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Chambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) online

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abundantly in Siberia, is another special which appears to hare become extinct within a
very recent period.


sensitive ; and though in domesticated specimens it appears chapped
and callous, yet in a state of nature it is smooth, and sufficiently
delicate to feel the attack of the tiniest insect ; hence his care in
syringing it with his trunk, in varnishing it with dust and saliva,
and in fanning himself, as he often does, with a leafy bough. It
possesses the same muscular peculiarity as the skin of the horse,
and can, by its shuddering motion, remove the smallest object from
its surface. The colour is generally of a dusky black, but individuals
are occasionally found of a dull brown, or nearly white. Albinos, or
rather cream-whites, are, however, extremely rare, and are treated
with divine honours by some of the Eastern nations, as in Siam, Ava,
and the Burman Empire.


In its mode of life the elephant is strictly herbivorous, feeding
upon rank grass, young shoots of trees, and succulent roots. His
whole conformation is eminently fitted for such subsistence, and
points to the tropical valley and fertile river-side as the localities
where he can enjoy at all seasons herbage and water in abundance.
Though created for the jungle and forest, where heat and moisture
are the chief vegetative agents, yet the elephant, by his weight and
size, is excluded from the swamp. He bathes in the river and lake
only where the bottom is firm and secure, and rolls on the sward or
in the forest glade, and not in the marsh, where he would inevitably
sink beyond the means of extrication. Confined to the regions of
an almost perpetual summer, he grubs up roots with his tusks, pulls
down branches with his trunk to browse on their foliage, or feeds on
the luxuriant herbage, enjoying greater ease and security than any
other quadruped. His great size and strength place him beyond the
dread of other animals ; and, like all the herbivora, he is of mild
disposition, having no occasion to wage war upon others for the
satisfaction of his natural cravings.

In India, the head-quarters of the animal are the moist forests
in the south-east of Bengal, and some parts of the Western
Ghauts, but more especially the former. The forests on the
Tippera hills, on the south of the Silhet district, have long been
the place where the principal continental supply of elephants has
been obtained ; and thera they are found in herds of about a
hundred in number. In -Africa, they were, till recently, pretty
numerous in Cape Colony ; but the progress of civilisation has
driven them inland, and they are now to be met with in droves only
in the more fertile plains and along the river margins of Caffraria.
During the time of the Carthaginians, the north of Africa appears to
have been also numerously stocked with elephants ; but this district
they have long since abandoned ; and even in the western regions,
which furnished ivory in abundance during the early settlement of



the Portuguese, they have become almost extinct. We know too
little of the interior of that great continent, to say in what numbers
they may exist in the plains drained by the Tchad, Niger, and other
tropical rivers ; but there, we presume, they still roam in undimin-
ished numbers. Like most vegetable feeders, they are gregarious ;
and the herd is generally found to follow the oldest pair as leaders,
and to go readily wherever they lead the way. In their marches
through those forests, tangled as they are with underwood, sight
would be of little avail, and therefore their means of communication
are scent and sound. By these means food, friends, and foes
appear to be detected with great certainty, and at a considerable

The elephant has three distinct notes of intercommunication.
The first is rather clear and shrill a trumpet note produced wholly
by the trunk, and emitted when the animal is in good-humour, and
; all is safe ; the second is a growl or groan issuing from the mouth,
and is the cry of hunger, or an intimation to the rest when one has
come upon an abundant supply of food ; and the third, which is
loud and long, like the roaring of the lion, is the war-cry by which
the animal prefaces his own hostilities, or calls his associates to his
aid. The members of the herd seldom roam far from each other,
and even then the tiger, notwithstanding his agility and strength, will
hardly venture to attack the elephant. Should he do so, the male
receives him on his tusks, tosses him into the air, and stands pre-
pared to stamp his fatal foot upon him the instant that he touches
the ground. The female elephant has no tusks upon which to
receive an enemy, but she has the art to fall upon him, and crush
him by her weight. In their native forests, therefore, elephants,
whether acting singly or in concert, are invincible to all enemies
save man. The latter, even in his rudest state, has only to light
a fire, and the huge brute flies in the utmost consternation ; or he
digs a pit and covers it with turf, and the animal falls into it,
helpless, and at his mercy ; or it may be that he tips his arrow
with the vegetable poisons which experience has enabled him to
practise, and the fatal substance benumbs and curdles the blood of
his victim.

