Elaine and Jim
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Red Case: Myths and rituals

Unknown artist

Ankus [elephant goad]

Ankus [elephant goad] late 19th – early 20th century steel, brass National Gallery of Australia, Canberra Ankus [elephant goad] late 19th – early 20th century steel, brass National Gallery of Australia enlarge

What is an ankus used for and who uses it?
Elephants are very intelligent animals that can be trained to do many tasks. In some countries they are used to lift and pull heavy objects like logs, or to transport people.

Indian armies used elephants as part of their cavalry. In India elephants were also used to carry royalty, including princes and maharajas, who rode high on their backs. The king was the only person allowed to breed elephants in captivity, and when hunting he would avoid killing them. The elephant trainer, called a mahout, often used an ankus (a goad or a prod) to guide, caress, and occasionally discipline an elephant. Today, elephants are trained using food rewards rather than discipline.

An ankus looks similar to a poker that would be used in a fireplace. It has a pointed tip with a curved piece of metal extending a few inches outward, ending in another point. The handle may be made of wood, fibreglass, or occasionally metal. This ankus is over 100 years old and has been made from steel and brass. When polished, the brass gleams like gold making it look precious and fit for use in ceremonies. On such occasions the elephants are covered with brightly coloured rugs, bells are placed around their feet and charms of good fortune are painted down their trunks.


  • Look closely at the ankus, how many animals are used in its decoration?
  • Why would the artist decorate the ankus in this way?
  • Collect objects from nature and make your own ankus.
  • In what countries are elephants found and in what ways are the elephants different?