The Tembo: A Race of Sapient Elephants

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Re: The Tembo: A Race of Sapient Elephants

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teotlxixtli wrote: 01 Jul 2021 22:57 I’d also like to ask the forum how they feel about the Tembo practicing agriculture. They live in a habitat much like African elephants do now, which does not exactly come to mind when I think of agricultural fertility. But on the other hand as herbivores they would have greater benefits from the practice in terms of resources spent versus gained... what do y’all think?
Well, as we know, elephant-like animals have lived in a variety of climates from tropical to subarctic glacial and also in a wide variety of geographical regions ranging from Africa to Eurasia to North America. Also, the historical range of African elephants used to be much larger than it is anymore. There's simply no good reason to restrict the Tembo to an African climate simply because people tend to associate elephants with Africa. Of course, if you've got reasons to do so, then all well and good.

My query would be, what kind of agriculture are you looking at? I don't know if their trunks are dexterous (and small) enough to deal with seeds, but perhaps they could practice horticulture? Maybe they could make widespread gardens of tuberous plants? Perhaps they could also create large orchards of fruit or nut trees!
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Re: The Tembo: A Race of Sapient Elephants

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elemtilas wrote: 02 Jul 2021 00:09
teotlxixtli wrote: 01 Jul 2021 22:57 I’d also like to ask the forum how they feel about the Tembo practicing agriculture. They live in a habitat much like African elephants do now, which does not exactly come to mind when I think of agricultural fertility. But on the other hand as herbivores they would have greater benefits from the practice in terms of resources spent versus gained... what do y’all think?
Well, as we know, elephant-like animals have lived in a variety of climates from tropical to subarctic glacial and also in a wide variety of geographical regions ranging from Africa to Eurasia to North America. Also, the historical range of African elephants used to be much larger than it is anymore. There's simply no good reason to restrict the Tembo to an African climate simply because people tend to associate elephants with Africa. Of course, if you've got reasons to do so, then all well and good.

My query would be, what kind of agriculture are you looking at? I don't know if their trunks are dexterous (and small) enough to deal with seeds, but perhaps they could practice horticulture? Maybe they could make widespread gardens of tuberous plants? Perhaps they could also create large orchards of fruit or nut trees!
The Tembo live on a continent called Ardhi, and their range is restricted to the portion between the mountains to the south and east and the sea to the north and west, in a climate I saw on earth as being like Venezuela, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Northern Vietnam, so that's what I'm drawing on mostly.

I chose African elephants specifically because their trunks are more dexterous than Asian elephants. The biology is complicated but basically the African elephant trunks are lip-ier than Asian elephants, the latter of which do a kind of scooping grab instead of a true grasp like a hand. To that end I'm sure they could handle seeds and nuts and stuff, but I'm concerned that at this point in history that I've worked on they're all semi-nomadic hunter gatherers, and for the most part a more structured society that can keep up with all the grain is necessary to make it all work, you know?

Native Americans of course cultivated the land deliberately for centuries and spread plants they wanted to harvest along pathways to such a degree European accounts from first contact with North America were shocked at how it all seemed so planned (and indeed it was). I can now imagine Tembo deliberately planting seeds and nuts in particular areas that they'll return to to harvest their favorite medicines and foods.
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Re: The Tembo: A Race of Sapient Elephants

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teotlxixtli wrote: 02 Jul 2021 00:33 The Tembo live on a continent called Ardhi, and their range is restricted to the portion between the mountains to the south and east and the sea to the north and west, in a climate I saw on earth as being like Venezuela, Sub-Saharan Africa, and Northern Vietnam, so that's what I'm drawing on mostly.
Three very different, but all highly fertile areas!

Africa has no problem with agricultural production: most of Africa, even wildly under-utilised as it is, is able to provide more than enough food for the entire population of 21st century Africa - hundreds of times more people than in early agricultural days.
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Re: The Tembo: A Race of Sapient Elephants

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Salmoneus wrote: 02 Jul 2021 01:27
Three very different, but all highly fertile areas!

Africa has no problem with agricultural production: most of Africa, even wildly under-utilised as it is, is able to provide more than enough food for the entire population of 21st century Africa - hundreds of times more people than in early agricultural days.
I referenced those three places because they have either tropical savanna climates or tropical monsoon ones, per the Köppen climate classification, which gives me all the basic information on what kind of plants, geography, water, and wildlife it’ll have.