A herd of these gigantic animals browsing in their native forests
must be an imposing spectacle : here a group stripping the well-
foliaged branches, there another twisting the long grass into bundles ;
here a set listlessly flapping their ears under the shade, there another
toying with each other, ' making unwieldy merriment.' The enjoy-
ment of this primitive scene is, however, somewhat disturbed by the
consideration of the ravage and destruction which the herd commits.
It is not so much the amount of food which they consume, as the
immense quantity they destroy with their feet ; hence the dread of
the settler on the confines of the forests they frequent the labour of
a season being often destroyed in a single night. Having satisfied


their hunger, the herd either recline under the shade, or more
frequently stand dozing with their sides leaning against the trunk of
some stately tree. Thirst, however, soon drives them from their
indolent repose ; and nothing does the elephant enjoy more than ta
drink and bathe himself in the running stream.

' Trampling his path through wood and brake,
And canes which crackling fall before his way,
And tassel-grass, whose silvery feathers play,

O'ertopping the young trees,
On comes the elephant, to slake
His thirst at noon in yon pellucid springs.
Lo ! from his trunk upturned, aloft he flings

The grateful shower ; and now

Plucking the broad-leaved bough
Of yonder palm, with waving motion slow,

Fanning the languid air,
He waves it to and fro.'

Provided with a powerful structure, and enjoying abundance of
ease and food, the elephant in general attains to a very old age.
The ancients ascribed to him a life of three or four hundred years :
but, without laying much stress on their opinion, we have undoubted
evidence of even domesticated specimens reaching the great age of
one hundred and thirty years. The peculiar provision made for the
renewal of his teeth which are unique in the animal creation
shews that nature intended him for a lengthened existence ; for,
while in a limited number of years the teeth of other animals wear
down and fall out, the elephant's are in a continual state of progres-
sion, so that they are as powerful at the age of eighty as they were at
eighteen. There is a limit, however, to the duration of all organised
being ; and in course of years the joints of the elephant become stiff,
his skin hard and chapped, his appetite fails, and being unable to
follow the herd, he gradually sinks under the weight of years and
infirmity. The young elephant, which at its birth is little larger than
an ordinary calf, is of slow growth, arriving at maturity in not less
than eight or ten years. It is very playful and harmless ; and
though suckled for a considerable time, is said to receive but a very
scanty share of maternal affection. On this head, however, we have
few opportunities of judging ; we know little of the animal in a truly
natural state, and it breeds too seldom in captivity to be observed
with accuracy.


Man, standing in relation of superior to the brute creation, is
necessitated to use this power for various purposes. He hunts
them for their flesh, for their skins, or for some other substance of



utility ; he destroys them because they are obnoxious to his culti-
vated fields, or dangerous to his personal safety ; he subjugates and
trains them for the assistance they can yield him ; or it may be that
he chases them for mere amusement. Thus it is with the elephant.
The Kaffir hunts him for his flesh, which to him is a dainty, and for
his ivory tusks, which he barters with the European; the settler
digs the pit and levels the rifle, to protect his crops and enclosures ;
the Hindu subjugates the powerful brute for the purposes of burden ;
and the English officer in India talks of bagging ' elephants for sport.
Whatever be the ultimate object, the pursuit of such a huge and
sagacious animal must be attended with no small danger ; hence the
exciting descriptions with which books of Eastern travel abound.
Of these, with which we could fill volumes, we shall select one or
two striking examples.

