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ing Hindustan, are said to be the only means employed in the
capture of the large solitary males. Having watched a strayed one
till a favourable opportunity occurs, the hunters urge the decoys, or
koomkees, forward ; and so thoroughly conscious are these of their
duty, that they approach their victim with all possible wiles and
blandishments. The hunters having concealed themselves in the
bush, the females begin to browse, gradually nearing the male, yet
all the while feigning the utmost indifference. By and by he begins
to approach them, and offer his attentions, caressing them with his
trunk, and being caressed in return. During the intoxication of his
pleasure, the hunters creep cautiously forward, and entangle his legs
with thongs ; an operation in which they are sometimes assisted by
the wily koomkees. Having attached these thongs to well-secured
ropes, the decoys are ordered aside, and the victim feeling his posi-
tion, struggles, roars, and becomes infuriated. Occasionally, in the
paroxysms of his rage, he bursts asunder his fetters, and escapes to
the forest ; but in general he is too well secured, and merely exhausts
himself by his fruitless efforts.

In India proper, and in Ceylon, the capture of elephants is
generally conducted on a more extensive scale by the kraal or
keddah. This is a large enclosure formed of one, two, or three rows
of strong posts, into which the animals are driven from the surround-
ing country, and then secured by means of skilful hunters, and
tame elephants trained for the purpose. Books of Eastern travel
abound with descriptions of keddah hunts ; but instead of gleaning
from these, we shall transcribe the narrative of a friend, who several
years ago participated in the sport in the district of Kandy. After
describing the preliminaries, which seem to have thrown the whole
district into a ferment, he thus proceeds with his spirited descrip-
tion : ' With respect to the kraal, it was nothing more than an
enclosure about two hundred yards long, and nearly square in form,
made with very strong posts, or rather small trees, stuck into the
ground, and bound together. The inside was a thick jungle, with
large trees in it, and the outside the same, excepting where it was
cleared sufficiently to admit of the fence and a path round it. The


entrance was about ten feet wide, with deep holes ready for the stakes
to be driven in the moment the poor brutes were entrapped. It was
covered over by a few green boughs, and is generally so contrived as
to be in a track the elephants are in the habit of following. Kraals
are only constructed in parts of the country frequented by elephants,
and when it is known that there is a herd in the neighbourhood. As
soon as the enclosure is finished, the elephants are surrounded by a
crowd of people, who form a circle from the entrance of the kraal,
and enclose them within it. This circle of course is very large, and
varies according to circumstances ; in this instance, when we arrived,
the animals were enclosed in a circle of about two miles. When-
ever they attempt to break through, they are driven back by the
people, who shout and yell with all their might, beat the tom-toms,
discharge guns, and at night fires are lighted at every ten or twelve
yards' distance round the circle, and this always frightens the
elephants. The natives are most anxious to have them destroyed,
as they do much mischief, particularly to their paddy-fields ; so that
at all the kraals the natives in hundreds volunteer their services,
which of course are gladly accepted. Government gives a premium
of .3 for every elephant captured.

' A very large tree at one end of the enclosure was selected for the
spectators, on which, about one-third of the height up, was laid a plat-
form capable of holding thirty or forty people, and formed of small
branches fastened together by what is called jungle rope, which is
nothing more than the creepers which are twisted round every tree
and bush. A very large party of us sat down to an excellent breakfast
in the tents ; and the yelling appearing to come nearer and nearer,
we were advised to make the best of our way to the tree, which we
ascended by a steep ladder, and found it very comfortable, as we
were completely shaded from the sun by an awning of cocoa-nut
leaves. Having gained this commanding point, our patience was
tried for several hours ; for though the elephants were often so near
the entrance that we could see the bushes move, and sometimes
their ears flapping, yet they always broke away again, till at last,
about three o'clock, eight elephants were driven into the kraal.
Then the noise of the people became deafening, and their shouts and
yells of triumph drove the poor creatures on ; and we had a fine
view of them as they came rushing towards us, crushing the jungle
in every direction. The posts were immediately put down at the
entrance, and the natives stationed themselves all round the fence ;
and whenever the animals came near it, they were driven back by
their howling and waving white sticks at them. It is said that the
elephant particularly dislikes white, which is the reason the wands
are flourished; but perhaps it is that white is more conspicuous
than anything else among the dark green. They were driven back
several times, till they had half-exhausted themselves, and were then
comparatively quiet in the thickest cover they could find, and all we


saw was an occasional shower of earth that they tossed over their
bodies with their trunks.

