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.

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Havelock Beach. Source: Wikimedia Creative Commons

Swimming elephants of the Andaman

It is thought that elephants from were able to swim between Sri Lanka and India before they were inhabited by human beings. If you want to see an elephant swim then you must come to the Andaman Islands in the Bay of Bengal, Northeast part of the Indian Ocean. In these ocean archipelagic islands, until 2002 when logging was banned, loggers have used elephants to transport felled trees from one island to another using elephants as transport vessels. It’s absolutely amazing how these elephants were able to carry out these strenuous works and support the construction industry on the islands.

"Havelock Island in India"

Rajan, the swimming elephant

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.

Rajan, the swimming elephant

When logging was banned on the islands in 2002, many elephants were retuned 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 by his rich owner who was not willing to part with his amazing elephant who could swim.

Rajan is now cared by a special elephant carer called the “Mahout”. He continues to live on the island and enjoy his life swimming in the beautiful sea and eating the tropical fruits the island has to offer. Now around 60 years of age, he still can stay afloat and swim without any problems and the tourists love him for that. He is perhaps one of the most photographed swimming elephant in the world.

If you want to see Rajan and even swim alongside him, here’s how to get to him at Havelock Island. The Andaman Islands is a part of large group of 600 Indian islands in the Bay of Bengal. Port Blair is the capital of the Andaman Islands and is the first port of call for tourists. Non-Indians will require a “Restricted Area Permit” to visit the islands; however 30-day permits are issued on arrival at the Port Blair airport for those with Indian visas.

You can get to Port Blair by taking a ship from Kolkata (Calcutta), Chennai (Madras) or Visakhapatnam and will take 4 days.

"Havelock Island"

The best way to reach Port Blair is by air from Kolkata and Chennai airports. Airlines flying are;

Indian Airlines, from Kolkata and Chennai
JetLite, from Chennai
Kingfisher Red, from Chennai
Spicejet, from Chennai
Go Airlines, daily from Kolkata to Port Blair

There are tourist ferries between the islands operated by the Indian Directorate of Shipping Services (DSS) from Port Blair to Havelock Island. There are huge demands for these tours especially in the peak season therefore it’s best to book your tickets several days’ in advance through travel agents or directly at Port Blair’s harbour or Port Blair ferry office on arrival.

Apart from the Government-operated ferries, there are private helicopter flights to Havelock Island such as the “Pawan Hans” that operates 8-seater Cessna seaplanes from Port Blair to Havelock Island and back every day except on Sundays.

22 thoughts on “The swimming elephant of the Andaman Islands, India”

  1. Interesting story of Rajan the elephant. The way you have described it is even more interesting. I have seen and heard about elephants swimming but I never thought they can swim for such long distances.

  2. Hi Medha, actually elephants are known to swim. We assume that as they are huge animals, they wont be able to swim. But the fact is that they can. Rajan the elephant of the Andaman is still there to entertain the tourists. Thanks for your comment.

  3. Yes elephants can swim, I see the wild life program and seen it a few times now..

    and PORT BLAIR is one place I missed my uncle was posted brig. there I have seen pictures its beautifullllllllllll


  4. It would have been better if we saw him actually swimming! He just stayed on one spot! But nevertheless, the facts you presented were astounding. I really want to see an elephant swimming in action though!

  5. Heartbreaking Rajan’s mate passed & Rajan is the sole elephant on the island. ;-(. Wish locals could bring him another mate or relocate him w other of his kind.

  6. I never thought that elephants could have evolved from sea animals. Thanks for that interesting information! Great video of Rajan, the swimming elephant as well! I can’t believe he’s around 60 years old, and I’m glad he’s healthy and happy. The closest I’ve been to an elephant was when my family had a trip to the zoo, and that was way back when I was just 10 years old.

  7. That is so cool. My wife and I were in Thailand for a little over a year and seen lots of elephants there. Never touched one though and never did go on any rides. They are incredible creatures though from what I understand. I recently seen a documentary in which they showed how elephants were used to recover bodies etc after the tsunami hit Thailand in 2006. Fascinating!


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