Sketches of Natural History of Ceylon
J. Emerson Tennent

Part 4 out of 12

It is curious that in these encounters the herd never rush forward in a
body, as buffaloes or bisons do, but only one elephant at a time moves
in advance of the rest to confront, or, as it is called, to "charge,"
the assailants. I have heard of but one instance in which _two_ so
advanced as champions of their companions. Sometimes, indeed, the whole
herd will follow a leader, and manoeuvre in his rear like a body of
cavalry; but so large a party are necessarily liable to panic; and, one
of them having turned in alarm, the entire body retreat with terrified

As regards boldness and courage, a strange variety of temperament is
observable amongst elephants, but it may be affirmed that they are, much
more generally timid than courageous. One herd may be as difficult to
approach as deer, gliding away through the jungle so gently and quickly
that scarcely a trace marks their passage; another, in apparent stupor,
will huddle themselves together like swine, and allow their assailant to
come within a few yards before they break away in terror; and a third
will await his approach without motion, and then advance, with fury to
the "charge."

In individuals the same differences are discernible; one flies on the
first appearance of danger, whilst another, alone and unsupported, will
face a whole host of enemies. When wounded and infuriated with pain,
many of them become literally savage[1]; but, so unaccustomed are they
to act as assailants, and so awkward and inexpert in using their
strength, that they rarely or ever exceed in killing a pursuer who falls
into their power. Although the pressure of a foot, a blow with the
trunk, or a thrust with the tusk, could scarcely fail to prove fatal,
three-fourths of those who have fallen into their power have escaped
without serious injury. So great is this chance of impunity, that the
sportsman prefers to approach within about fifteen paces of the
advancing elephant, a space which gives time for a second fire should
the first shot prove ineffectual, and should both fail there is still
opportunity for flight.

[Footnote 1: Some years ago an elephant which had been wounded by a
native, near Hambangtotte, pursued the man into the town, followed him
along the street, trampled him to death in the bazaar before a crowd of
spectators, and succeeded in making good its retreat to the jungle.]

Amongst full-grown timber, a skilful runner can escape from an elephant
by "dodging" round the trees, but in cleared land, and low brushwood,
the difficulty is much increased, as the small growth of underwood which
obstructs the movements of man presents no obstacle to those of an
elephant. On the other hand, on level and open ground the chances are
rather in favour of the elephant, as his pace in full flight exceeds
that of man, although as a general rule, it is unequal to that of a
horse, as has been sometimes asserted.[1]

[Footnote 1: SHAW, in his _Zoology_, asserts that an elephant can run as
swiftly as a horse can gallop. London, 1800-6, vol. i. p. 216.]

The incessant slaughter of elephants by sportsmen in Ceylon, appears to
be merely in subordination to the influence of the organ of
destructiveness, since the carcase is never applied to any useful
purpose, but left to decompose and to defile the air of the forest. The
flesh is occasionally tasted as a matter of curiosity: as a steak it is
coarse and tough; but the tongue is as delicate as that of an ox; and
the foot is said to make palatable soup. The Caffres attached to the
pioneer corps in the Kandyan province are in the habit of securing the
heart of any elephant shot in their vicinity, and say it is their custom
to eat it in Africa. The hide it has been found impracticable to tan in
Ceylon, or to convert to any useful purpose, but the bones of those shot
have of late years been collected and used for manuring coffee estates.
The hair of the tail, which is extremely strong and horny, is mounted by
the native goldsmith, and made into bracelets; and the teeth are sawn by
the Moormen at Galle (as they used to be by the Romans during a scarcity
of ivory) into plates, out of which they fashion numerous articles of
ornament, knife-handles, card racks, and "presse-papiers."