You’re right though, Africa is a far more fertile place than I gave it credit for
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Re: The Tembo: A Race of Sapient Elephants

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Humans also come from the African savanna, and we learned agriculture just fine. elephants, of course, would practice a different kind of agriculture, but they have good reason to cultivate.

what we humans did is we adopted an increasingly diverse and diet as we became cleverer, and extended into many ranges. elephants would likely do a similar thing: whatever makes you clever makes you better able to find better food, and so dedicate less of your body to digestion. my elephants went for tubers and fatty fruits, you know potatoes and olives and stuff. trunk bois are so extremely strong that they might be just be plain better at it: tusks help with digging, which helps in planting and in irrigation: pulling your own plows also helps immensely. this lead them, to insist on the example, to agricultural techniques disproportionate to their technological level, with dams and cisterns and cannals moving water around being built by people who don't know about ceramics or wheels.

rammed earth works are especially obvious for big people. the problem for elephant agriculture is, i think, volume: a man needs a ton of food a year, or so: an elephant in a zoo needs three times that plus much much more hay (who knows what that translates to in terms of only eating proper food, but it's likely intelligent elephants would still find it appropriate to eat bark and grass even when surrounded by apples: perhaps bark with some apple sauce is delicious)

anyway that's good scaling in a way (though intelligent elephants probably need more food to feed that big brain), and that's cause big things tend to be slower in metabolism than small things: elephants probably can produce that with their labour, but storing it and distributing it seems like it'd be a hassle. maybe they dig caves?
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Re: The Tembo: A Race of Sapient Elephants

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teotlxixtli wrote: 02 Jul 2021 00:33 To that end I'm sure they could handle seeds and nuts and stuff, but I'm concerned that at this point in history that I've worked on they're all semi-nomadic hunter gatherers, and for the most part a more structured society that can keep up with all the grain is necessary to make it all work, you know?
Being nomadic doesn't preclude all kinds of agriculture. As I mentioned, why not some kind of horticulture? There could be multigenerational gardens along their usual migratory paths. They could also create and tend orchards of trees that they find useful.
Native Americans of course cultivated the land deliberately for centuries and spread plants they wanted to harvest along pathways to such a degree European accounts from first contact with North America were shocked at how it all seemed so planned (and indeed it was). I can now imagine Tembo deliberately planting seeds and nuts in particular areas that they'll return to to harvest their favorite medicines and foods.
Exactly!
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Re: The Tembo: A Race of Sapient Elephants

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teotlxixtli wrote: 02 Jul 2021 07:03
Salmoneus wrote: 02 Jul 2021 01:27
Three very different, but all highly fertile areas!

Africa has no problem with agricultural production: most of Africa, even wildly under-utilised as it is, is able to provide more than enough food for the entire population of 21st century Africa - hundreds of times more people than in early agricultural days.
I referenced those three places because they have either tropical savanna climates or tropical monsoon ones, per the Köppen climate classification, which gives me all the basic information on what kind of plants, geography, water, and wildlife it’ll have.
Not quite!
Venezuela is mostly tropical savanna, yes, but northern Vietnam is not tropical at all - it's a dry-winter temperate climate. [however, most of it isn't a real temperate monsoon climate, because in a lot of it the 'dry' winter is still quite drizzly, just drier than the wet season; the dry season is also quite short in much of north vietnam]

Subsaharan Africa it doesn't make sense to assign a climate to, because it's so massive. It includes tropical rainforests, tropical savannas, tropical monsoon climates, dry-winter temperate climates, dry-summer temperate climates, wet-all-year-round temperate climates, oceanic climates, mediterranean climates, hot steppe, cold steppe, hot desert and cold desert... pretty much everything other than taiga and tundra, really.



Torco: to be fair, although humans come from Africa, we didn't develop agiculture until we'd left it. However, the fact that Africa historically was slower to adopt agriculture is a coincidence not based on soil fertility. And indeed, some highly-fertile areas, like the Nile valley and the Gezira plains, were agriculturalised relatively early.




Regarding elephant diets: apparently they eat around 150kg of food every day. Presumably it can be less if they cultivate more grains and fruit, but it's still a pretty immense amount (and they can eat twice that!). While elephants can certainly contribute enough labour for farming, the big question would be about the availability of land: it's just going to take a shit ton more land to feed each elephant than would be needed to feed a human. A quick look suggests this is about 100 times as much as a human eats.

