Hannibal and His Elephants

Surus’ name should be just as famous as Hannibal’s.

One of the most compelling historical images, for me, is that of the great Carthaginian general, Hannibal Barca, crossing the alps with his 20,000 infantry, 6,000 cavalry, and 37 elephants. What a sight this must have been to behold, especially when the average Roman in 218 BCE probably didn’t even know that elephants existed. It would be like seeing Martians on the horizon.

But since I tend to look at things from odd angles, I often wonder what the elephants thought about the experience. According to this article in the History Herald, there’s not one shred of evidence that any of these elephants died in the crossing. These wonderous creatures must have been well cared for. Indeed, if you take the Roman propaganda with a grain of salt, it is now believed that only 500 men were lost on the trip, which is also remarkable.

That’s pretty amazing for all concerned when you consider that this army, both human and pachyderm, was being exposed to terrain and climate, and, one would assume, viruses, that they had never experienced before. They were regularly attacked by strange humans, which would be scary for anyone, let alone an elephant who was being forced to trample them underfoot. They had already walked across the Pyrenees Mountains in Spain, and apparently made it over the alps in less than 16 days. That’s nothing to sneeze at.

I wonder what the morale was like. Did all of this feel like a grand adventure, or were the troops just in it for survival and resigned to the hard slog? I ask, because those intelligent animals surely picked up on the human emotional vibe. Imagine being an elephant in the snow, surrounded by 20,000 terrified men. What a nightmare.

Another reason not to take vanquished Roman accounts very seriously is that two of their historians give a detailed description of Hannibal having to build barges and cover them with dirt to trick the elephants into thinking it was solid ground in order to transport them across the Rhone River. Supposedly they were terrified of the water.

Um… elephants love water, and they can swim quite well. Imagine Hannibal, who had an intimate knowledge of these animals, going to such great lengths to get them across a river that they probably looked forward to playing in. I bet Hannibal would have laughed if he heard these accounts.

Yes, these elephants were sure-footed survivors. The crossing of the river and of two mountain ranges didn’t get them. No. What got them was the unusually cold winter of 218-217. All but one of the elephants died of the harsh cold. (It would be interesting to find out what one does with 36 frozen elephant corpses, but that’s just me looking at things from odd angles again.)

Interestingly, we know a bit about the one elephant that survived. It was an Indian elephant, while the rest were of a tiny North African species that no longer exists. The survivor was named Surus, and carried Hannibal himself. Personally, I think Surus’ name should be as famous as Hannibal’s.

Enjoy my random musings? Then you’ll love my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5


Intelligence in Eyes

There’s just so much there there.

Musings during a really bad commute: I can usually tell if someone is intelligent just by looking in their eyes. Why is that? How is that possible?

Am I profiling? Am I being judgmental? Maybe. But it works for me.

I respond to people who have curiosity in their eyes. Inquisitiveness. I like it when people are alert and participating in life. People who appear interested in learning are usually the very ones who actually learn. Go figure.

I can connect with some animals through their eyes, too. I’ve seen enough intelligence in the eyes of dolphins and elephants and whales to make me gasp. It amazes me that anyone could want to harm them. There’s just so much there there.

Dilation of the eyes can indicate interest. Eye contact can, too. (Although I must say that a prolonged, unblinking stare gives me the willies.)

There’s a reason that people say that the eyes are the window to the soul. We’ve learned to read people by gazing into their eyes. We’ve been doing it for thousands of years. Most of us (including me) couldn’t tell you how it works, exactly. But most of us know that it does.

So, if your eyes glaze over as if you’ve lost interest, then don’t be surprised if I lose interest, too.

Elephant Eye

Like the way my weird mind works? Then you’ll enjoy my book! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Subtle Shifts

Have you ever remarked that a kitten has gotten quite big, and its owner is surprised by that? You haven’t seen the kitten in weeks, so its growth is obvious to you. The owner, on the other hand, has seen it daily, and therefore the change in size has been subtle to him or her and therefor easy to overlook.

We experience subtle shifts every day without giving them much notice. For example, when I was a kid, I used to drink Hawaiian Punch practically by the 50-gallon drum. I couldn’t get enough of the stuff. Now, I can barely tolerate even a sip of it. It’s way too sickly sweet. I couldn’t tell you, though, the exact point in time when I shifted from being a Hawaiian Punch fan to a Hawaiian Punch disdainer. It just sort of sneaked up on me.

My perception of humor has apparently shifted as well. A week ago, if you had asked me what the funniest thing I’d ever seen on television was, I’d have responded, Season 4, Episode 4 of the sitcom Perfect Strangers. Based on its air date, I must have been 24 when I first saw it. I remember laughing so hard as Larry and Balki struggled to get a piano up ten flights of stairs that I nearly lost my breath, and I had tears streaming down my face. This was TV at its best, I thought.

So I was delighted when I discovered that Hulu was now showing every episode of Perfect Strangers. I would start with that iconic episode, and then binge watch the entire series. What fun!

I fixed myself a bowl of popcorn, got into some sweat pants and a t-shirt, snuggled in with my dog Quagmire, and prepared to be entertained.

Imagine my shock when I realized just how bad the show really was. Poorly written, cheesy, in fact. Poorly acted. Predictable. What a freaking disappointment. Needless to say, I won’t be binge watching any other episodes.