Amongst extraordinary recoveries from desperate wounds, I venture to
record here an instance which occurred in Ceylon to a gentleman while
engaged in the chase of elephants, and which, I apprehend, has few
parallels in pathological experience. Lieutenant GERARD FRETZ, of the
Ceylon Rifle Regiment, whilst firing at an elephant in the vicinity of
Fort MacDonald, in Oovah, was wounded in the face by the bursting of his
fowling-piece, on the 22nd January, 1828. He was then about thirty-two
years of age. On raising him, it was found that part of the breech of
the gun and about two inches of the barrel had been driven through the
frontal sinus, at the junction of the nose and forehead. It had sunk
almost perpendicularly till the iron-plate called "the tail-pin," by
which the barrel is made fast to the stock by a screw, had descended
through the palate, carrying with it the screw, one extremity of which
had forced itself into the right nostril, where it was discernible
externally, whilst the headed end lay in contact with his tongue. To
extract the jagged mass of iron thus sunk in the ethmoidal and
sphenoidal cells was found hopelessly impracticable; but, strange to
tell, after the inflammation subsided, Mr. FRETZ recovered rapidly; his
general health was unimpaired, and he returned to his regiment with
this, singular appendage firmly embedded behind the bones of his face.
He took his turn of duty as usual, attained the command of his company,
participated in all the enjoyments of the mess-room, and died _eight
years afterwards_, on the 1st of April, 1836, not from any consequences
of this fearful wound, but from fever and inflammation brought on by
other causes.

So little was he apparently inconvenienced by the presence of the
strange body in his palate that he was accustomed with his finger
partially to undo the screw, which but for its extreme length he might
altogether have withdrawn. To enable this to be done, and possibly to
assist by this means the extraction of the breech itself through the
original orifice (which never entirely closed), an attempt was made in
1835 to take off a portion of the screw with a file; but, after having
cut it three parts through the operation was interrupted, chiefly owing
to the carelessness and indifference of Capt. FRETZ, whose death
occurred before the attempt could be resumed. The piece of iron, on
being removed after his decease, was found to measure 2-3/4 inches in
length, and weighed two scruples more than two ounces and three
quarters. A cast of the breech and screw now forms No. 2790 amongst the
deposits in the Medical Museum of Chatham.



* * * * *

_An Elephant Corral_.

So long as the elephants of Ceylon were merely required in small numbers
for the pageantry of the native princes, or the sacred processions of
the Buddhist temples, their capture was effected either by the
instrumentality of female decoys, or by the artifices and agility of the
individuals and castes who devoted themselves to their pursuit and
training. But after the arrival of the European conquerors of the
island, and when it had become expedient to take advantage of the
strength and intelligence of these creatures in clearing forests and
making roads and other works, establishments were organised on a great
scale by the Portuguese and Dutch, and the supply of elephants kept up
by periodical battues conducted at the cost of the government, on a plan
similar to that adopted on the continent of India, when herds varying in
number from twenty to one hundred and upwards are driven into concealed
enclosures and secured.

In both these processes, success is entirely dependent on the skill with
which the captors turn to advantage the terror and inexperience of the
wild elephant, since all attempts would be futile to subdue or confine
by ordinary force an animal of such strength and sagacity.[1]

[Footnote 1: The device of taking them by means of pitfalls still
prevails in India: but in addition to the difficulty of providing
against that caution with which the elephant is supposed to reconnoitre
suspicious ground, it has the further disadvantage of exposing him to
injury from bruises and dislocations in his fall. Still it was the mode
of capture employed by the Singhalese, and so late as 1750 WOLF relates
that the native chiefs of the Wanny, when capturing elephants for the
Dutch, made "pits some fathoms deep in those places whither the elephant
is wont to go in search of food, across which were laid poles covered
with branches and baited with the food of which he is fondest, making
towards which he finds himself taken unawares. Thereafter being subdued
by fright and exhaustion, he was assisted to raise himself to the
surface by means of hurdles and earth, which he placed underfoot as they
were thrown down to him, till he was enabled to step out on solid
ground, when the noosers and decoys were in readiness to tie him up to
the nearest tree."--See WOLF'S _Life and Adventures_, p. 152. Shakspeare
appears to have been acquainted with the plan of taking elephants in
pitfalls: Decius, encouraging the conspirators, reminds them of Caesar's
taste for anecdotes of animals, by which he would undertake to lure him
to his fate:

"For he loves to hear
That unicorns may be betrayed with trees.
And bears with glasses; _elephants with holes_."

JULIUS CAESAR, Act ii. Scene I.]

Knox describes with circumstantiality the mode adopted, two centuries
ago, by the servants of the King of Kandy to catch elephants for the
royal stud. He says, "After discovering the retreat of such as have
tusks, unto these they drive some _she elephants_, which they bring with
them for the purpose, which, when once the males have got a sight of,
they will never leave, but follow them wheresoever they go; and the
females are so used to it that they will do whatsoever, either by word
or a beck, their keepers bid them. And so they delude them along through
towns and countries, and through the streets of the city, even to the
very gates of the king's palace, where sometimes they seize upon them by
snares, and sometimes by driving them into a kind of pound, they catch

[Footnote 1: KNOX'S _Historical Relation of Ceylon_, A.D. 1681, part i.
ch. vi. p. 21.]

