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The Story Of Wild Animals:
 Story Of The Armadillo

 Story Of The Lynx

 Story Of The Elephant

 Story Of The Leopard

 Story Of The Reindeer

 Story Of The Coyote

 Story Of The Wild Sheep

 Story Of The Mungoose

 Story Of The Zebra

 Story Of The Yak

 Read More Articles About: The Story Of Wild Animals

Story Of The Elephant

( Originally Published Early 1900's )

Everybody knows that the elephant is the largest of living animals, that his tusks are ivory and that he has enormous strength. Many other things the reader knows of this big beast, and yet this story is written for the purpose of describing scenes and incidents, in which I took a prominent part, new and novel to you. The years I lived in India and along the upper Nile have made me familiar with the animal and have given me an opportunity to study him in nature's domain. The elephant in captivity undergoes many changes in disposition and act.

The deep and widespread interest in the elephant, which surpasses that accorded any other animal, is not misplaced, since the elephant is without exception the most extraordinary of the brute creation. The name pachyderm is frequently used in describing the elephant, but it is no more applicable than would be a half dozen others. Pachyderm means thick-skinned, and describes one quality of the animal, for the skin of the elephant is thicker and tougher than that of any other of the animals with the exception of the rhinoceros and the hippopotamus.

Much has been written about the size attained by the elephant, but nothing is positively known, for no animal in captivity will attain the growth it will in its native state, and it is plain that there may be larger elephants still in the forest and jungle than were ever killed by the European hunters. The fact that tusks larger than those ever found by the white hunters are often brought to the coast by the natives of Africa give evidence of this.

Jumbo., over eleven feet in height at the withers and weighing over six and one-half tons, was raised in captivity at London and was in this country for several seasons. He was the chief attraction at a circus while on this side of the Atlantic. He was without doubt the largest specimen ever in this country, but I have seen a number larger and heavier both in Africa and in Ceylon and Bengal. The height of the African elephant, which is considered larger than the Asiatic, is probably never over fifteen feet, and his weight is certainly not more than eight or nine tons. His length of body is in some instances over thirty feet.

The dimensions of the tusks vary greatly, and the maximum length is only approximately known. Several specimens measuring over twenty feet were brought me by natives, who declared they had seen much longer ones. One of these tusks weighed between two hundred and three hundred pounds.

The tusks of the elephant furnish exceedingly fine ivory, which is used for various purposes, such as knife-handles, combs, billiard-balls, etc. There is a great art in making a billiard-ball. Some parts of the tusk are always heavier than others, so that if the heavy part should fall on one side of the ball, it would not run true. The object of the maker is either to get the heavier portion in the center, or to make the ball from a piece of ivory of equal weight. In either case, the ball is made a little larger than the proper size; it is then hung up in a dry room for several months, and finally turned down to the requisite dimensions.

It is of course impossible to obtain any accurate data as to the age which the elephant may attain in its wild state, and can only, therefore, suggest an approximation to what this may be from captive specimens. Although full grown at the age of twenty-five, an elephant, as determined by the condition of its teeth, is not then mature. A female captured in Coorg in 1805, when about three years of age, did not appear to be particularly old-looking in 1898, although she had then passed her prime. Other individuals have been known to live in captivity for over a century; and since it is obvious that the artificial mode of life which prevails in this state cannot be one tending to promote longevity, it is probable that the estimate of a century and a half as the duration of life in the wild state is not excessive.

In India each elephant has his own individual master or keeper, and a great attachment often springs up between the beast and his human friend. In many cases when the keeper falls ill or is killed, the elephant must be killed, for he will not obey any one else. Some of the tamed animals refuse to take instructions from any' one but their master, and the intelligence shown is almost human. It is believed that the elephant has a small nerve center located in the brain and that in this peculiar formation is the seat of his intelligence. He is the only animal to possess this unusual mass, which corresponds to the human ganglion.