The ordinary modes of capture resorted to by rude nations are
poisoned arrows, pitfalls, and cutting the hamstrings of the animal.
The two former are accomplished with little risk, but the latter
requires great address and ingenuity. It is thus described by Bruce,
as practised by the Africans, to whom elephant's flesh is a necessary
as well as a luxury : ' Two men, absolutely naked, without any rag
or covering at all about them, get on horseback ; this precaution is
for fear of being laid hold of by the trees or bushes, in making their
escape from a very watchful enemy. One of these riders sits upon
the back of the horse, sometimes with a saddle, and sometimes with-
out one, with only a switch or short stick in one hand, carefully
managing the bridle with the other ; behind him sits his companion,
who has no other arms but a broadsword, such as is used by the
Slavonians, and which is brought from Trieste. His left hand is
employed in grasping the sword by the handle ; about fourteen inches
of the blade being covered with whip-cord. This part he takes in
his right hand, without any danger of being hurt by it ; and, though
the edges of the lower part of the sword are as sharp as a razor, he
carries it without a scabbard.

'As soon as the elephant is found feeding, the horseman rides
before him, as near his face as possible ; or, if he flies, crosses him
in all directions, crying out : " I am such a man and such a man ;
this is my horse, that has such a name ; I killed your father in such
a place, and your grandfather in such another place, and I am now
come to kill you ; you are but an ass in comparison of them." This non-
sense he verily believes the elephant understands, who, chafed and
angry at hearing the noise immediately before him, seeks to seize him
with his trunk or proboscis ; and, intent upon this, follows the horse
everywhere, turning and turning round with him, neglectful of making
his escape by running straight forward, in which consists his only
safety. After having made him turn once or twice in pursuit of the
horse, the horseman rides close up alongside of him, and drops his
companion just behind on the offside ; and while he engages the



elephant's attention upon the horse, the footman behind gives him
a drawn stroke just above the heel, or what in man is called the tendon
of Achilles. This is the critical moment ; the horseman immediately
wheels round, takes his companion up behind him, and rides off at
full speed after the rest of the herd, if they have started more than
one ; and sometimes an expert agageer will kill three out of one herd.
If the sword is good, and the man not afraid, the tendon is commonly
entirely separated ; and if it is not cut through, it is generally so far
divided that the animal, with the stress he puts upon it, breaks the
remaining part asunder. In either case he remains incapable of
advancing a step till the horseman's return ; or his companions
coming up, pierce him through with javelins and lances ; he then
falls to the ground, and expires with loss of blood.'

In South Africa, the musket and rifle take the place of the knife,
and as in this case the hunter requires to be on his feet, the danger
of the chase is greatly increased. The life of the Hottentot elephant-
hunter is indeed one of imminent peril, and few practise it for many
years without being maimed or crushed to death by the infuriated
animals. They are a brave, fearless set of men, encountering every
species of risk, and enduring fatigue with a courage that is truly
wonderful. Accompanied by a few such spirits, the European resi-
dent generally sets out on a hunting expedition indeed it would
be madness in him to enter the bush without such an escort. We
have a spirited account of such an adventure in the following
personal narrative of Lieutenant Moodie: 'In the year 1821, I had
joined the recently formed semi-military settlement of Fredericks-
burg, on the picturesque banks of the Gualana, beyond the Great Fish
River. At this place our party (consisting chiefly of the disbanded
officers and soldiers of the Royal African Corps) had already shot
many elephants, with which the country at that time abounded.
The day previous to my adventure, I had witnessed an elephant-hunt
for the first time. On this occasion a large female was killed, after
some hundred shots had been fired at her. The balls seemed at first
to produce little effect, but at length she received several shots in the
trunk and eyes, which entirely disabled her from making resistance
or escaping, and she fell an easy prey to her assailants.