In Nepaul and Burmah, and throughout the Chin-Indian Peninsula, when in
pursuit of single elephants, either _rogues_ detached from the herd, or
individuals who have been marked for the beauty of their ivory, the
natives avail themselves of the aid of females in order to effect their
approaches and secure an opportunity of casting a noose over the foot of
the destined captive. All accounts concur in expressing high admiration
of their courage and address; but from what has fallen under my own
observation, added to the descriptions I have heard from other
eye-witnesses, I am inclined to believe that in such exploits the
Moormen of Ceylon evince a daring and adroitness, surpassing all others.

These professional elephant catchers, or, as they are called, Panickeas,
inhabit the Moorish villages in the north and north-east of the island,
and from time immemorial have been engaged in taking elephants, which
are afterwards trained by Arabs, chiefly for the use of the rajahs and
native princes in the south of India, whose vakeels are periodically
despatched to make purchases in Ceylon.

The ability evinced by these men in tracing elephants through the woods
has almost the certainty of instinct; and hence their services are
eagerly sought by the European sportsmen who go down into their country
in search of game. So keen is their glance, that like hounds running
"breast high" they will follow the course of an elephant, almost at the
top of their speed, over glades covered with stunted grass, where the
eye of a stranger would fail to discover a trace of its passage, and on
through forests strewn with dry leaves, where it seems impossible to
perceive a footstep. Here they are guided by a bent or broken twig, or
by a leaf dropped from the animal's mouth, on which the pressure of a
tooth may be detected. If at fault, they fetch a circuit like a setter,
till lighting on some fresh marks, they go a-head again with renewed
vigour. So delicate is the sense of smell in the elephant, and so
indispensable is it to go against the wind in approaching him, that on
those occasions when the wind is so still that its direction cannot be
otherwise discerned, the Panickeas will suspend the film of a gossamer
to determine it and shape their course accordingly.

They are enabled by the inspection of the footmarks, when impressed in
soft clay, to describe the size as well as the number of a herd before
it is seen; the height of an elephant at the shoulder being as nearly as
possible twice the circumference of his fore foot.[1]

On overtaking the game their courage is as conspicuous as their
sagacity. If they have confidence in the sportsman for whom they are
finding, they will advance to the very heel of the elephant, slap him on
the quarter, and convert his timidity into anger, till he turns upon his
tormentor and exposes his front to receive the bullet which is awaiting

[Footnote 1: Previous to the death of the female elephant in the
Zoological Gardens, in the Regent's Park, in 1851, Mr. MITCHELL, the
Secretary, caused measurements to be accurately made, and found the
statement of the Singhalese hunters to be strictly correct, the height
at the shoulders being precisely twice the circumference of the fore

[Footnote 2: Major SKINNER, the Chief Officer at the head of the
Commission of Roads, in Ceylon, in writing to me, mentions an anecdote
illustrative of the daring of the Panickeas. "I once saw," he says, "a
very beautiful example of the confidence with which these fellows, from
their knowledge of the elephants, meet their worst defiance. It was in
Neuera-Kalawa; I was bivouacking on the bank of a river, and had been
kept out so late that I did not get to my tent until between 9 and 10 at
night. On our return towards it we passed several single elephants
making their way to the nearest water, but at length we came upon a
large herd that had taken possession of the only road by which we could
pass, and which no intimidation would induce to move off. I had some
Panickeas with me; they knew the herd, and counselled extreme caution.
After trying every device we could think of for a length of time, a
little old Moorman of the party came to me and requested we should all
retire to a distance. He then took a couple of chules (flambeaux of
dried wood, or coco-nut leaves), one in each hand, and waving them above
his head till they flamed out fiercely, he advanced at a deliberate pace
to within a few yards of the elephant who was acting as leader of the
party, and who was growling and trumpeting in his rage, and flourished
the flaming torches in his face. The effect was instantaneous: the whole
herd dashed away in a panic, bellowing, screaming, and crushing through
the underwood, whilst we availed ourselves of the open path to make our
way to our tents."]

