Oct 1, 2013

Meet Rajan the swimming Elephant of the Andaman Islands, India

Can elephants swim ?

Can elephants swim?
Yes they can. They are known to be good swimmers. New evidence suggests that elephants may have evolved from sea creatures. The discovery of “nephrostome” in elephant foetuses similar to what is found in freshwater fish, frogs and egg laying reptiles suggests that they have common ancestry. The ancestors of the modern elephant went through a variety of harsh environments and were able to evolve to environmental changes quite fast. This gave them remarkable physical and mental agility.

Swimming Elephant of Andaman - Rajan

 


Meet Rajan 63 year old retired Asian elephant is the last of the famous ocean swimming elephants of the Andaman Islands. He is a well known celebrity having featured in the Hollywood movie 'The Fall'.
Rajan is an elephant who can swim and perhaps one of the friendliest elephant you will meet. Born in the 1950’s in India, he was made to work hard and had to undergo cruel training regimes. He was brought to the Andaman Islands to work in the timber industry and made to swim from island to island transporting timber. During his early years of his life, remained in captivity and worked for timber companies. He even met his girlfriend who originally taught him to dive and go scuba diving. Both elephants would walk side by side into the ocean every evening to play and go swimming. She remained with him for 20 years. She unfortunately died when bitten by a cobra. The story is that he was heartbroken.

When logging was banned on the islands in 2002, many elephants were returned back to the Indian mainland. However, some remained and Rajan was one of them. Rajan stayed on the islands where he was taken to the “Barefoot beach and resort” at Havelock Island.

Like most elephants, Rajan loves the water and enjoys his swims. Every year many professional underwater photographers and magazine journalists make the journey to the Emerald Isles just to meet and have the opportunity to interact and photograph this amazing swimming elephant.

Diving or snorkeling with Rajan is a unique and enriching experience. It's a once in a lifetime opportunity and is truly a magical experience. Every season snorkelers and divers from all over the globe are amazed and mesmerized by his grace and relative weightlessness underwater.If you thought diving with a great white shark is the most special you could do, think again!

A typical dive with Rajan - what's it like?

When you first get to Beach #7(Radhanagar Beach, Havelock Island), you will meet this gentle giant in the jungle just behind the beach, probably munching away on some leafs or scratching himself on a tree trunk.

The divers kit up on the beach and will enter the water from there. Once the divers are in, Rajan will slowly make his way down to the waterline, carrying his mahout on his back. Together they enter the water, which on days can be a bit tricky for the two, since there can be some waves.



As the divers descend while Rajan walks towards them you will see a cloud of sand to start with, out of which Rajan will appear. He slowly walks through the water, enjoying himself. With the water getting deeper, he will slowly lift his hind legs and continue walking on the front legs, before eventually lifting his front legs as well off the ground when the water is deep enough for him to swim.

This moment is truly magical. It's certainly an experience, to see this large Asian male elephant (who by the way is the largest in all of the Andaman Islands), move so elegantly and almost effortlessly in the water.

Rajan does dive; however there are some days were he doesn't want to go quite as deep or have a long swim and nobody will force him to. But even on days where he is more of a walking elephant- it's still as breathtaking and a once in a lifetime experience.

Nazroo a mahout elephant driver at Radha Nagar Beach in Havelock Andaman Islands

You would think an elephant would not like the salt in their eyes from the sea, but Rajan is ok with that after all his life swimming in the sea

Rajan, the world's last and only ocean swimming elephant, is edging a step closer to a well-earned retirement. Rajan, 63, has entertained and stunned photographers all willing to pay for the privilege of spending time with the world's last swimming elephant.



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