To put that in simple terms: if an elephant village and a human village each have 100 people, the elephant village is going to have to be - including outlying farmland - 100 times bigger than the human village. And if you don't want your elephants to still be spending 16 hours a day walking around their farmland - if you want them to have some free time! - then this is a problem in terms of how quickly and efficiently food can be brought in from such a large area. After all, this means that a 100-person tiny elephant village is going to need the agricultural footprint of a human mediaeval city! But with only 1/100th as many farmers to cut and gather the grain! Even though elephants can carry more, having so few workers for such a large area is going to be a crucifying amount of time and energy spent walking around...

This suggests that even if you can find enough total land to support a large elephant population, there's going to have to be some differences from human habitation: either the elephants are going to have to leave in very small hamlets of only a handful or a dozen people - so that they can all be within easy distance of their own food - or else they're going to have to be much better than humans at efficiently organising large-scale cooperative farming and logistics!
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Re: The Tembo: A Race of Sapient Elephants

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Salmoneus wrote: 02 Jul 2021 17:42
teotlxixtli wrote: 02 Jul 2021 07:03
Salmoneus wrote: 02 Jul 2021 01:27
Three very different, but all highly fertile areas!

Africa has no problem with agricultural production: most of Africa, even wildly under-utilised as it is, is able to provide more than enough food for the entire population of 21st century Africa - hundreds of times more people than in early agricultural days.
I referenced those three places because they have either tropical savanna climates or tropical monsoon ones, per the Köppen climate classification, which gives me all the basic information on what kind of plants, geography, water, and wildlife it’ll have.
Not quite!
Venezuela is mostly tropical savanna, yes, but northern Vietnam is not tropical at all - it's a dry-winter temperate climate. [however, most of it isn't a real temperate monsoon climate, because in a lot of it the 'dry' winter is still quite drizzly, just drier than the wet season; the dry season is also quite short in much of north vietnam]

Subsaharan Africa it doesn't make sense to assign a climate to, because it's so massive. It includes tropical rainforests, tropical savannas, tropical monsoon climates, dry-winter temperate climates, dry-summer temperate climates, wet-all-year-round temperate climates, oceanic climates, mediterranean climates, hot steppe, cold steppe, hot desert and cold desert... pretty much everything other than taiga and tundra, really.
You’re right on both counts here; southern Vietnam and Cambodia are more like what I’m looking for, and I should have specified the tropical savannah band just south of the Sahel when I talked about Sub-Saharan Africa. You know, like South Sudan and Nigeria and places like that. It’s those climates where I imagined Tembo predominating, modeled on the African elephant both physically and socially.

So far I’m resisting the idea of Tembo having permanent structures at all, since the resources to make sufficiently huge buildings just wouldn’t exist in either the magnitude or frequency, since humans would be gobbling up their share as well. I never imagined Tembo having villages; I figured they would have massive umbrellas sort of like the ones you take to the beach that shaded them as they moved from one watering hole to the next, planting seeds and nuts along the way and raising oxpeckers to clean their skin. I do like the idea of communal defensive structures taken over in case of fighting with humans. And spiky wicker armor is really badass.
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Re: The Tembo: A Race of Sapient Elephants

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Torco: to be fair, although humans come from Africa, we didn't develop agiculture until we'd left it.
sure, but if all you get is africa, you can make it work there. for all we know the egyptians came up with wheat. I agree, africa's not the most agriculturalizable terrain, but it's not too bad.
This suggests that even if you can find enough total land to support a large elephant population, there's going to have to be some differences from human habitation: either the elephants are going to have to leave in very small hamlets of only a handful or a dozen people - so that they can all be within easy distance of their own food - or else they're going to have to be much better than humans at efficiently organising large-scale cooperative farming and logistics!
*or* more intensive cultivation, if you can. the distances get bothersome, but elephants walk faster than us so that somewhat counteracts this. if we go with your numbers, we need 50 tons of food, give or take, a year. this is about as much food as 50-101 hectares can grow with medieval human productivities (google says it's 500-1000k per hec per year medieval average, this could be wrong). 100 hectares is not a hugely large tract of land, you can walk the entire lenght (given the shape of the plot is reasonable) and be home for dinner. increase that somewhat with irrigation, landscaping, terracing and other kinds of things a large boi could do and you're left with population densities around 2 people per square km. that's low, admittedly, but it's not that low, and you can work that up a lot with labour. still, the fact is there, there's always going to be many many more humans than elephants.

a key problem for elephant people with distances, though, that we don't have, is that they can't have land vehicles: not until you come up with steel and engines, I'd say no ganesha-looking indo-european invaders on chariots are very likely. air vehicles are probably going to have to wait until the jet engine, or aluminium. watercraft, though, are easier. decent timbers will carry a big boi.