So fearless and confident are they that two men, without aid or
attendants, will boldly attempt to capture the largest-sized elephant.
Their only weapon is a flexible rope made of elk's or buffalo's hide,
with which it is their object to secure one of the hind legs. This they
effect either by following in its footsteps when in motion or by
stealing close up to it when at rest, and availing themselves of its
well-known propensity at such moments to swing the feet backwards and
forwards, they contrive to slip a noose over the hind leg.

At other times this is achieved by spreading the noose on the ground
partially concealed by roots and leaves beneath a tree on which one of
the party is stationed, whose business it is to lift it suddenly by
means of a cord, raising it on the elephant's leg at the moment when his
companion has succeeded in provoking him to place his foot within the
circle, the other end having been previously made fast to the stem of
the tree. Should the noosing be effected in open ground, and no tree of
sufficient strength at hand round which to wind the rope, one of the
Moors, allowing himself to be pursued by the enraged elephant, entices
him towards the nearest grove; where his companion, dexterously laying
hold of the rope as it trails along the ground, suddenly coils it round
a suitable stem, and brings the fugitive to a stand still. On finding
himself thus arrested, the natural impulse of the captive is to turn on
the man who is engaged in making fast the rope, a movement which it is
the duty of his colleague to present by running up close to the
elephant's head and provoking the animal to confront him by irritating
gesticulations and taunting shouts of _dah! dah!_ a monosyllable, the
sound of which the elephant peculiarly dislikes. Meanwhile the first
assailant, having secured one noose, comes up from behind with another,
with which, amidst the vain rage and struggles of the victim, he entraps
a fore leg, the rope being, as before, secured to another tree in front,
and the whole four feet having been thus entangled, the capture is

A shelter is then run up with branches, to protect their prisoner from
the sun, and the hunters proceed to build a wigwam for themselves in
front of him, kindling their fires for cooking, and making all the
necessary arrangements for remaining day and night on the spot to await
the process of subduing and taming his rage. In my journeys through the
forest I have come unexpectedly on the halting place of adventurous
hunters when thus engaged; and on one occasion, about sunrise, in
ascending the steep ridge from the bed of the Malwatte river, the
foremost rider of our party was suddenly driven back by a furious
elephant, which we found picketed by two Panickeas on the crest of the
bank. In such a position, the elephant soon ceases to struggle; and what
with the exhaustion of rage and resistance, the terror of fire which he
dreads, and the constant annoyance of smoke which he detests, in a very
short time, a few weeks at the most, his spirit becomes subdued; and
being plentifully supplied with plantains and fresh food, and indulged
with water, in which he luxuriates, he grows so far reconciled to his
keepers that they at length venture to remove him to their own village,
or to the sea-side for shipment to India.

No part of the hunter's performances exhibits greater skill and audacity
than this first forced march of the recently captured elephant from the
great central forests to the sea-coast. As he is still too morose to
submit to be ridden, and as it would be equally impossible to lead or to
drive him by force, the ingenuity of the captors is displayed in
alternately irritating and eluding him, but always so attracting his
attention as to allure him along in the direction in which they want him
to go. Some assistance is derived from the rope by which the original
capture was effected, and which, as it serves to make him safe at night,
is never removed from the leg till his taming is sufficiently advanced
to permit of his being entrusted with partial liberty.

In Ceylon the principal place for exporting these animals to India is
Manaar, on the western coast, to which the Arabs from the continent
resort, bringing with them horses to be bartered for elephants. In order
to reach the sea, open plains must be traversed, across which it
requires the utmost courage, agility, and patience of the Moors to coax
their reluctant charge. At Manaar the elephants are usually detained
till any wound on the leg caused by the rope has been healed, when the
shipment is effected in the most primitive manner. It being next to
impossible to induce the still untamed creature to walk on board, and no
mechanical contrivances being provided to ship him; a dhoney, or native
boat, of about forty tons' burthen, and about three parts filled with
the strong ribbed leaves of the Palmyra palm, is brought alongside the
quay in front of the Old Dutch Fort, and lashed so that the gunwale may
be as nearly as possible on a line with the level of the wharf. The
elephant being placed with his back to the water is forced by goads to
retreat till his hind legs go over the side of the quay, but the main
contest commences when it is attempted to disengage his fore feet from
the shore, and force him to entrust himself on board. The scene becomes
exciting from the screams and trumpeting of the elephants, the shouts of
the Arabs, the calls of the Moors, and the rushing of the crowd.
Meanwhile the huge creature strains every nerve to regain the land; and
the day is often consumed before his efforts are overcome, and he finds
himself fairly afloat. The same dhoney will take from four to five
elephants, who place themselves athwart it, and exhibit amusing
adroitness in accommodating their movements to the rolling of the little
vessel; and in this way they are ferried across the narrow strait which
separates the continent of India from Ceylon.[1]