' Having thus so far succeeded, the next thing was to secure them ;
and for this purpose the tame elephants were introduced into the
kraal. Six very large ones were brought in, just under our tree, and
began breaking down the jungle and clearing a space round the
large trees, to which it was intended to tie the wild ones. It was
really wonderful to see them twining their trunks round some of the
smaller trees, and with two or three good shakes laying them flat.
They sometimes pushed their head against a tree, so as to bring
the whole force of their body upon it, and then down it came ; as for
the brushwood, part of which was upwards of six feet high, they
really mowed it down with their trunks. In about an hour's time
the whole was, comparatively speaking, clear, and the poor herd had
no longer any hiding-place, but stood all huddled close together in a
little thicket about the middle of the kraal. There was one very
little thing among them, not much bigger than a large pig, and they
seemed to take the greatest care of him, keeping him in the centre
of them.

' Each tame elephant had two men on his back, one to guide him,
and the other to noose the wild ones, who did not seem to be much
afraid of them, as they allowed them to come very near, and then-
walked rather slowly away. One of the tame ones then followed in
the most stealthy and treacherous manner possible ; and when he
came close enough to the wild one, he began coaxing and tickling
him with his trunk, whilst the man with the noose, which is fastened
round the tame one's neck, slipped off his back with it, and watched
his opportunity to throw it over the hind leg of the other. He soon
did this, as apparently the tame one gave the wild elephant a poke
with his tusk, which made him lift his leg as if to move on ; and in
a moment he was a prisoner. While the man was thus employed, it
was curious to see the care which the tame elephant took of him,
interposing his huge head in such a manner that the wild one could
not touch him ; and if he should fail of securing the wild elephant,
which sometimes happens, the tame one puts out his leg for the man
to mount on his back, and sets off in pursuit again, which is sure to
be successful in the end.

' When the poor animal was noosed, he set up a dreadful yell, and
tried to escape ; but that was impossible, for the -other tame
elephants came up and headed him, whichever way he attempted to
go ; whilst the one to which he was fastened bent his body the way he
wished to take him, and pulled him along with all his strength to the
tree to which he was to be tied. When he was dragged close to it,
the tame one walked round it two or three times with the rope, till
he was quite secure. Another came to his other side, and thus he
was wedged so closely between them, that he could not make much
resistance ; and if he did, he was immediately thrust at with the



'tusks of both of them. In this way his legs were all firmly tied to
two trees by great cable ropes.

' When the tame ones left him to go in search of the others, he
began struggling most furiously, and moaned and bellowed in a very
melancholy manner, frequently throwing himself on the ground, and
digging his teeth into the earth, while the tears were rolling down
his face. Although I came on purpose to see all this, and should
have been much disappointed if I had not, still I could not help
feeling very sorry to see the noble animal suffering so acutely. My
consolation was, that some day he would have the pleasure of doing
the same to others ; for it really seemed a pleasure to the tame ones.
His cries brought back the rest of the herd, who looked at him
through the bushes, but did not attempt a rescue, which they often
do, but took to their heels whenever they saw the tame ones turn in
their direction.

' In this manner they were all secured, excepting the little one, as
he could not do much harm, and always kept close to his mother,
who was very quiet, and was therefore only tied by three legs. A
young elephant is, I think, the drollest-looking creature possible.
This one was supposed to be about three months old, and was not
above three feet high ; but it made more noise than all the rest, and
trumpeted and charged in great style.'


