Flight of the Elephante
A theory on the methods and apparatus of flight in Elephante:
Except for Maraquan and Mutant Elephante (and, technically, Invisible), all colors of this species are depicted with wings of some sort. However, unlike other winged Neopet species, Elephante are rarely depicted in flight. In fact, there are more official images of Elephante swimming than flying! Now, that’s not to say that there aren’t any images of Elephante flying. There are quite a few, including caption contest image 363, which depicts ten Elephante flying over a very frightened Usul. However, even species without wings are sometimes depicted in flight, which leads me to believe that Elephante wings are vestigial structures, and not actually the apparatus used in flight. I propose that most Elephante use magic, rather than wings, to fly.
Evidence that wings are a vestigial structure in Elephante:
Many Elephante are depicted without wings at all! While it can be argued that the Neopets’ girth obscures their wings in images where the Elephante face the viewer, there are images from other angles which clearly omit the wings. This can be seen in some Neopets Trading Card images. If the wings are vestigial structures, this makes perfect sense, as fewer individuals will exhibit this trait over time. Also telling is many Elephante’s choice to wear clothing that would impede winged flight.
Evidence that physical forms of flight have become less necessary over time:
It is known that Tyrannian pets are a more ancient form of Neopet, which, unlike the rest of the Neopian population, have not changed since prehistoric times. It’s worth noting that the Tyrannian Blumaroo and Tyrannian Gelert (whose modern counterparts are usually considered wingless species) both have wings. Furthermore, the Tyrannian Buzz, Elephante, Eyrie and Uni have tough, leathery wings instead of their modern membranes and feathers. From these examples, we can conclude that physical methods of flight were necessary in prehistoric Neopia. This supports the idea that wings are a vestigial structure in Elephante, and also suggests that wings in general have become less necessary in Neopia.
The necessity of flight in Neopia:
Up until this point, the evidence I’ve presented could be argued to indicate that flight has simply become an outmoded form of transport in Neopia. However, the terrain of Neopia does not support this notion. The mountains of Terror Mountain and Shenkuu can be scaled with a grappling hook, but flight, whether it’s in the form of a flying ship or one’s own wings, is still preferable. Tyrannia has steep plateaus and treacherous magma caves which, in the absence of modern technology, require wings. And then there are Faerieland and the Darigan Citadel to talk about. While Faerieland is no longer a floating region, this is a relatively recent development, and has not yet had time to impact the form of its denizens. All Faerie Neopets, and most Darigan, pets have wings, with only 19 of the 53 Darigan species having no visible wings. However, most Neopet species do not have wings by default. From this, we can conclude that it is usually convenient to have wings if you live in a region which is difficult to reach or traverse without flight, but not otherwise. Why might this be?
Magic as a replacement for wings:
For the next bit of information, I look to an unlikely place: Maraqua. It’s been confirmed that Maraquan pets, which are unsuited to terrestrial locomotion, simply float when out of water. Based on the Faerie abilities available to all Neopets in the Battledome, it’s safe to assume that all Neopets have some aptitude for magic. The plethora of magical items throughout Neopia also supports this notion. Since Maraquan Neopets can float when necessary, it makes sense that other pets can as well. However, Maraquan pets are much more common in their natural habitat than floating around Neopia Central, which leads me to believe that there are limits to this ability. Perhaps it requires skill, focus or energy to float for an extended period of time. Thus, magic can be used in lieu of wings, but is not an ideal replacement for them.
Magic as a supplement to wings:
As I discussed earlier, it would seem that wingless magical floating is not a permanent means of locomotion for most pets. This would explain why most pets in Faerieland (back when it floated) and the Darigan Citadel have wings. The combination of wings and magical flight is probably significantly less tiring, or may come with fewer setbacks. It’s also possible that wings are the primary means of flight in winged pets, with magic being used as a failsafe. However, most images of Elephante in flight do not lend credence to this notion. The Fun Image GIF of a Red Elephante struggling to lift its bulk with its small wings is fairly solid evidence in my mind that Elephante are not strong fliers. The aforementioned Caption Contest image 363 also supports the idea that Elephante are not considered to be strong fliers. I doubt that Usul would have been nearly so concerned if it had been a flock of Draik or Eyrie flying over his or her head.
Wings as a supplement to Magic:
It is worth mentioning that Neopets are not the only beings with wings in Neopia. With the exception of Water Faeries, whose fins may be an equivalent structure, Faerie magic is intrinsically tied to their names and wings. It may be that the wings of winged Neopets, including Elephante, are primarily used for magic, rather than flight. If this is the case, wings are a supplement to magic, rather than the reverse. However, Aisha, a wingless species, is mentioned as being the species with the most innate magical aptitude. This leads me to believe that magic is not the primary function of Neopet wings.
The prevalence and efficacy of Neopet magic:
Of course, Faerie magic is not interchangeable with Neopet magic, and Faerie wings are not equivalent to Neopet wings, even in Faerie Neopets. Through the Faerie’s Ruin plot, we learned that Faerie magic is much stronger than Neopet magic. We also learned that especially magically gifted Neopets are so rare and noteworthy that Faeries may take them in for magical training. It may be that the reason that most Maraquan pets stay in the water is that most of them are incapable of using magic to float. This would mean that Elephante (for the most part) rely ENTIRELY on their tiny feather wings to fly. While there are examples of individuals from every species with extremely well developed magic, these may be extremes, and not representative of the norm. This would explain why most Elephante stay grounded.
Most Elephante are probably very weak fliers, with magic providing the majority of their flight abilities. Exceptionally magically gifted Elephante are able to fly or float in a similar way to Maraquan pets out of water, but are probably more comfortable on ground.