[Footnote 1: In the _Philosophical Transactions_ for 1701, there is "An
Account of the taking of Elephants in Ceylon, by Mr. STRACHAN, a
Physician who lived seventeen years there," in which the author
describes the manner in which they were shipped by the Dutch, at Matura,
Galle, and Negombo. A piece of strong sail-cloth having been wrapped
round the elephant's chest and stomach, he was forced into the sea
between two tame ones, and there made fast to a boat. The tame ones then
returned to land, and he swam after the boat to the ship, where tackle
was reeved to the sail-cloth, and he was hoisted on board.

"But a better way has been invented lately," says Mr. Strachan; "a large
flat-bottomed vessel is prepared, covered with planks like a floor; so
that this floor is almost of a height with the key. Then the sides of
the key and the vessel are adorned with green branches, so that the
elephant sees no water till he is in the ship."--_Phil. Trans._, vol.
xxiii. No. 227, p. 1051.]

But the feat of ensnaring and subduing a single elephant, courageous as
it is, and demonstrative of the supremacy with which man wields his
"dominion over every beast of the earth," falls far short of the daring
exploit of capturing a whole herd: when from thirty to one hundred wild
elephants are entrapped in one vast decoy. The mode of effecting this,
as it is practised in Ceylon, is no doubt imitated, but with
considerable modifications, from the methods prevalent in various parts
of India. It was introduced by the Portuguese, and continued by the
Dutch, the latter of whom had two elephant hunts in each year, and
conducted their operations on so large a scale, that the annual export
after supplying the government establishments, was from one hundred to
one hundred and fifty elephants, taken principally in the vicinity of
Matura, in the southern province, and marched for shipment to Manaar.[1]

[Footnote 1: VALENTYN. _Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indien_, ch. xv. p. 272.]

The custom in Bengal is to construct a strong enclosure (called a
_keddah_), in the heart of the forest, formed of the trunks of trees
firmly secured by transverse beams and buttresses, and leaving the gate
for the entrance of the elephants. A second enclosure, opening from the
first, contains water (if possible a rivulet): this, again, communicates
with a third, which terminates in a funnel-shaped passage, too narrow to
admit of an elephant turning, and within this the captives being driven
in line, are secured with ropes introduced from the outside, and led
away in custody of tame ones trained for the purpose.

The _keddah_ being prepared, the first operation is to drive the
elephants towards it, for which purpose vast bodies of men fetch a
compass in the forest around the haunts of the herds, contracting it by
degrees, till they complete the enclosure of a certain area, round which
they kindle fires, and cut footpaths through the jungle, to enable the
watchers to communicate and combine. All this is performed in cautious
silence and by slow approaches, to avoid alarming the herd. A fresh
circle nearer to the _keddah_ is then formed in the same way, and into
this the elephants are admitted from the first one, the hunters
following from behind, and lighting new fires around the newly inclosed
space. Day after day the process is repeated; till the drove having been
brought sufficiently close to make the final rush, the whole party close
in from all sides, and with drums, guns, shouts, and flambeaux, force
the terrified animals to enter the fatal enclosure, when the passage is
barred behind them, and retreat rendered impossible.

Their efforts to escape are repressed by the crowd, who drive them back
from the stockade with spears and flaming torches; and at last compel
them to pass on into the second enclosure. Here they are detained for a
short time, and their feverish exhaustion relieved by free access to
water;--until at last, being tempted by food, or otherwise induced to
trust themselves in the narrow outlet, they are one after another made
fast by ropes, passed in through the palisade; and picketed in the
adjoining woods to enter on their course of systematic training.