Strictly speaking, the elephant cannot be classed with domesti-
cated animals. When tamed and trained, he is no doubt a useful
assistant, and is capable of performing duties which no other of the
brute creation could approach ; still he is not domesticated in the
sense in which we apply the term to the horse, the ox, and the dog.
These live with us, breed with us, die with us ; their progeny par-
taking of the qualities of the parents, and being subject in course of
time to innumerable modifications, as man may desire. Not so with
the elephant. The huge, docile brute, adorned with the trappings of
Eastern pomp, was but a few months ago the inhabitant of the jungle
the same as his progenitors have been for ages. In captivity the
animal breeds but sparingly, grows slowly, and is expensive to main-
tain; and thus man is nearer his purpose to throw the noose or
erect the keddah, when his stock requires to be replenished. Subju-
gation has effected no change on the form of the elephant, as on
that of the horse and ox, either for better or for worse ; and though
his natural endowments admit of ingenious training, yet is he not
domesticated. He is the servant-captive rather than the associate
of man.

At what time the elephant was first subjugated, and trained to
take part in the court and military equipage of the East, we have no
means of knowing. His form appears on the most ancient Hindu


sculptures ; he figures in their mythology ; and he is spoken of with
pride and veneration in their earliest records. In that fertile and
luxurious region he had been trained for centuries before the names
of Greece and Rome were known, and even long before the people
of Western Asia had passed from the primitive or pastoral condition.
By the time of Herodotus, who visited Babylon about 500 years
before the Christian era, elephants were common at that city; and
about a century later, Ctesias witnessed them in the same place
' overthrow palm-trees at the bidding of their drivers.' In the expe-
dition of Cyrus against the Derlakes, the latter were assisted by the
Indians with war-elephants, who put to flight the cavalry of their
opponent ; and from contemporary notices it would seem that about
this period the Persians and others were also in the habit of using
them in war. It was to Alexander the Great that the western
world was first indebted for the elephant : he it was that made the
sports of Persia and India familiar to the Greeks and Macedonians.
The acquisition of the war-elephant gave new pomp and splendour
to his squadrons, and his
example was followed by
degrees by other nations.
In time, the Egyptians,
Carthaginians, Romans, all
made use of elephants, both
to assist in the march by
carrying enormous loads of
baggage, and to join the
ranks, mounted by numbers
of spearmen and archers.
* These animals,' says Pot-
ter, 'were wont to carry
into the battle large towers,
in which ten, fifteen, and, as
some affirm, thirty soldiers
were contained, who an-
noyed their enemies with
missive weapons, themselves
being secure and out of
danger. Nor were the
beasts idle or useless in engagements ; for besides that, with their
smell, their vast and amazing bulk, and their strange and terrible
noise, both horses and soldiers were struck with terror and astonish-
ment, they acted their parts courageously, trampling under foot all
opposers, or catching them in their trunks, and tossing them into
the air, or delivering them to their riders. Nor was it unusual for
them to engage with one another with great fury, which they always
doubled after they had received wounds, tearing their adversaries in
pieces with their tusks. But in a short time they were wholly laid



aside, their service not being able to compensate the great mischiefs
frequently done by them ; for though they were endued with great
sagacity, and approached nearer to human reason than any other
animal, whereby they became more tractable to their governors, and
capable of yielding obedience to their instructions, yet, when severely
wounded, and pressed upon by their enemies, they became ungovern-
able, and frequently turned all their rage upon their own party, put
them into confusion, committed terrible slaughters, and delivered
the victory to their enemies ; of which several remarkable instances
are recorded in the histories both of Greece and Rome.' For the
same reason, but more especially since the introduction of firearms
and artillery, the war-elephant has been greatly abandoned even in
the East, and is now chiefly used in carrying baggage, in doing other
heavy work, and, above all, in adding to the 'pomp and circumstance'
of oriental authority.