Long periods are required to complete the course of instruction, but when once mastered, the elephant is capable of doing many things which are of great use to man. It has been shown that the animal is used for many purposes, but when out of humor he will refuse to work and often proves destructive, rather than beneficial. Kipling, who wrote probably the best fiction ever printed regarding the elephant, has a number of stories which describe certain traits of the animal. In his story of "Moti Guj, Mutineer," he relates how the keeper of an elephant wanted to take a vacation. He arranged to return on the ninth day, and when the time for departure came he struck the elephant on the foot nine times to indicate the number of days he would be absent. During the nine days the elephant performed his regular duties under the guidance of another keeper, but when the master failed to return on the tenth day, Moti Guj rebelled and refused to work. Not only did he absolutely refuse to perform his regular duties, but he went among the other elephants and induced them to go on a strike. There was a general revolt, and the police elephants, which are kept on all the large Indian plantations for the purpose of chastising unruly members of the band, were sent out to subdue the leader of the rebels. But Moti Guj showed fight and he finally overpowered and drove back the police. The herd was on a rampage the remainder of the day, but the following morning the keeper returned and Moti Guj was set to doing hard tasks. He accepted the situation cheerfully.

During one of the wars in India I had an opportunity of observing one of the elephants that had received a flesh wound from a cannon-ball. After having been two or three times conducted to the hospital, he always used to go alone to have his wound dressed.

The domesticated elephant is largely employed in India for the transport of heavy camp-equipage, for dragging timber to the rivers, and in lieu of horses for artillery; and is of especial value in traversing districts where roads are either wanting, or are so bad as to be impassable for other animals when laden. Elephants may be employed either as beasts of burden or of draught. In dragging timber of moderate dimensions, a short rope is attached to one end of each log, which the elephant seizes between his teeth, and thus raising his burden from the ground, half carries and half drags it away. Tuskers are both stronger and more useful than females, since their tusks often aid them in the performance of their duties.

The majority of the animals employed in tasks like the above, belong to what the natives term the inferior castes; tuskers of the finest and most approved form being far too expensive to be put to such uses. The majority of such animals are, indeed, purchased by the native princes, by whom they are used in state pageants, and the taller the animal, the greater his value.

In India these animals were formerly employed in the launching of ships. An elephant was directed to force a very large vessel into the water; but the work proved superior to his strength. His master, in a sarcastic tone, bade the keeper take away this lazy beast, and bring another. The poor animal instantly repeated his efforts, fractured his skull, and died on the spot.

A story is related of an elephant having formed such an attachment for a very young child, that he was never happy but when the child was near him. The nurse frequently took it in its cradle, and placed it between his feet. This he at length became so much accustomed to, that he would never eat his food except it was present. When the child slept, he would drive off the flies with his proboscis; and when it cried, would move the cradle backward and forward, and thus rock it again to sleep.

A sentinel belonging to the present menagerie at Paris, was always very careful in requesting the spectators not to give the elephants anything to eat. This conduct particularly displeased the female, who beheld him with a very unfavorable eye, and several times endeavored to correct his interference, by sprinkling his head with water from her trunk. One day, when several persons were collected to view these animals, a bystander offered the female a bit of bread.

The sentinel perceived it; but the moment he opened his mouth to give his usual admonition, she, placing herself immediately before him, discharged in his face a considerable stream of water. A general laugh ensued, but the sentinel, having calmly wiped his face, stood a little to one side, and continued as vigilant as before. Soon afterwards, he found himself under the necessity of repeating his admonition to the spectators; but no sooner was this uttered than the female laid hold of his musket, twirled it round with her trunk, trod it under her feet, and did not restore it till she had twisted it nearly into the form of a screw.

At Macassar, an elephant driver had a cocoanut given him, which, out of wantonness, he struck twice against his elephant's forehead, to break. The day following the animal saw some cocoanuts exposed in the street for sale; and taking one of them up with his trunk, beat it about the driver's head, and killed him on the spot._

A tame elephant, kept by an officer in India, was suffered to go at large. The animal used to walk about the streets in as quiet and familiar a manner as any of the inhabitants; and delighted much in visiting the shops, particularly those which sold herbs and fruit, where he was well received, except by a couple of brutal cobblers, who, without any cause, took offense at the generous creature, and once or twice attempted to wound his proboscis with their awls. The noble animal, who knew it was beneath him to crush them, did not disdain to chastise them by other means. He filled his large trunk with a considerable quantity of water, not of the cleanest quality, and advancing to them, as usual, covered them at once with a dirty flood. The fools were laughed at, and the punishment applauded.

