In my world, A hurricane has washed a group of 8,000 pachyderms off of Afro-Eurasia and onto a large island cluster. Due to the island rule, dwarfism ensues, and the population is made of of a group of tiny elephants that are 3 feet at the shoulder in adulthood. These elephant are, however, highly intelligent, with complex social behavior and use of basic tools.After a while , there society advances to a point where they have invented agriculture and domesticated plants such as potatoes and onions. However , they are in constant danger of predation from animals such as Terror birds , Gray wolves , and Big cats , do to their diminutive size and slow speeds. to combat this , they attempt to domesticate an animal to ride , enhancing the speed that they can fight or flee.

My question is: which animals could they domesticate that could be ridden by a quadrupedal animal such as themselves?

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    $\begingroup$ 8 thousand elephants get "washed up by a hurricane" onto an island, become 4 foot tall, intelligent, and are not looking for animals to ride into combat? Sounds like the setup for a very weird joke. $\endgroup$
    – AndreiROM
    May 15, 2016 at 0:21
  • $\begingroup$ We are quadrupeds. What animals do we ride? $\endgroup$
    – user2366
    May 15, 2016 at 4:24
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    $\begingroup$ @PeterPeter Last time I checked I didn't walk on my hands and feet everywhere I went, just my feet. So I guess I'm not included in your version of "we" $\endgroup$ May 15, 2016 at 5:48
  • $\begingroup$ Giant tortoises. $\endgroup$
    – Ewan
    May 15, 2016 at 8:57
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    $\begingroup$ @frank that's a common misconception. they are just lazy $\endgroup$
    – Ewan
    May 16, 2016 at 8:54

3 Answers 3


It's going to be difficult to find an animal capable of bearing their weight. Even a dwarf elephant is bulky.

I agree with AndreiROM that "a hurricane washed them ashore" is implausible. A more likely opening scenario is that initially the elephants lived on an archipelago until an undersea earthquake split the archipelago into several separate islands. For this purpose it would be best if the elephants' newly-created island were itself split by an almost impassible mountain range.

However it is achieved, you want the result that there was another population of elephants who were sufficiently isolated from yours that they didn't interbreed during the time in which your elephants were evolving intelligence. Assume the territory of the other population of elephants was much bigger, so they didn't evolve dwarfism. Nor did they evolve sentience.

Eventually your now sentient elephants learn how to cross the barrier between the two territories - or even how to return to the mainland - and bring back some of the animal elephants, who will be related to them in the same way as chimps are related to us. On thinking about it, for this scenario it is probably better if the barrier between the where the sentient and non-sentient elephants live is a mountain range rather than a strip of water, as the latter would require the sentient elephants to create barges good enough to transport animal elephants, no easy task.

So you could have small sentient elephants riding on normal non-sentient elephants. That would solve the problem of a steed strong enough, but the difficulty remains that body shape of a quadruped with stumpy legs is ill-suited for riding another animal. It would be easier to use chariots. In principle the chariots could be pulled by any beast strong enough, but normal-sized elephants would still be a good choice for that. They would also be useful to the sentient elephants for peaceful purposes such as pulling carts or ploughs.

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    $\begingroup$ heh. I was thinking the same. Or armour. I doubt anything would want to mess with a small pachiderm covered in large, sharp spikes. $\endgroup$ May 15, 2016 at 13:53

First of all, the hurricane and the 8,000 elephants is implausible and unnecessary. You don’t need 8,000 of them to form a viable breeding population in any case.

Next, you need to factor in the fact that very few species of animal are domesticable at all or usable as riding beasts. As Jared Diamond points out in Guns Germs and Steel, so few animals can be domesticated that just a few dominate agriculture and have therefore been spread globally — the cow, goat, sheep, chicken, horse, pig, dog and cat. There are other domesticable species, including the elephant, but they prove to be less than optimal as domestic animals for a variety of reasons, explained below.

Diamond sets out six criteria that any species needs to meet to be readily domesticable:

  1. They can’t be picky eaters as they must be fed using what’s available around settlements.
  2. They must reach maturity quickly, relative to their owners’ lifespan, to make the investment in rearing them pay off. This is why Elephants, which take 15 years to reach maturity, are not more widely domesticated.
  3. They must be willing to breed in captivity.
  4. They must be docile by nature, or easily bred into docility.
  5. They must not panic or flee when startled, or have a flocking behaviour which enables them to be herded when they do panic.
  6. It’s better if they have a natural social hierarchy with strong pack leaders, so their owner can substitute for the pack leader.

Put this all together and you see why people everywhere eventually settled on the horse as the riding beast, rather than say the less-than-docile Zebra.

In your scenario, full-sized elephants might be interesting riding beasts, although the 15 years required to reach maturity would make them very expensive and long term investments. I’d love to see a dwarf pachyderm get into a Howdah or on to the back of any kind of riding beast with four tree-like legs and a trunk as a single arm/hand. Maybe carts and chariots are a better bet for your evolved pachyderms?

  • $\begingroup$ I'm pretty sure the less-than-docile-zebra theory is nonsense. After all, we domesticated WILD CATTLE which make zebras look like fluffy bunnies. The 'angry zebra' theory assumes you go from wild horse to riding horse in one step. We actually went: wild horse to tame horse herded for meat, to tame horse pulling carts & chariots, then finally to riding horse. So the question for the original poster is more can their pachyderms conceive of a 'riding animal' without having conceived of a 'food animal' or 'draft animal' first? $\endgroup$
    – DrBob
    Jun 29, 2016 at 6:24
  • $\begingroup$ I wouldn't say it was nonsense, DrBob, but I agree with you that evolution plays a big part. For example, here's an article on the matter that postulates the environment in which Zebras evolved plays a big part in why they are so skittish thomsonsafaris.com/blog/taming-zebras-domestication-attempts. Similarly, bull elephants have extremely violent behaviour during a period called Musth, in which even domesticated animals have to be chained and steered clear of until the testosterone boost passes. There are practical reasons that make domesticating some animals much more difficult. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jun 30, 2016 at 7:28
  • $\begingroup$ I'd say that Lord Rothschild had the right idea with trying to get a draft animal rather than a riding animal. Also the "domesticate for meat" would start them on the docile path generations before anyone - bad pun warning - put the horse before the cart. And I still think that an aurochs will put a bad tempered zebra in the shade. It might not be a musth elephant, but it is way more vicious than a zebra or wild ass. $\endgroup$
    – DrBob
    Jul 1, 2016 at 10:01

You must arrange for tortoises to mutate (domestication?) into draft animals. The idea of elephants riding tortoises is just too irresistable.

They have flat platforms that can be stood upon. This opens up the basic feature for selective breeding.

Note that, in general, you have one modified/changed species, so why not others? Besides the island effects, you have domestication which can change the animals even further and in extreme ways.

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    $\begingroup$ And then the riders must wear broad-brimmed hats with a map of the earth painted on it. $\endgroup$
    – Deolater
    May 16, 2016 at 14:17
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    $\begingroup$ Very tiny creatures living on the hat develop sentience and think of it as their whole world. $\endgroup$
    – JDługosz
    May 17, 2016 at 8:58

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