The present employment of the elephant in India, according to
Von Orlich and other recent authors, is exceedingly varied from
the piling of firewood and the drawing of water, to the dragging of
artillery and the carriage of royalty. In captivity he is well fed,
regularly cleaned, and attended by the mahouds or drivers wjjh
greater care than they would one of their own species. On entering
upon bondage he is never maimed, like the horse, ass, and dog ; the
only loss he suffers being portions of his tusks, if these should be
long and dangerous. An ordinary animal will cost about one
thousand rupees (100); but if large and tractable, he cannot be
purchased under four or five thousand. His keep, which consists of
grass, roots, rice, sugar-cane, and other vegetables, costs fully forty
rupees a month, so that it is only the rich and powerful who can
afford the luxury of an elephant stud. When placed under the hoivdah
(a covered seat for persons of rank), his back is protected by a
thickly-stuffed hair cushion, over which is spread an ornamented
covering. The howdah is made to contain two persons, and this is
the amount of the travelling elephant's burden. The driver sits on
his neck, immediately behind the ears, and guides him with an iron
prong ; and he is in general so docile, as to kneel for the parties to
mount him. His great use, however, is as a beast of burden in a
country where there are few or no roads ; and since an ordinary
elephant will carry as much as five camels, we can readily perceive
their value in marching not only with the commanders and sick,
but with the tents and furniture. He is equally serviceable as a
beast of draught, pulling with ease what it would take ten horses to
move ; and it is for this reason that the Indian army has recently
yoked him to their heavy artillery. Another power which the animal
possesses, and one which is unknown to the horse or ox, is that of
pushing ; and if his forehead be protected by a leathern pad, he will
push forward weights which perhaps he could not draw. These and
many other duties the elephant performs willingly and accurately ;



and, if gently treated and well fed, with a regularity of disposition
which seems almost mechanical. Last, but not least, for purposes
of splendour he plays an important part in the immense retinues
of great persons in India. When Sir Jasper Nicholls, commander-in-
chief in one of the wars, arrived at the camp at Ferozepore, eighty
elephants swelled his train. He had, in addition, three hundred
camels and one hundred and thirty-six draught oxen ; and above
one thousand servants were present, merely for Sir Jasper's personal
service, and to attend to the animals. When the governor-general
made his entry, he brought along with him one hundred and thirty
elephants and seven hundred camels !

It is in a state of bondage, therefore, and in the discharge of these
multifarious duties, that we are now to consider the elephant, and to
seek for those instances of docility, affection, memory, sagacity, and
other dispositions, the display of which has rendered his history
remarkable beyond that of any other animal the dog and horse
alone perhaps excepted.


In point of docility or teachableness, the elephant is inferior to
none of the brute creation ; and yet he is not so far superior as many
naturalists would have us to believe. The dog, the horse, ass,
parrot, canary bird, and even the pig, sensual and stupid as it is
generally considered, can each be taught to perform many astonish-
ing feats ; and if the elephant surpass them, it is only because he is
furnished with an instrument of higher capability. Apart altogether
from the question of sagacity or mental endowment, which will be
considered in another section, he could not be taught to uncork a
bottle, unscrew a nut, fan himself with a branch, or lift his master
on his back, any more than the horse could, were it not that he
possesses the wonderful grasping powers of the trunk, which in this
respect is all but equal to the human hand. Indeed it is argued,
upon very obvious grounds, that were the horse or dog endowed
with an organ of the same aptitude, either would far excel the
elephant in docility and performance. Be this as it may, the feats
of the latter are not the less attractive, as the following anecdotes
and illustrations will shew.

According to JElian, the elephants of Germanicus were trained to
take part in the performances of the Roman theatre. There, among
the assembled thousands, they appeared quite at home, lost all dread
of the clashing of cymbals, and moved in cadence to the sounds of
the notes of the flute. ' Upon one occasion ' we quote the account
given in the Library of Entertaining Knowledge ' when a par-
ticular exhibition of the docility of these elephants was required,
twelve of the most sagacious and well trained were selected, who,
marching into the theatre with a regular step, at the voice of their