But I used to love that show. I really did. What the heck was I thinking? Who was I?

Now, if you ask me what the funniest thing I’ve ever seen on television is, I’ll respond the episode of Carol Burnett in which Tim Conway discusses the Siamese elephants, joined at the trunk. I’m happy to say that that one STILL cracks me up.


Read any good books lately? Try mine! http://amzn.to/2mlPVh5

Elephants Will Forget. Unfortunately.

If you haven’t seen the absolutely gorgeous short film “Last Days”, I strongly encourage you to take 3 minutes to do so. (I’m including it below, but if you are getting my blog via e-mail you can check it out at the Last Days of Ivory website.) It will open your eyes. It sure opened mine.

Here are some facts from the website:

·        An elephant is murdered every 15 minutes.

·        Over 30,000 elephants are killed by poaching every year.

·        Elephants in the wild could be extinct in 11 years.

·        African terrorist groups such as al-Shabaab, The Lord’s Resistance Army, Boko Haram and Janjaweed use the sale of illegal ivory to carry out attacks.

·        Trafficking in endangered species is the 4th largest illegal business in the world after drugs, weapons and humans.

Saying elephants never forget is a myth. They will forget, once they are wiped off the face of the earth. We need to put a stop to the poaching of elephants. Don’t buy ivory.

Exploring Seattle – Part Seven

I have always loved zoos. Whenever I travel I try to check one out. The best one I’ve ever seen, and will probably ever see, is the one in San Diego. The one in Washington DC is pretty amazing as well. (I used to know someone who lived nearby and you could hear the lions roaring from her balcony.) Jacksonville, Florida’s is pretty good, too. But I have to say that the Woodland Park Zoo here in Seattle is a delight.

I was there on a chilly November Monday and it was jam packed with people, particularly people of the toddler persuasion, unfortunately. Being alone, I got to explore at my own pace. I lingered for a long time with the elephants, especially one that seemed to be dancing along to a metronome sound.


The hippos were particularly playful, and when they roar they sound like tractors. The zebras were chasing the giraffes. I don’t know how they pull it off, but when giraffes run, they look simultaneously graceful and clumsy.


This zoo has clearly put a lot of thought into the way they house their animals, giving the visitors many angles for observation and yet giving the creatures ample opportunity for privacy as well. I kept having shockingly close encounters with unexpected beasts. I came around the corner and was face to face with a bear.


The pack of white wolves seemed completely unperturbed that I was a mere 10 feet away.


The gorillas were a hoot. I could imagine their conversation. “Look! I’m sticking my tongue out at the hairless apes!” “Well, I’m going to steal the show by putting a towel on my head.”

IMG_0460 IMG_0461

And this is the first zoo I’ve ever been to where the orangutans weren’t sitting alone in a darkened room, looking profoundly depressed. These two were romping around playing with a cardboard box, having a wonderful time. I couldn’t get a good picture of it, unfortunately, but it gave me hope about the treatment of the animals at this facility.

I know the whole zoo concept is controversial. I will never go to a circus again because of the horrible treatment of the animals. And yes, animals are meant to roam free. But that’s not the world we’re living in anymore. With our ever shrinking habitats, sometimes zoos are the only way to preserve a species. Also, if you educate people about animals, I really do believe they will treat them and the planet with more respect.

I hope the days of nightmare zoos are gone. I passed by one in Berlin in the 80’s, before the wall came down. It made me cry. It was just tiny little iron-barred enclosures with concrete floors. No shelter, no comfort, no room to move. All the animals looked sick and defeated. It broke my heart. In all fairness, from what I’m seeing on line, the Berlin zoo of today looks fabulous.

The animals here in Seattle seemed very healthy and were provided with a lot of variety to keep them engaged. For Halloween, many were given pumpkins to play with and crush and eat. Apparently the wild cats will be given turkeys (not live ones) to eat around thanksgiving. They’re calling it the Turkey Toss. And there’s another event called Wild Lights that happens around Christmas. The whole park is lit up and it draws crowds, which helps the park to survive financially. They put on a variety of programs to get the public involved and interested, much more than any other zoo I’ve seen. I was really impressed.

There are even brass life-sized sculptures all over the park that kids can climb on. It’s a way for children to interact with the animals in theory if not in practice. I think that’s a lovely idea.

IMG_0414 IMG_0437

The most memorable experience I had, though, was with the lion. As I was approaching his enclosure I heard a roar. When I got there, he was walking toward the window where I stood. I was mere inches from him. He looked me square in the eye. Then he playfully thunked his head on the plexiglas, causing it to shudder, flattening his mane and reinforcing the fact that under any other circumstance I wouldn’t survive an encounter such as this. Then he turned and urinated all over the window. Dude. I get it. You’re in charge.


Wild Will Be Wild

I’m always amazed when someone interacts with a wild animal and is then surprised when they eventually get hurt. Oh, it might take years. Just ask Roy Horn, of Siegfried and Roy, or Steve Irwin, if he had survived the sting ray barb and was able to tell his tale. People don’t seem to grasp that wild animals are always wild, as much as we’d like to think we’re making a connection.

There are too many stories to tell.

And yet you hear about these things happening again and again and again, and the fools always seem to be taken by surprise. How is that possible? I don’t get it.


Yeah, this is most likely photoshopped, but you get the point.

[Image credit: gremlindog.com]