(Fr-éléphant patte; Ger-Elefant Fuß; Nor-elefant fotRus-слон нога)
Introduction: The size (too large for jewelry) and makeup (use requires taxidermy and tanning) of elephant feet indicates that covering them in this file is unwarranted.  Readers, however, have prevailed upon me to include them because they are zoogenic and they are used to fashion well known curios. So, they are treated, but differently from other materials included on this site – i.e.,the coverage is relatively short and, because to me the products are gross, no illustration is included .

DESCRIPTION: The feet and a short portion of the lower leg of both the south-central Asian elephant (Elephas maximus Linnaeus, 1758) and the African elephant (Loxodonta africana (Blumenbach, 1797)) have been used.  The skin is thick and almost hairless;  the toenails are keratin.  Two examples of the size of elephant feet are "Asian elephant cow Chukha's left front foot is around 40 cm long as well as wide, and has a circumference of 1.34 m. Zürich zoo's elephant bull Maxie's left front foot is around 47 cm long and 51 cm wide, and has a circumference of 1.57 m." (Frei, n.d.)
   Colors - skin-gray; nails off-white, commonly stained brownish.
   Light transmission - translucent to opaque  
   Luster - skin-dull; nails-dull to subvitreous  
   Miscellaneous - Typically, African elephants have four toenails on their front feet and three on their back feet whereas Asian elephants have five toenails on their front feet and four on their back feet.  But, exceptions exist -- e.g., some African elephants have been recorded to have the same number of toenails on their front and back feet as their Asian counterparts.

OTHER NAMES:   none found

USES: Elephant feet have been fashioned into such things as drums, ice buckets (most with rather ornate, commonly metal, lids), ottomans and stools (many with tops of materials such as zebra or leopard hide), umbrella stands and waste buckets.  


REMARKS: Elephant comes from elefaunt [Middle English] via olifant [Old French] and  olifantus [Vulgar Latin] from elephas = elephant [ancient Greek].  

As is true of elephant ivory (see IVORY entry), currently, elephant feet and things fashioned from them can not be imported legally into the United States...  

To make the items mentioned under USES, it is necessary to hollow out the feet -- i.e., to remove the bones and other subcutaneous tissues.  Taxidermy and tanning procedures are required to do this and to preserve the remaining skin and toenails.  For some uses, the toenails are polished, painted or otherwise modified.

One of the important dances for Dai Nationals (of Yunnan Province, China) is called the Elephant-foot-drum dance, which is described as "agile, rugged and free ..."  The drumbeat -- traditionally on elephant foot drums -- is described as  "not only the tempo of a dance but also a kind of language for people to communicate their feelings." (China four..., 1996-2002).  Somewhat along this line, as a connoisseur of music of several genre, "Elephant's Foot" by funk and soul saxophonist Maceo Parker seems worth mentioning here.

The designation elephant foot has been applied, in the vernacular, to several other natural and manufactured things. Examples of NAUTRAL THINGS are the Elephant Foot Glacier along the east coast of Greenland;  the Elephant Foot Cave formation in Lookout Mountain Cave, near Chatanooga, Tennessee;  and several Plants – e.g., the African yam (Dioscorea  elephantipes (L'Hérminier) or Testudinaria elphantipes L'Hérminier), also called "Hottentot's bread";  the elephant foot palm (Beaucarnea recurvata Lemaire 1861), also known as the ponytail palm; and elephant foot wildflower (Elephantopus ssp. -- e.g.,  E. tomentosus Linnaeus), which are relatively common in the southeastern United States, where they are also  known as "Devil's Grandmother."  Examples of MANUFACTURED ITEMS are some Automobile tail lights, certain "arty" Glass and Ceramic items (especially jars), the Elephant foot Clevis, “Dr. Seuss-ish Elephant Foot Hand bag,” some tobacco pipes, and the “feet” on some furniture (e.g., old fashioned bathtubs).  Also, some people, especially in Great Britain, refer to rolling library step stools as an elephant's foot, and Elephant’s Foot is the nickname for the Malraux Art Gallery in Le Havre, France.

SIMULANTS:  None that I have seen recorded, but ceramic replicas might be considered simulants by some people;  simple observation serves to distinguish these replicas from elephant feet per se.

REPLICAS:  Ceramic replicas have been marketed for uses such as footstools..

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R.V. Dietrich © 2015
Last update: September 8, 2007
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