keeper, moved in harmonious measure, sometimes in a circle, and
sometimes divided into parties, scattering flowers over the pave-
ment In the intervals of the dance, they would beat time to the
music, still preserving their proper order. The Romans, with their
accustomed luxury, feasted the elephants, after this display, with
prodigal magnificence. Splendid couches were placed in the
arena, ornamented with paintings, and covered with tapestry.
Before the couches, upon tables of ivory and cedar, was spread the
banquet of the elephants, in vessels of gold and silver. The pre-
parations being completed, the twelve elephants marched in, six
males clad in the robes of men, and six females attired as women.
They lay down in order upon their couches, or u tricliniums of
festival recumbency," and, at a signal, extended their trunks, and
ate with most praiseworthy moderation. Not one of them, says
./Elian, appeared the least voracious, or manifested any disposition
for an unequal share of the food, or an undue proportion of the deli-
cacies. They were as moderate also in their drink, and received
the cups which were presented to them with the greatest decorum.
According to Pliny, at the spectacles given by Germanicus, it was
not an uncommon thing to see elephants hurl javelins in the air,
and catch them in their trunks, fight with each other as gladiators,
and then execute a Pyrrhic dance. Lastly, they danced upon a
rope, and their steps were so practised and certain, that four of them
traversed the rope, or rather parallel ropes, bearing a litter which
contained one of their companions, who feigned to be sick. This
feat of dancing or walking upon a rope might perhaps be doubted,
if it rested merely upon the testimony of a single author ; but the
practice is confirmed by many ancient writers of authority, who
agree with Pliny that the elephants trained at Rome would not only
walk along a rope forward, but retire backward with equal precision.'
Even in our country the elephant has been taught to take part in
the performances of the theatre in other words, to appear as an
actor requisite to the plot of the drama. This took place in the
London Adelphi and in the Coburg a number of years ago ; and
however questionable might have been the taste, there is no
doubt that the ' sagacious brute ' was the most applauded player
of. the time. This animal, a female, was marched in procession,
knelt down at the waving of the hand, placed the crown on the
head of ' the true prince,' uncorked and drank several bottles of
wine with decorum, supped with her stage companions around her,
and made her obeisance to the audience. Above all, she assisted
the escape of some of the dramatis persona from prison, by kneeling
upon her hind legs, and thus forming an inclined plane for the safe
descent of her friends ; and this she did, unmoved by the glare of
numerous lights, the sounds of music, and shouts of the admiring
spectators. Equally curious with this is the feat mentioned by
Arrian, of an elephant that he saw beating a measure with cymbals.


This was performed by having two cymbals attached to its knees,
while it held a third in its proboscis, and beat with great exactness
the while others danced around it, without deviating from the time
indicated. Busbequius, who visited Constantinople about the
middle of the sixteenth century, there witnessed an elephant not
only dance with elegance and accuracy, but play at ball with great
skill, tossing it with his trunk, and catching it again, as easily as a
man could with his hands. Nay, if we can credit JElian, he has
seen an elephant 'write Latin characters on a board in a very
orderly manner, his keeper only shewing him the figure of each

Among the most interesting elephants kept in this country,
without any reference to profit, was one which was at the Duke
of Devonshire's villa, at Chiswick, the gift of a lady in India.
This animal was a female, remarkable for the gentleness of its
disposition ; and from the kindness with which it was treated, and
the free range that was allowed it, probably came nearer to an
elephant in a state of nature than any other which ever appeared in
this country. The house erected for her shelter was of large
dimensions, and well ventilated ; and she had, besides, the range of
a paddock of considerable extent At the call of her keeper she
came out of her house, and immediately took up a broom, ready to
perform his bidding in sweeping the grass or paths. She would
follow him with a pail or watering-pot round the enclosure. Her
reward was a carrot and some water ; but previously to satisfying
her thirst, she would exhibit her ingenuity by emptying the contents
of a soda-water bottle, which was tightly corked. This she did by
pressing the bottle against the ground with her foot, so as to hold
it securely at an angle of about forty-five degrees, and gradually
twisting out the cork with her trunk, although it was very little above

Online LibraryWilliam ChambersChambers's miscellany of instructive & entertaining tracts (Volume 4) → online text (page 21 of 58)