Why Don’t Elephants Feel Hot?

By TD Fuego

As a little boy at primary school, I remember reading a story* about three blind men going on a visit to the zoo, where they came across an elephant. At their request, the zookeeper kindly allowed each one of them to feel the docile leviathan. So, the first man held one of its legs, the second one its tail and the third an ear.

When they got back home, they were each asked to describe the animal. The first one thought it was like one of those huge pillars that are found in big buildings. The second one disagreed, saying that it resembled more like a long piece of rope. The third one disagreed with both his mates, saying it was really like a large banana leaf. Of course, none of them was wrong. In the absence of a proper description of the whole animal from anyone, they were merely describing what they had each experienced.

Nowadays, we often hear a lot of talk about ‘Maurice Ile Durable’ (MID), but no one has explained yet what it all means. Consequently, just like our blind visitors to the zoo, each one of us has a particular interpretation of what is meant by MID, based on our own personal background and experience. For the time being, it remains one of those things that can mean anything and everything to any man and every man. But, no matter which direction MID takes, the Environment must occupy centre stage at every step.

Highways and Byways

As the country has progressed, we have had to build more roads to accommodate the increase in traffic due to the rise in the numbers of commercial as well as private vehicles. Right now, government is in the process of further enhancing our road network at the cost of billions. Everywhere you go on the island, you will find man and machine busy building roads. Whilst some of these involve upgrading existing thoroughfares, others are new projects altogether. All necessary stuff, we are assured. On the downside, however, these projects involve clearing large swathes of cooling woodland and greenery, only to be replaced by heat generating concrete and tarmac.

It is hardly surprising, therefore, that we find our summers getting hotter than ever before and our winters milder. For, besides the 30-year cyclical global warming planet Earth is going through right now, our local atmosphere feels warmer as a direct consequence of the “de-greening” of our environment, combined with concreting over land that was previously covered with carbon-absorbing, oxygen-emitting, cooling trees and greenery.

But, only a Luddite would wish the progress to stop. In the absence of a railway network, alas, roads have to be built in order to accommodate the increase in traffic that economic progress brings in its wake. But, we must try to give back to the Environment some, if not all, of what we take from it. And, it need not cost us an arm and a leg.

Re-greening the Environment

We could begin by planting trees along the verges of the old and the new roads. Agriculturalist friends tell me the Ashoka is one of the most appropriate trees to grow by the roadside. Apparently, its roots go straight down into the earth and, therefore, pause little risk of causing cracks to the tarmac. Also, as the stems go straight up without branching out, there is little risk of falling branches in cyclonic winds, especially if they are kept trimmed to a reasonable height of fifteen feet or so. The trees may be planted fifteen feet apart and the space in between filled with flowering shrubs, adding colour and greenery to the environment.       

Still concerning the Environment, it is estimated that, if all 300k households were equipped with a solar heater, we would save an impressive 30 percent on our electricity bill. Furthermore, the payback time of the equipment being 5 years, the owner can look forward to getting free hot water for the rest of the heater’s life, which can last an average 20 years. In 2009, some 20k households received a government subsidy of Rs.10k towards the installation of a solar heater. The target this year is to help 50k homeowners, but the subsidy has been reduced by half.  

Bearing in mind that the sun is a clean, reliable and renewable source of energy, it seems a pity that government is being so timid in encouraging people to go solar.

A Solemn Pledge

But, the Environment is not the business of governments only. It concerns each and every one of us and we should all do a lot more to preserve it. Like not throwing our old refrigerator onto the bare piece of land next-door or discarding our rubbish in the stream flowing at the end of our gardens. With very little effort, we could also adopt the 3 Rs of waste management — Reduce – Reuse – Recycle — which, whilst helping the Environment, can even save/earn us a bit of money. For example, Polypet will pay you cash for your used plastic bottles and Scrap Steel will buy your empty drink cans.

As responsible human beings, let us take the solemn pledge that we will do everything to ensure that we legate a wholesome Environment to our children to live in. The very survival of future generations depends on it!


* This is an adaptation of an ancient story from India, which has found its way into Western literature. In fact, American poet John Godfrey Saxe (1816-1887) based his poem: ‘The Elephant and the Six Blind Men of Indostan’, on a fable that was told in India many years ago. Readers of the older generation will recall having read it in their Sixth Standard book of English – The Oxford English Course by Lawrence  Faucett – Reading Bk IV. The original story had six blind men. It is a good warning about how our sensory perceptions can lead to some serious misinterpretations; especially when the investigations of the component parts of a whole, and their relations in making up the whole, are inadequate and lack co-ordination.

The Blind Men and the Elephant *

It was six men of Indostan
To learning much inclined,
Who went to see the Elephant
(Though all of them were blind),
That each by observation
Might satisfy his mind

The First approached the Elephant,
And happening to fall
Against his broad and sturdy side,
At once began to bawl:
“God bless me! but the Elephant
Is very like a wall!”

The Second, feeling of the tusk,
Cried, “Ho! what have we here
So very round and smooth and sharp?
To me ’tis mighty clear
This wonder of an Elephant
Is very like a spear!”

The Third approached the animal,
And happening to take
The squirming trunk within his hands,
Thus boldly up and spake:
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a snake!”

The Fourth reached out an eager hand,
And felt about the knee.
“What most this wondrous beast is like
Is mighty plain,” quoth he;
” ‘Tis clear enough the Elephant
Is very like a tree!”

The Fifth, who chanced to touch the ear,
Said: “E’en the blindest man
Can tell what this resembles most;
Deny the fact who can
This marvel of an Elephant
Is very like a fan!”

The Sixth no sooner had begun
About the beast to grope,
Than, seizing on the swinging tail
That fell within his scope,
“I see,” quoth he, “the Elephant
Is very like a rope!”

And so these men of Indostan
Disputed loud and long,
Each in his own opinion
Exceeding stiff and strong,
Though each was partly in the right,
And all were in the wrong! 

So oft in theologic wars,
The disputants, I ween,
Rail on in utter ignorance
Of what each other mean,
And prate about an Elephant
Not one of them has seen!

* Published in print edition on 12 November 2010

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