An Elephant Hunt

By a British medical officer just returned from the Bay of Bengal, 1829

Imagine 2,000 or 3,000 men surrounding a tract of country six or eight miles in circumference, each one armed with different combustibles and moving fires; in the midst suppose 300 elephants, being driven towards the centre by the gradual and regular approach of these fires, till at last they are confined within a circle of about two miles; they are then driven by the same means into a space made by the erection of immense logs of ebony and other strong wood, bound together by cane, and of the shape (in miniature) of the longitudinal section of a funnel, towards which they rush with the greatest fury, amidst the most horrid yells on the approach of fire, of which they stand in the greatest dread. When enclosed they become outrageous, and charge on all sides with great fury, but without any effect on the strong barricado; they at last gain the narrow path of the enclosure, the extreme end of which is just large enough to admit one elephant, which is immediately prevented breaking out by strong bars laid across. To express their passion, their desperation, when thus confined, is impossible; and still more so, to imagine the facility and admirable contrivance by which they are removed and tamed. Thus it is:—A tame elephant is placed on each side, to whom the wild one is fastened by ropes; he is then allowed to pass out, and immediately on his making the least resistance, the tame ones give him a most tremendous squeeze between their sides, and beat him with their trunks until he submits; they then lead him to a place ready prepared, to which he is strongly fastened, and return to perform the same civility to the next one.

In this way seventy wild elephants were captured for the purpose of government labour. The tame elephants daily take each wild one singly to water and to feed, until they become quite tame and docile. The remaining elephants were shot by the people.

I took possession of a young one, and have got him now tied up near my door; he is quite reconciled, and eats with the greatest confidence out of my hand; he is, however, too expensive to keep long, and I fear I must eventually shoot him. Some idea of the expense may be supposed, when I tell you that in one article alone, milk, his allowance is two gallons per day.

I was at this scene with thirty other officers and their ladies, and we remained in temporary huts for nearly ten days.



Show more