The animal most commonly associated with Singapore is the lion – after all, that’s what Sang Nila Utama reportedly saw when he first stepped on our shores. Singapore also has the Merlion, which would be The Popping Post’s mascot if not for the fact that I’ve been thwarted on numerous attempts to change it.

All hail the Merlion. Credit: Pixabay

All hail the Merlion. Credit: Pixabay

There’s the fact that Singapura also literally means “Lion City”.

But we really, we should be calling ourselves Gajahpura – the “Elephant City”. It might be odd to suddenly think of Singapore as Gajapore, but hey! Elephants have played a pretty big role on our sunny island, even more so than lions when you come to think of it. Like:

1. There were verified sightings of elephants in Singapore in 1990

Elephants. Credit: Wildlife Reserves Singapore Facebook Page

Chawang the elephant. Credit: Wildlife Reserves Singapore Facebook Page

While legend has it that Sang Nila Utama saw a lion when he arrived in Singapore, most scholars agree that he most probably saw a tiger or an Asian Golden Cat, since lions don’t exist on Singapore. I mean, if they did, we’d probably have had a True Singapore Ghost Story about it by now, don’t you think?

But what did happen is that three wild male elephants were spotted by BMT recruits on Pulau Tekong on May 29, 1990. They were eventually captured with the help of two trained female elephant escorts from Malaysia named Cek Mek and Mek Banga, and then brought back to Malaysia, where they had swum from.

If you’re wondering why our Singapore Zoo didn’t keep them, there’s one very simple reason. Elephants are difficult to control during musth. It’s the period when they are most sexually active. Yeah, we can imagine why horny elephants would be a bit of a… problem.

2. Elephas maximus vs Loxodonta

Do you see that the African elephants have larger ears and are completely grey, unlike the Asian elephants whose trunks have pink freckles on them? Credit: Pixabay

Do you see that the African elephants have larger ears and are completely grey, unlike the Asian elephants whose trunks have pink freckles on them? Credit: Pixabay

You might not think that’s cool in and of itself, but besides the Elephas, there’s only one other genus (family) of elephants – the Loxodonta, which are mainly found in Africa. Which one sounds more like elephant? Elephas, of course.

The specific elephant species that’s native to our region is the Elephas maximus. It is most easily distinguished from the Loxodonta by looking at their ears. African elephants have larger, Africa-shaped ears, while Asian elephants have smaller, rounder, India-shaped ears.

Wonder if those Asian elephants could do an Asian squat?

3. We used to be able to ride elephants at the Singapore Zoo

Riding an elephant! Credit: Wikimedia Commons

That’s easily more than 150 kg on the back of this elephant. Credit: Wikimedia Commons

According to a Lonely Planet article, experts say that adult elephants aren’t as strong as they look. They have weak backs and can only carry a maximum of 150 kg for up to four hours a day. Up until January 4, 2015, visitors were able to ride elephants at the Singapore Zoo. However, the zoo stopped the rides to keep in line with internationally recommended practices of caring for elephants ethically. Then, the chief life sciences officer of Wildlife Reserves Singapore, which runs the zoo, explained that they decided to adopt a “protected contact management system” after an “internal review” by the elephant managers and healthcare experts, who found that this system would translate to a safer working environment for the mahouts.

The last elephant-related accident was in 2001, when Chawang, a bull elephant, gored his mahout of 18 years. Mr Gopal Krishnan suffered fractured ribs and a punctured lung, and was in hospital for close to two months before he eventually recovered.

4. Singapore’s most famous elephant is Sharity Elephant

Sharity Elephant! Credit: Sharity Facebook Page

Sharity Elephant! Credit: Sharity Facebook Page

If there’s one elephant that’s immediately recognisable, it’s Sharity Elephant. If you didn’t already know, Sharity is male, as his Facebook Page states. Besides Dumbo, that’s probably only the other cartoon elephant Singaporeans can identify.

Wonder if Sharity ever gets periods of musth?

5. And again in 1991, an elephant came to visit Singapore!

An elephant would not be out of place in a place like Pulau Ubin. Credit: traveladventures.org

An elephant would not be out of place in a place like Pulau Ubin. Credit: traveladventures.org

Somehow, elephants really liked Singapore in the early 90’s. And boy, could they swim! Another bull elephant swam over, this time landing in Pulau Ubin. He attacked a human being and damaged a taxi before being captured and brought back to Malaysia.

But the lucky dude had the Malaysian elephants Cek Mek and Mek Banga over again this time to persuade him to go home.

6. Our very own Singapore filmmaker Kirsten Tan had an elephant actor in her movie!

Pop Aye. Credit: Pop Aye Facebook Page

Pop Aye. Credit: Pop Aye Facebook Page

And to show our affinity for elephants in Singapore, even our filmmakers like working with elephants! Local filmmaker Kirsten Tan wrote and directed Pop Aye, a drama about an elephant and his architect, depicting their journey across Thailand.

I’m sure it would have been set in Singapore if she could, but there’s no way an architect could lead an elephant across Singapore without SCDF, MINDEF, MHA, NEA, NParks, and AVA getting involved.

Pop Aye. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

Pop Aye. Credit: Golden Village Cinemas

So what’s Pop Aye all about? A man and his elephant journey to back to their old home as they learn more about themselves and each other. It’s not a pet film by any means (would you keep an elephant as a pet?), but one thing’s for sure.

It’s going to be a lot of elefun.

 

 

Credits: Pixabay, Wildlife Reserves Singapore Facebook Page, Asian elephant Facebook Page, Wikimedia Commons, Sharity Facebook Page, Golden Village Cinemas, POP AYE Facebook Page, The Straits Times, Lonely Planet