These arrangements vary in different districts of Bengal; and the method
adopted in Ceylon differs in many essential particulars from them all;
the Keddah, or, as it is here called, the corral or _korahl_[1] (from
the Portuguese _curral_, a "cattle-pen"), consists of but one enclosure
instead of three. A stream or watering-place is not uniformly enclosed
within it, because, although water is indispensable after the long
thirst and exhaustion of the captives, it has been found that a pond or
rivulet within the corral itself adds to the difficulty of leading them
out, and increases their reluctance to leave it; besides which, the
smaller ones are often smothered by the others in their eagerness to
crowd into the water. The funnel-shaped outlet is also dispensed with,
as the animals are liable to bruise and injure themselves within the
narrow stockade; and should one of them die in it, as is too often the
case in the midst of the struggle, the difficulty of removing so great a
carcase is extreme. The noosing and securing them, therefore, takes
place in Ceylon within the area of the first enclosure into which they
enter, and the dexterity and daring displayed in this portion of the
work far surpasses that of merely attaching the rope through the
openings of the paling, as in an Indian keddah.

[Footnote 1: It is thus spelled by WOLF, in his _Life and Adventures_,
p. 144. _Corral_ is at the present day a household word in South
America, and especially in La Plata, to designate an _enclosure for

One result of this change in the system is manifested in the increased
proportion of healthy elephants which are eventually secured and trained
out of the number originally enclosed. The reason of this is obvious:
under the old arrangements, months were consumed in the preparatory
steps of surrounding and driving in the herds, which at last arrived so
wasted by excitement and exhausted by privation that numbers died within
the corral itself, and still more died during the process of training.
But in later years the labour of months is reduced to weeks, and the
elephants are driven in fresh and full of vigour, so that comparatively
few are lost either in the enclosure or the stables. A conception of the
whole operation from commencement to end will be best conveyed by
describing the progress of an elephant corral as I witnessed it in 1847
in the great forest on the banks of the Alligator River, the Kimbul-oya,
in the district of Kornegalle, about thirty miles north-west of Kandy.

Kornegalle, or Kurunai-galle, was one of the ancient capitals of the
island, and the residence of its kings from A.D. 1319 to 1347.[1] The
dwelling-house of the principal civil officer in charge of the district
now occupies the site of the former palace, and the ground is strewn
with fragments of columns and carved stones, the remnants of the royal
buildings. The modern town consists of the bungalows of the European
officials, each surrounded with its own garden; two or three streets
inhabited by Dutch descendants and by Moors; and a native bazaar, with
the ordinary array of rice and curry stuffs and cooking chattees of
brass or burnt clay.

[Footnote 1: See SIR J. EMERSON TENNENT'S _Ceylon_, Vol. I. Pt. III. ch.
xii. p. 415.]

The charm of the village is the unusual beauty of its position. It rests
within the shade of an enormous rock of gneiss upwards of 600 feet in
height, nearly denuded of verdure, and so rounded and worn by time that
it has acquired the form of a couchant elephant, from which it derives
its name of AEtagalla, the Rock of the Tusker.[1] But AEtagalla is only
the last eminence in a range of similarly-formed rocky mountains, which
here terminate abruptly; and, which from the fantastic shapes into which
their gigantic outlines have been wrought by the action of the
atmosphere, are called by the names of the Tortoise Rock, the Eel Rock,
and the Rock of the Tusked Elephant. So impressed are the Singhalese by
the aspect of these stupendous masses that in ancient grants lands are
conveyed in perpetuity, or "so long as the sun and the moon, so long as
AEtagalla and Andagalla shall endure."[2]

[Footnote 1: Another enormous mass of gneiss is called the
Kuruminiagalla, or the Beetle-rock, from its resemblance in shape to the
back of that insect, and hence is said to have been derived the name of
the town, _Kuruna-galle_ or Kornegalle.]

[Footnote 2: FORBES quotes a Tamil conveyance of land, the purchaser of
which is to "possess and enjoy it as long as the sun and the moon, the
earth and its vegetables, the mountains and the River Cauvery
exist."--_Oriental Memoirs_, vol. ii. chap. ii. It will not fail to be
observed, that the same figure was employed in Hebrew literature as a
type of duration--" They shall fear thee, _so long as the sun and moon
endure_; throughout all generations."--Psalm lxxii. 5, 17.]

