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Elephants aid in disaster relief

From the "Wolf Blitzer Reports" staff

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Elephants are helping in tsunami recovery efforts.
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• Gallery: Stories of survival
• Flash: How tsunamis form
• Special report: After the tsunami
Wolf Blitzer Reports

WASHINGTON (CNN) -- They may not carry the title "man's best friend," but elephants are providing priceless help as Indonesia struggles to recover from the tsunamis that killed more than 94,000 in that country alone and leveled entire towns.

In Aceh province, Indonesia's ground zero, the gentle giants are doing the work of both man and machine.

"The elephants help us evacuate survivors or bodies that could possibly be trapped under the rubble as heavy equipment has still not been able to get here," said Zaenal of the Aceh Department of Conservation

It's a similar story in Thailand where elephants are regularly used in logging and as tourist attractions.

Now they're clearing debris. Their four powerful legs are able to reach areas where even four-wheel drive isn't enough.

"Many things the elephant can do -- like he can pick up many things for people. He can clear a house for poor people who can't pay for backhoe," said Meepan Laitonglian, an elephant owner.

Even before the tsunamis hit, some say the pachyderms gave warning. One elephant handler, or mahout, said his animal started acting strangely.

"The elephant running before the big wave came here. Elephant know that a big wave was coming here. I live there. Why [did] elephant break the chain and we come here with the mahout to turn the elephant back, but elephant did not want to believe the mahout and after about five minutes, we looked and saw the big wave coming here and we ran up to the mountain," said Wit Aniwat.

Others credit some elephants with actually saving lives by carrying people to safety.

"People ran from the hotel, about 15 people, and we have the mahout and some family have those children to carry them on the back of the elephants. And some, the parents ran to the hill with our mahout and the people that were here," said one tsunami survivor.

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