' On the following day, one of our servants came to inform us
that a large troop of elephants was in the neighbourhood of the
settlement, and that several of our people were already on their way
to attack them. I instantly set off to join the hunters, but, from
losing my way in the jungle through which I had to proceed, I could
not overtake them until after they had driven the elephants from
their first station. On getting out of the jungle, I was proceeding
through an open meadow on the banks of the Gualana, to the spot
where I heard the firing, when I was suddenly warned of approaching
danger by loud cries of " Passop .' Look out ! " coupled with my
name in Dutch and English; and at the same moment heard the



crackling of broken branches, produced by the elephants bursting-
through the wood, and the tremendous screams of their wrathful
voices resounding among the precipitous banks. Immediately a large
female, accompanied by three others of a smaller size, issued from the
edge of the jungle which skirted the river margin. As they were
not more than two hundred yards off, and were proceeding directly
towards me, I had not much time to decide on my motions. Being
alone, and in the middle of a little open plain, I saw that I must
inevitably be caught, should I fire in this position and my shot not
take effect. I therefore retreated hastily out of their direct path,
thinking they would not observe me, until I should find a better
opportunity to attack them. But in this I was mistaken, for on
looking back, I perceived, to my dismay, that they had left their
former course, and were rapidly pursuing and gaining ground on
me. Under these circumstances, I determined to reserve my fire as
a last resource; and turning off at right angles in the opposite
direction, I made for the banks of the small river, with a view to
take refuge among the rocks on the other side, where I should have
been safe. But before I got within fifty paces of the river, the
elephants were within twenty paces of me the large female in the
middle, and the other three on either side of her, apparently with
the intention of making sure of me; all of them screaming so
tremendously, that I was almost stunned with the noise. I imme-
diately turned round, cocked my gun, and aimed at the head of the
largest the female. But the gun, unfortunately, from the powder
being damp, hung fire till I was in the act of taking it from my
shoulder, when it went off, and the ball merely grazed the side of
her head. Halting only for an instant, the animal again rushed
furiously forward. I fell I cannot say whether struck down by her
or not. She then caught me with her trunk by the middle, threw
me beneath her fore-feet, and knocked me about between them for
a little space. I was scarcely in a condition to compute the number
of minutes very accurately. Once she pressed her foot on my chest
with such force, that I actually felt the bones, as it were, bending
under the weight ; and once she trod on the middle of my arm,
which fortunately lay flat on the ground at the time. During this
rough handling, however, I never entirely lost my recollection, else
I have little doubt she would have settled my accounts with this
world. But owing to the roundness of her foot, I generally managed,
by twisting my body and limbs, to escape her direct tread. While
I was still undergoing this buffeting, Lieutenant Chisholm, of the
R.A. corps, and Diederik, a Hottentot, had come up, and fired
several shots at her, one of which hit her in the shoulder; and at
the same time her companions, or young ones, retiring, and scream-
ing to her from the edge of the forest, she reluctantly left me, giving
me a cuff or two with her hind-feet in passing. I got up, picked up
my gun, and staggered away as fast as my aching bones would allow;



but observing that she turned round, and looked back towards me
before entering the bush, I lay down in the long grass, by which
means I escaped her observation.

' On reaching the top of the high bank of the river, I met my
brother, who had not been at this day's hunt, but had run out on
being told by one of the men that he had seen me killed. He was
not a little surprised at meeting me alone and in a whole skin,
though plastered with mud from head to foot. While he, Mr Knight
of the Cape Regiment, and I, were yet talking of my adventure, an
unlucky soldier of the R.A. corps, of the name of M'Clane, attracted
the attention of a large male elephant, which had been driven
towards the village. The ferocious animal gave chase, and
caught him immediately under the height where we were standing,
carried him some distance in his trunk, then threw him down, and
bringing his four feet together, trod and stamped upon him for a con-
siderable time, till he was quite dead. Leaving the corpse for a
little, he again returned, as if to make quite sure of his destruction,
and kneeling down, crushed and kneaded the body with his fore-legs.
Then seizing it again with his trunk, he carried it to the edge of the
jungle, and threw it among the bushes. While this tragedy was
going on, my brother and I scrambled down the bank as far as we
could, and fired at the furious animal, but we were at too great a
distance to be of any service to the unfortunate man, who was
crushed almost to a jelly.