And spiky wicker armor is really badass.
heheheh innit?

I'm torn regarding no dwellings for elephants, tbh. on the one hand, sure, they're large and strong, but I mean... they do get sunburns (though mud helps) and probably are as discomforted by cold, wind and ambient noise as anyone else. chimps, after all, also sleep outside, and even our nomads carry yurts and whatnot. discomfort is possibly not enough to dissuade any hypothetical agoraphobic Tembo, either: we used to build houses that were neither spatious nor well lit and we still deemed them essential: then again, humans are perfectly able to sleep under the stars if we're trained for it, take proper precautions and don't stray too far polewards, and big bois take the cold better than us anyway, so it's not like it's unrealistic for the Tembo to sleep under gazebos.
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Re: The Tembo: A Race of Sapient Elephants

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Torco wrote: 03 Jul 2021 07:04
I'm torn regarding no dwellings for elephants, tbh. on the one hand, sure, they're large and strong, but I mean... they do get sunburns (though mud helps) and probably are as discomforted by cold, wind and ambient noise as anyone else. chimps, after all, also sleep outside, and even our nomads carry yurts and whatnot. discomfort is possibly not enough to dissuade any hypothetical agoraphobic Tembo, either: we used to build houses that were neither spatious nor well lit and we still deemed them essential: then again, humans are perfectly able to sleep under the stars if we're trained for it, take proper precautions and don't stray too far polewards, and big bois take the cold better than us anyway, so it's not like it's unrealistic for the Tembo to sleep under gazebos.
I think once humans reach more advanced building capacity through the course of history we'll see Tembo live among them in buildings and stuff, but for now it seems to me that the resources needed to build entire villages for Tembo simply don't exist. Parasols and gazebo-type canopies seem more likely to me.
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Re: The Tembo: A Race of Sapient Elephants

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Torco wrote: 03 Jul 2021 07:04

*or* more intensive cultivation, if you can. the distances get bothersome, but elephants walk faster than us so that somewhat counteracts this. if we go with your numbers, we need 50 tons of food, give or take, a year. this is about as much food as 50-101 hectares can grow with medieval human productivities (google says it's 500-1000k per hec per year medieval average, this could be wrong). 100 hectares is not a hugely large tract of land, you can walk the entire lenght (given the shape of the plot is reasonable) and be home for dinner. increase that somewhat with irrigation, landscaping, terracing and other kinds of things a large boi could do and you're left with population densities around 2 people per square km. that's low, admittedly, but it's not that low, and you can work that up a lot with labour. still, the fact is there, there's always going to be many many more humans than elephants.
My point wasn't about mean population density, but about the distribution of that density. The problem is that, yes, the farm itself isn't too big to deal with, but when you put a group of famers together, their outlying farms start to be a long way away from their homes.

Taking your numbers, that means that if you have a small village of 100 people, some of those people are going to have a 3 mile walk just to GET to their farm every day!

That might be manageable - they walk quickly and have plenty of stamina. But now let's say you have a little market town of 1000 people. Now it's a THIRTY mile walk every day to get to your farm! Even for elephants that's probably going to be too much! And in practice it's much worse than that - because while it's easy enough to find a couple of good hectares for farming, it's hard to find a couple of hundred good hectares for farming, all in one place - so the actual hinterland of a town would in practice usually be less uniform and compact, and hence some parts would be further from the centre (eg, spread out along the river bank).

Now, every species will have a point where its settlements are no longer self-sufficient, and they need to rely on food imports from further afield. New Yorkers don't go out to farm every day - even if they wanted to, it would be difficult to commute so far! But this inflexion point is a major barrier to civilisation, because you can only pass it if a) you're consistently producing large food surpluses from your farming methods, that can be shipped to the capital in return for luxury (in relative terms) goods, and b) you have a sufficiently advanced economic, political, military and logistic system to manage all these long-distance food shipments with enough reliability to base an entire city's survival on.

