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What is an Ankus?

Malcolm Tatum
Updated Jun 04, 2024
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Sometimes referred to as an elephant goad, the ankus is a simple tool that is utilizing in training and managing elephants. The body of the ankus is distinguished by a hook that us normally made of bronze or steel. A two to three foot handle is attached to the hook, which allows the trainer to make use of the ankus in the management of the elephant while remaining at a comfortable range.

While the exact origin of the ankus is debated, the tool can be traced back to the early years of the Hindu faith. The ankus or bullhook is part of the Astamangala of Hinduism, which is a set of eight auspicious objects that are considered to be essential. Images of the ankus are also often associated with a number of the deities within the religion, with Ganesha being one example.

An ankus can be a very simple design, involving nothing more than a plain metal hook and a handle that may be constructed of metal, ivory, or wood. However, not all versions of the elephant hook are strictly utilitarian. Many examples of the ankus are quite ornate, especially those that are utilized during religious ceremonies and processions. They may be encrusted with jewels coated with gold or silver, and even engraved with passages of sacred text.

Modern versions of the ankus can also be constructed with synthetic as well as natural products. Fiberglass versions of the ankus provide a lightweight alternative to the heavier steel or bronze models, and still manage to retain a great deal of strength. Generally, plastic versions of the ankus are used only for practical training, and are not used in public appearances or in religious ceremonies.

In addition to use in religious processions, the ankus is also often used in the carnival industry as a training and management tool with elephants. Just as with the models that are used in religious ceremonies and events, more ornate versions of the ankus are often used by the elephant trainer during the actual circus performances.

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Malcolm Tatum
By Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing to become a full-time freelance writer. He has contributed articles to a variety of print and online publications, including All Things Nature, and his work has also been featured in poetry collections, devotional anthologies, and newspapers. When not writing, Malcolm enjoys collecting vinyl records, following minor league baseball, and cycling.
Discussion Comments
By anon985752 — On Jan 19, 2015

Short answer: Yes, under the right circumstances.

Used properly (emphasis on 'properly') the ankus or bullhook is a humane and effective training aid with nearly 5,000 years of service behind it.

By anon147661 — On Jan 30, 2011

Can an elephant be trained in a less painful manner?

Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum
Malcolm Tatum, a former teleconferencing industry professional, followed his passion for trivia, research, and writing...
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