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Journal of the Elephant Managers Association

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Rarely is there a scientific article of such creativity, insight and importance that it is fascinating even 125 years after it was written. The following article by Max Schmidt, translated in English for the first time, as far as we know, is one of these. As in the original article, an illustration precedes the text.

Dr. Schmidt addressed a topic of considerable interest in recent times (for example, Sukumar, 2003, Appendix 2): The growth curves of elephants. He combined data on multiple elephants from several sources to generate a table of shoulder heights from birth to the age of 34 years. For one animal at the Berlin Zoo, he provided a collection of 25 anatomical measurements repeated over a period of 20 years, perhaps the most thorough study in history of the anatomical growth of an elephant. We have modified some of the tables in the manuscript, in order to clarify them.

Among the topics Schmidt discussed are the reliability of physical measurements, growth spurts, the likely relation between diet and growth rate, sex differences in growth rate, growth rates during pregnancy, the idea that elephants continue to grow well past the age of maturity accepted at the time (20 years old) and the idea that the curvature of an Asian elephant's back changes systematically with age. Perhaps his most impressive comment is that the age at which reproductive capacity is acquired coincides with the age at which growth in the pelvic region seems complete: some time before 15 years of age.

It is no accident that Dr. Schmidt wrote such an impressive paper in 1884. He was a veterinarian who served as the director of the Frankfurt Zoo before becoming the scientific director of the Berlin Zoo in 1884, the same year this article was published (Strehlow, 1996). In 1870, Schmidt had published a veterinary manual that may be translated as "Clinical Zoology: Handbook of the Comparative Pathology and Pathological Anatomy of Mammals and Birds. Volume 1, Part 1: The Illnesses of Apes". According to Strehlow (1996), this was the first book ever published on the diseases of animals in captivity.


This article was originally published in the Journal of the Elephant Managers Association, all rights reserved.