For mediaeval humans, this threshold seems to have been between about 10,000 and 100,000 people. Towns below this size, and small cities at the lower end of this range, were basically agricultural: much of the population (the majority of the adult male population) went out and farmed every day. And, accordingly, this was effectively the limit of city size between the Fall of Rome and the beginning of the Early Modern Period: a few tens of thousands of people. [in Europe, this is. Outside Europe, cities of 100,000 or more were possible, mostly as national or regional capitals of great empires]. Which is probably the general size of human cities without empires or modern technology - it's in line with ancient mesopotamian cities and ancient greece, for instance. [see my new post in T&S for more on this]

For elephants, though, that threshold point would be reached much, much earlier: a small market town of 1,000 people would in this regard be their equivalent of Constantinople. Even a village of 100 people is probably going to take a long time to develop (unless, as I say, they're much better at it than us).
a key problem for elephant people with distances, though, that we don't have, is that they can't have land vehicles: not until you come up with steel and engines, I'd say no ganesha-looking indo-european invaders on chariots are very likely.
True, although the importance of vehicles to humans is easily overstated. Human vehicles have overwhelmingly used for freight, not for personal transport, until the modern era.

Yes, rich people rode horses in some places, and various donkeys and asses and camels have been ridden for convenience. But it was generally more common (except perhaps with camels in deserts?) to use your animal to carry your packs, and walk alongside it. Similarly, wagons were used not for speed but for capacity. Carriages were relatively late, and restricted to the wealthiest (and the postal service, etc). So in terms of transport, this wouldn't make a big difference to elephants (maybe they pull their own wagons, or maybe they've trained up some rhinos...). You're right that it would make a difference for warfare, though. Though not without parallels: even though they had access to horses and chariots, Roman armies were based on infantry (and even defeated cavalry in battles).
air vehicles are probably going to have to wait until the jet engine, or aluminium.
I disagree completely. I would suspect that elephants would never invent the jet engine, because the first step into HTA flight would be so difficult.
LTA flight, on the other hand, is virtually no different from with humans, and would be a lot more appealing. The lifting power of a zeppelin is so colossal that increasing the weight of the passengers makes relatively little difference. And, in particular, while it becomes exponentially harder to lift heavy loads with aeroplanes, airships have the advantage that relative lifting power scales exponentially with the size of the craft. [the weight of the craft mostly scales with the square, while the lifting power of the craft, and hence the net lifting capacity once the craft's own weight is subtracted, scales with the cube - building a slightly bigger airship lets you lift a LOT more stuff.]

So I think that a planet of modern-era elephants would be dominated by zeppelins.
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Re: The Tembo: A Race of Sapient Elephants

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Yeah, I remember doing some similar math back in the day, and cities don't work out. even towns start being things you go to, as opposed to places you live and then commute to your farm. the densities have the disadvantages you mention and they're perhaps even worse for elephants, since it takes them a large amount of energy to move a kilometer, even if you can walk farther on a day's energy. the solution my guys found to mitigate this effect is to not so much have cities, but rather moots, but this yields looser confederations.
Human vehicles have overwhelmingly used for freight, not for personal transport, until the modern era.
fair enough, but trade is important too! you can't go sell fruit to the next village unless you're willing to haul a lot of fruit.
So I think that a planet of modern-era elephants would be dominated by zeppelins.
that's a great picture. zeppelins huh? a possible -though very ad-hoc, which proves your point- pathway for elephants to eventually develop HTA flight: you start using rafts and boats around your bronze age, and as technology becomes better you start exploring faster and faster boats. eventually, you get to hydrofoils. adding wings to one of those helps you move in low drag mode at lower and lower speeds, and eventually you have seaplanes. thing is, you need to be in the compact high power engines era. your first flight happens by world war two!
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Re: The Tembo: A Race of Sapient Elephants

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I love this discussion and am low-key obsessed with sapient elephants now. [xD]
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Re: The Tembo: A Race of Sapient Elephants

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DesEsseintes wrote: 07 Jul 2021 09:04 I love this discussion and am low-key obsessed with sapient elephants now. [xD]
Reminds me much:

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Re: The Tembo: A Race of Sapient Elephants

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responsible pilots file their tusks
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Re: The Tembo: A Race of Sapient Elephants

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Torco wrote: 09 Jul 2021 09:14 responsible pilots file their tusks
...and wear protective gear!
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