' Shortly after this catastrophe, a shot from one of the people
broke this male elephant's left fore-leg, which completely disabled him
from running. On this occasion we witnessed a touching instance
of affection and sagacity in the elephant, which I cannot forbear to
relate, as it so well illustrates the character of this noble animal.
Seeing the danger and distress of her mate, the female before
mentioned (my personal antagonist), regardless of her own danger,
quitted her shelter in the bush, rushed out to his assistance, walked
round and round him, chasing away the assailants, and still returning
to his side and caressing him ; and when he attempted to walk, she
placed her flank under his wounded side and supported him. This
scene continued nearly half an hour, until the female received a
severe wound from Mr C. Mackenzie of the R.A. corps, which drove
her again to the bush, where she speedily sank exhausted from the
loss of blood ; and the male soon after received a mortal wound also
from the same officer.

' Thus ended our elephant-hunt ; and I need hardly say that what
we witnessed on this occasion of the intrepidity and ferocity of these
powerful animals, rendered us more cautious in our dealings with
them for the future.'

We might extend our narrative of such adventures almost inde-
finitely, and the recital would present but little variation. The
same mode of life, the same difficulty in getting near the watchful
54 9


animals, the same accounts of resentment when they are wounded or
infuriated, and the same tale of butchery when neither necessity nor
safety requires the sacrifice. In the jungles of Hindustan and
Ceylon, similar hunting-matches are sometimes got up by British
officers, but the entangled state of the bush, and the danger of
encountering the tiger or lion, happily render such ' sport' of com-
paratively rare occurrence. The African values the elephant only
for his tusks and some tidbits of his carcass ; the Indian regards him
as a powerful auxiliary in labour and war, or as an indispensable
adjunct of royal equipage. The former presents himself as a mere
destroyer ; the latter becomes a guardian and preceptor, and finds
himself rewarded in proportion to the pains and kindness he bestows
upon his gigantic captive.


The object of the hunter in India being to obtain a large and
powerful assistant in toil, he accordingly practises more merciful
methods of capture. It is obvious, however, that to secure an
animal so sagacious and strong, not only great ingenuity, but very
forcible means, must be called into operation. The means most
commonly employed are the noose, the pitfall, decoy females, and the
kraal or keddah. Pliny, speaking of the capture of elephants in his
time, says: 'The Indian hunter mounts an individual already tamed;
and meeting with a wild one separated from the herd, he pursues it
and strikes it until it becomes so exhausted, that he can leap from
the one to the other, and thus reduce the animal to obedience.'
The animals in Pliny's time must either have been more stupid, or
the hunters more expert than they are now, for no such precedure
would at present be found effectual. The capture and subjugation
of an elephant is a work requiring great skill, caution, and patience ;
and we presume the Roman naturalist took his ideas from the trained
ones accompanying the armies of the Empire, rather than from the
wild specimens of the Indian jungle.

The noose or slip-knot is seldom resorted to, unless with very
young and small specimens. This mode is something similar to
that practised by the American guacho in capturing the wild horse
of the Pampas the slip-knot or phaum of the Hindu being the
equivalent of the lasso. Mounted on well-trained elephants, two
or three hunters surround a wild one, and entangle him with their
phaums : he strains and struggles, but the tame ones resist his efforts,
or he is strapped to a tree, till hunger and exhaustion reduce him to
submission. He is then released, and driven off between the tame
ones ; and in a few months yields his master all but implicit
obedience. The pitfall is a less skilful and more dangerous method,
in so far as the safety of the animal is concerned. A pit, carefully


concealed with green boughs and turf, is dug in a path, over which
the hunter endeavours to force the animal by blazing the herbage
behind him. The alarmed elephant blindly hurries forward, and is
precipitated into the excavation, where he is allowed to remain till
he exhausts his rage, and begins to feel the cravings of hunger.
Grass, rice, cane-shoots, and other delicacies are supplied him by
degrees ; and being well secured with ropes, he is at last encouraged
to raise himself from his confinement. This is done by throwing
into the pit fagots and bundles of forage, which he places under his
feet, till he is brought near to the surface, when forth he steps fettered,
but sufficiently subdued to be mounted by a skilful driver.

Decoy females are often used, and in some of the countries border-

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 20 of 58)