkey


280BC: Greek coins feature elephants in the first battle of Heraclea against Rome

264BC: Carthaginians send 50 elephants across the Mediterranean to Sicily to fight in the first Punic War against the Romans

218BC: 37 African Elephants walk more than 2400km across the Alps as Hannibal invades Italy

202BC: Carthage's war elephants turn against their own troops at Zama

c. 200BC: The sinhalese King rides a 'State Elephant' in Sri Lanka

c. 200BC: Elephants regularly exported from Sri Lanka to Kalinga, India


156-40BC: Indo-Greek King Apollodotos I issues silver coins featuring elephants

99BC: Earliest reports of elephants forced to fight in the Roman Circus


29-32: Elephants carry the royal Trung sisters of Vietnam into war against China

77AD: Roman Pliny the Elder devotes 13 chapters of his encyclopedia, Historia Naturalis, to elephants

100AD: The greek Plutarch's Moralia desribes an elephant that falls in love with a flower-girl

175-235AD: Roman author Claudius Aelianus reports that an elephant once tamed is the gentlest of creatures'

400AD: Earliest physical and written representations of the Hindu elephant god, Ganesha, appear


500AD: The Gajasastr records serious conflict between elephants and agricultural communities in India

804AD: The Holy Roman Emperor Charlemagne takes his elephant, Abul-Abbas, to war against the Danes


c. 1000AD: Sinbad discovers an 'elephant graveyard' in the Thousand and one Nights


c. 1100AD: Elephant fights held in Sri Lanka to entertain the King and nobles

1153-1186: King Ramana of Myanmar bans the export of elephants


1254: First African Elephant is seen in England when King Henry III is sent one as a gift from King Louis IX of France. It is housed in the Tower of London

1272: Mongol Emperor Kublai Khan employs war elephants

1299: King Edward I of England owns an ivory coffer full of precious objects


1399: The Mongol conqueror Timur the Lame uses 95 elephants to help build the Bibi Hanim mosque at his imperial capital, Samarkand, Ukbekhistan

1368-1644: The Chinese Ming dynasty uses elephants for transportation and military purposes


1497: Denmark's Order of the Elephant' is established by King Christian I

Portuguese settlers start trading ivory from West Africa


1507: The Viceroy of India sends a Sri Lankan elephant to the King of Portugal as a gift. It is later presented to Pope Leo X in the Vatican

1567: Mogul emperor Akbak crosses the Ganges with 600 elephants to conquer Bengal

1586: Missionary Joao dos Santos reports that locals kill elephants to protect their crops in Sofala, Mozambique


c. 1600: Kandyan King in Sri Lanka uses elephants to execute criminals

1663: Portuguese missionary, André de Faro, reported 28,000 tusks being loaded onto an English cargo ship at Tarso Island, Guinea

1665-1681: Royal enclosure at Versailles, France houses an African elephant


c. 1700AD: Elephants no longer found south of the Olifants River in the Cape Colony

1706: The King of Kandy, Sri Lanka houses over 300 tuskers in his stables for ceremonial use

1796: First elephant arrives in New York, USA, brought by Captain Crowninshield from Bengal for $450


1811: An elephant stars in a production of Bluebeard at London's Covent Garden

1812: Baba the first trained circus elephant performs tricks at Paris' Cirque Olympique show


1860: The Blind Men and the Elephant poem, based on an old Indian fable, is written by John Godfrey Saxe

1861-5: British Major Thomas Rogers shoots 1,500 elephants in Sri Lanka


1873: The Elephant Preservation Act goes into force in Madras, India, to prevent indiscriminate destruction of elephants'


1880: First Asian elephant is born outside Asia in a circus in Philadelphia, USA

1881: Experienced elephant hunter Frederick Selous retires to England because of the scarcity of elephants


1890: An elephant image is first used on a postage stamp in Bamra, India

1898: The elephant bearing the heaviest tusks on record is shot near Mt Kilimanjaro

1899: Belgium's King Leopold II sets up the Elephant Domestication Centre in the Democratic Republic of Congo to tame and train African elephants


1902: Rudyard Kipling publishes the The Elephant's Child story in the Just So Stories describing how the elephant got its trunk

1903: Topsy, an aggressive circus elephant in New York is killed by electrocution, administered by Thomas Edison

1905: The Society of the Friends of the Elephant is founded in Paris championing elephant rights, to stop the terrible annual slaughter'

1909: Former US President Theodore Roosevelt shoots 11 elephants on his African safari


1916: Mary, a circus elephant, is executed by hanging in Tennessee, USA for the crime of killing her keeper


c. 1920: Only 16 Addo elephants remain in the Cape after a systematic extermination exercise to protect farmland


1931: Jean de Brunhoff's Babar stories, about an elephant king, first published in France

1931: Addo Elephant National Park is proclaimed, protecting the 11 remaining elephants in the area

1932: Fake ears are used to make Sri Lankan elephants look African in the film, Tarzan, the Ape Man


1940: Dr Seuss publishes the nonsense story Horton hatches the egg about an elephant who incubates an elephant bird

1941: Disney releases the animated film, Dumbo, about a flying elephant

1943: First African elephant is born outside Africa in Munich zoo, Germany

1939-1945: Japanese use elephants as pack animals in Burma during the second world war


1954: The world's first elephant-proof' fence is constructed at Addo Elephant National Park

1957: Nellie the Elephant song about an elephant who leaves the circus


1962: Henry Mancini's Baby Elephant Walk is used as the theme tune to the film Hatari!

1964: Williard Price publishes his Elephant Adventure children's book

1968: Snorky the elephant features in the American TV series, The Banana Splits


1974: Largest recorded African Elephant is shot in Angola

1975: African Elephants included in Appendix II of CITES Treaty (trade only allowed with authorised permits)

1976: Kenya bans elephant hunting


1980: First incidence of elephant poaching in KNP

1986: Asian Elephant is classified as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

1989: Kenya's President Moi burns the confiscated tusks of 2000 elephants as a protest against poaching

Western 'don't buy ivory' campaigns pressurise importing countries

1989: CITES bans all international trade in ivory for member nations


1996: The African Elephant is classified as endangered on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species

1991: Elephants carry officials, ballot boxes and papers to inaccessible areas during the Indian general election

1997: Elephant populations of Botswana, Namibia and Zimbabwe are downlisted from CITES Appendix I to II

1998: First elephant art academies are founded in Thailand, employing redundant elephants and their mahouts


2000: South Africa's elephant population is moved to CITES Appendix II

2000: The world's first elephant music group, The Thai Elephant Orchestra, is launched with a recording session

2002: CITES approves proposals for one-off sales of ivory from Botswana, Namibia and South Africa

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Did You Know?

  • There are significant archaeological ruins at Thulamela and Masorini.