I have had experience with both the African and the Indian elephant and know the former to be the more dangerous animal of the two, and the one that is more ready to charge. The females, especially those that are barren and have small tusks, are far more dangerous than males, frequently charging without the least provocation, even when unwounded; and hunters will sometimes take the trouble to kill one of these worthless females before attacking the tuskers. I am of the opinion that the greater number of accidents that have occurred in African, elephant-shooting may be set down to females.

The intrepid Arabs of the Soudan slay the elephant in the same manner as the rhinoceros, by hamstringing it with a long two-edged sword. Three or four mounted hunters, singling out a tusker and separating it from its fellows, follow it until, tired out, the animal faces its pursuers, and prepares to charge. Directly it does so, the hunter who is the object of the charge puts his horse to a gallop, and is closely followed by the elephant. There-upon, two of his companions follow at their best pace behind; and as soon as they come up with the fleeing animal, one seizes the reins of the horse of his fellow, who immediately leaps to the ground, and with one blow of his huge sword divides the tendon of the elephant's leg a short distance above the heel. The ponderous beast is at once brought to a standstill, and is at the mercy of its aggressors.

A somewhat similar method was formerly practiced in Mashonaland, only there the hunters went on foot, and their weapon was a broad-bladed axe; with this they crept up behind a sleeping elephant, and severed the back tendon of the leg in the same manner as above.

Other tribes in the same district employ a heavily-weighted spear, which is plunged into the animal's back by a hunter seated on a bough overhanging one of the most frequented pathways. On receiving the weapon, the elephant of course immediately rushes off, and the weight of the spear, aided by blows from boughs, soon so enlarges the wound, that the animal quickly sinks to the ground, exhausted from loss of blood. In other districts, as in parts of Equatoria, the weighted spear is suspended from a horizontal bar fixed between two tiers of poles. The spear or knife is kept in position by a cord, which is held down by a stake that is directed horizontally toward the middle of the trap; and by another which, at a convenient angle, is interposed between this and the end. The animal, striking with his feet, loosens the contrivance, which then falls violently ; the knife wounds the animal with singular exactness in the spot where the brain unites with the nape of the neck. The blow falls like a thunder-clap; and if the trap is well made, the elephant struggles and dies.

The European sportsman kills the African elephant either by lying in wait at one of its drinking-places, or by attacking it in the open, either on foot or on horseback. At the present day, however, most or all of the elephants remaining in South-Eastern Africa are restricted to districts infested by the tsetsi fly, where horses cannot exist, and the pursuit must consequently be undertaken on foot. Owing to the conformation of its skull, the front-shot, so frequently emloyed in the case of the Indian elephant, is ineffectual with the African species, and there are but two spots where a bullet may be expected to prove fatal; one of these being in the head behind the eye, and the other in the shoulder immediately behind the flap of the ear.

The old bulls are frequently solitary for a time, but generally each belongs to a particular herd, which it visits occasionally. Solitary male elephants are known as "rogues," and are generally characterized by their fierce and quarrelsome disposition. Elephants that are permanently solitary are, how-ever, comparatively rare, the majority of the so-called rogues really belonging to herds. These leave their companions, as a rule, merely for a time, in order to visit the cultivated lands, where the less venturesome females hesitate to follow, and where they inflict enormous damage on the growing crops.

In the kingdom of Siam there are occasionally to be found white elephants, but these are very scarce, and are regarded with much veneration. This is owing to the belief of the Siamese in the doctrine that the souls of men, after their death, pass into the body of some white animal. They imagine that the body of so rare an animal as a white elephant must of necessity be inhabited by the spirit of some king or other mighty personage. They say, that for all his majesty the King of Siam knows to the contrary, the soul of his father, or some other ancestor, may inhabit the body of one of the white elephants; and, in consequence of this theory, every white elephant, in Siam, has the title of king, is lodged and fed in a very sumptuous manner, and is never ridden, even by the king himself, as the elephant is as great a king as he is.

