The Andaman Islands are known for their pristine beaches. But their main treasure is the tropical evergreen forests, by many considered the finest in the world. As often happens with the natural resources, there’s always someone who wants to convert them into the natural flow of income. In this case, it was the Brits who started clearing the forests in the colonial period. The timber exploitation highly intensified in the 1970’s carried on by international companies and later Asian settlers (mostly Bengalis) who kept encroaching and occupying more and more forest areas, replacing them with the oil palms and teak. It led to the massive destruction of the archipelago’s original biodiversity.

Rajan, the swimming elephant, Havelock, the Andaman Islads, India
02 January 2016

Each morning (well, not really each, the grandpa had his whimsies, and the owners respected it) Rajan would go the sea with his carer, swim, have fun and bring his owners loads of cash from those who wished to join him.

swimming elephants
swimming elephants

 It cost arms and legs to accompany Rajan in the sea. Part of the sum was non-refundable even if the elephant wasn’t in the mood for swimming and decided to watch the sunrise instead.

swimming elephants

But no one complained. The pleasure of just accompanying Rajan was simply great and enough to make your day brighter and your smile wider. After all, not every day one can breathe the same air as a movie star. That’s right, in addition to being cute Rajan is a celebrity who have been featured in the Hollywood movie “The Fall”!

Click HERE for more pictures of Rajan and the Andaman Islands

swimming elephants

To transport wood between the islands the elephants were used. The animals were trained in swimming in the sea to carry heavy logs. Since 2001, after the law enforcement to reduce the forest exploitation, the elephants used for this purpose became useless. Some of them were transported to the mainland to work in Hindu temples, others – like Rajan - were simply sold to new owners and remained on the islands doing other jobs. Rajan (currently over 65 years old ) was bought by the Barefoot Scuba Dive Resort and earned his food and accommodation by entertaining tourists and divers. We were two of them.

Today Rajan is a retired celebrity, and the Barefoot Resort no longer hires him to swim with tourists. But you can still meet him taking a dawn walk in the forest. Or you can visit him at the resort. We highly recommend it! Check the details with the Barefoot Scuba Dive Resort, Havelock.

swimming elephants

For those interested in ecology-related dilemmas, we recommend googling a story from the Interview Island. In 1960, one of the companies carrying out the forestry business on this island went bankrupt. Approximately 40 elephants were simply released to the environment where they found good living conditions. Nowadays the population of the feral elephants grew to the number of 70 despite the numerous cases of ivory hunting. But recently on the internet, there are more and more articles calling for culling the animals in order to “protect the island’s original vegetation”.

Suddenly, after years of uncontrolled and ongoing exploitation of the Andaman Islands, the elephants became the main culprits of the ecological disaster. One can’t help but wonder what’s really going on and who’s business plans are threatened by the presence of these majestic animals…


The heartbreaking update


Rajan, the last swimming elephant of the Andaman Islands, died in the night between July 31 and August 01, 2016, at the age of 66.



Tags: India

Meeting Rajan

The elephants of Interview Island

How did the elephants come to the Andaman Islands?

Meet Rajan, the swimming elephant

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