African Journal of
History and Culture

  • Abbreviation: Afr. J. Hist. Cult.
  • Language: English
  • ISSN: 2141-6672
  • DOI: 10.5897/AJHC
  • Start Year: 2009
  • Published Articles: 189

Full Length Research Paper

The role of elephants as military pack animals in the Abyssinian Campaign, 1867-1868

R. Trevor Wilson
  • R. Trevor Wilson
  • Bartridge House, Umberleigh, EX 37 9AS, UK.
  • Google Scholar

  •  Received: 16 August 2020
  •  Published: 30 September 2020


In late 1867 the British Government authorized a military expedition to effect the release of 59 hostages being held at Magdala by Emperor Tewodros II.  The force consisted of 13,000 soldiers and 40,000 transport and pack animals.  Its formidable task was to travel 650 km and ascend 3,050 m of altitude before it reached its goal. The animals comprised horses, mules, donkeys, bullocks, camels and 44 elephants. The elephants were loaded on ships at Bombay by means of slings.  Loads for the elephants varied in the range 600 to 730 kg for those transporting 12-lb breech loading Armstrong guns and 800 to 840 kg for those carrying 8-inch mortars.  These loads were 12 to 16 times heavier than the normal 55 kg mule load. Tracks had to be cut and levelled before the animals could pass and they struggled to mount the steeper inclines. Only five elephants died during the expedition and 39 returned to Bombay.


Key words: Ethiopia, Eritrea, artillery, mortars, cavalry, infantry, warfare.