A curious instance is recorded of the elephant's liking for sweetmeats, and of a method adopted in his savage state to gratify this propensity. It chanced that a Coolie, laden with jaggery, which is a coarse preparation of sugar, was surprised in a narrow pass in India by a wild elephant. The poor fellow, in-tent upon saving his life, threw down the burden, which the elephant devoured, and, being well pleased with the repast, determined not to allow any person to pass either way, who did not provide him with a similar banquet. The pass formed one of the principal thoroughfares to the capital, and the elephant, taking up a formidable position at the entrance, obliged every passenger to pay tribute. It soon became generally known that a donation of jaggery would insure a safe conduct through the guarded portal, and no one presumed to attempt the passage without the expected offering.

No animal is more ferociously destructive than an infuriated elephant; even in the domesticated state, they are known to be gratified with carnage, and hence they have been frequently employed as executioners by the despots of the East. One of the Epirote elephants, furious from pain, shook off his driver, and rushing back upon the phalanx which Pyrrhus had formed with closer ranks than usual, crushed and destroyed a great number of soldiers be-fore any remedy could be found for such a disaster.

On a previous occasion the delight of the elephant in carnage had been fearfully demonstrated. Before the body of Alexandria was laid in the tomb, three hundred of his bravest companions were crushed to death by elephants, in the presence of the entire army, by command of the regent Perdiccas.

An elephant, with a good driver, gives, perhaps, the best instance of disciplined courage to be seen in the animal world. Elephants will submit, day after day, to have painful wounds dressed in obedience to their keepers, and meet danger in obedience to their orders, though their intelligence is sufficient to understand the peril, and far too great for man to trick them into a belief that there is no risk. No animal will face danger more readily at man's bidding. As an example, it is told that a small female elephant was charged by a buffalo, in high grass, and her rider in the hurry of the moment, and perhaps owing to the sudden stoppage of the elephant, fired an explosive shell from his rifle, not into the buffalo, but into the elephant's shoulder. The wound was so severe, that it had not healed a year later,

Yet the elephant stood firm, although it was gored by the buffalo, which was then killed by another gun.

In case of wounds or injuries the elephant has an immense advantage over all other animals, in the use of its trunk for dressing wounds. It is at once a syringe, a powdering-puff and a hand. Water, mud, and dust are the main "applications" used, though it sometimes covers a sun-scorched back with grass or leaves. Wounded elephants have marvelous power of recovery when in their wild state, although they have no gifts of surgical knowledge, their simple system being confined to plastering their wounds with mud, or blowing dust upon the surface. Dust and mud comprise the entire stock of medicines of the elephant, and this is applied upon the most trivial, as well as upon the most serious occasions. I have seen them when in a tank plaster up a bullet wound with mud taken from the bottom.

The African elephant is more of a tree-feeder than the Indian, and the destruction committed by a large herd of such animals when feeding in a mimosa-forest is extraordinary; they deliberately march forward, and uproot or break down every tree that excites their appetite. The mimosas are generally from sixteen to twenty feet high, and, having no tap-root, they are easily overturned by the tusks of the elephants, which are driven like crowbars beneath the roots, and used as levers, in which rough labor they are frequently broken. Upon the overthrow of a tree, the elephants eat the roots and leaves, and strip the bark from the branches by grasping them with their rough trunks. Two, elephants may sometimes unite their strength in order to overthrow a tree of more than ordinary size. In South-Eastern Africa I have seen large areas of sandy soil ploughed up by the tusks of these animals in their search for roots.

In digging the elephant always uses one particular tusk, which, in consequence, is much more worn than the other. It is nearly always the right tusk which is selected for this duty; and the one so used is termed by the Sudanis the hadam, or servant.

In Southern Africa, at least, elephants drink almost every night, but only rarely during the day. In that part of the continent they seek the deepest shades of the forest during the heat of the day, and generally appear to sleep in a standing posture.

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