Kornegalle is the resort of Buddhists from the remotest parts of the
island, who come to visit an ancient temple on the summit of the great
rock, to which access is had from the valley below by means of steep
paths and steps hewn out of the solid stone. Here the chief object of
veneration is a copy of the sacred footstep hollowed in the granite,
similar to that which confers sanctity on Adam's Peak, the towering apex
of which, about forty miles distant, the pilgrims can discern from

At times the heat at Kornegalle is intense, in consequence of the
perpetual glow diffused from these granite cliffs. The warmth they
acquire during the blaze of noon becomes almost intolerable towards
evening, and the sultry night is too short to permit them to cool
between the setting and the rising of the sun. The district is also
liable to occasional droughts when the watercourses fail, and the tanks
are dried up. One of these calamities occurred about the period of my
visit, and such was the suffering of the wild animals that numbers of
crocodiles and bears made their way into the town to drink at the wells.
The soil is prolific in the extreme; rice, cotton, and dry grain are
cultivated largely in the valley. Every cottage is surrounded by gardens
of coco-nuts, arecas, jak-fruit and coffee; the slopes, under tillage,
are covered with luxuriant vegetation, and, as far as the eye can reach
on every side, there are dense forests intersected by streams, in the
shade of which the deer and the elephant abound.

In 1847 arrangements were made for one of the great elephant hunts for
the supply of the Civil Engineer's Department, and the spot fixed on by
Mr. Morris, the Government officer who conducted the corral, was on the
banks of the Kimbul river, about fifteen miles from Kornegalle. The
country over which we rode to the scene of the approaching capture
showed traces of the recent drought, the fields lay to a great extent
untilled, owing to the want of water, and the tanks, almost reduced to
dryness, were covered with the leaves of the rose-coloured lotus.

Our cavalcade was as oriental as the scenery through which it moved; the
Governor and the officers of his staff and household formed a long
cortege, escorted by the native attendants, horse-keepers, and
foot-runners. The ladies were borne in palankins, and the younger
individuals of the party carried in chairs raised on poles, and covered
with cool green awnings made of the fresh leaves of the talipat palm.

After traversing the cultivated lands, the path led across open glades
of park-like verdure and beauty, and at last entered the great-forest
under the shade of ancient trees wreathed to their crowns with climbing
plants and festooned by natural garlands of convolvulus and orchids.
Here silence reigned, disturbed only by the murmuring hum of glittering
insects, or the shrill clamour of the plum-headed parroquet and the
flute-like calls of the golden oriole.

We crossed the broad sandy beds of two rivers over-arched by tall trees,
the most conspicuous of which is the Kombook[1], from the calcined bark
of which the natives extract a species of lime to be used with their
betel. And from the branches hung suspended over the water the gigantic
pods of the huge puswael bean[2], the sheath of which measures six feet
long by five or six inches broad.

[Footnote 1: _Pentaptera paniculata_.]

[Footnote 2: _Entada pursaetha_.]

On ascending the steep bank of the second stream, we found ourselves in
front of the residences which had been extemporised for our party in the
immediate vicinity of the corral. These cool and enjoyable structures
were formed of branches and thatched with palm leaves and fragrant lemon
grass; and in addition to a dining-room and suites of bedrooms fitted
with tent furniture, they included kitchens, stables, and storerooms,
all run up by the natives in the course of a few days.

In former times, the work connected with these elephant hunts was
performed by the "forced labour" of the natives, as part of that feudal
service which under the name of Raja-kariya was extorted from the
Singhalese during the rule of their native sovereigns. This system was
continued by the Portuguese and Dutch, and prevailed under the British
Government till its abolition by the Earl of Ripon in 1832. Under it
from fifteen hundred to two thousand men superintended by their headmen,
used to be occupied, in constructing the corral, collecting the
elephants, maintaining the cordon of watch-fires and watchers, and
conducting all the laborious operations of the capture. Since the
abolition of Raja-kariya, however, no difficulty has been found in
obtaining the voluntary co-operation of the natives on these exciting
occasions. The government defrays the expense of that portion of the
preparations which involves actual cost,--for the skilled labour
expended in the erection of the corral and its appurtenances, and the
providing of spears, ropes, arms, flutes, drums, gunpowder, and other
necessaries for the occasion.

The period of the year selected is that which least interferes with the
cultivation of the rice-lands (in the interval between seed time and
harvest), and the people themselves, in addition to the excitement and
enjoyment of the sport, have a personal interest in reducing the number
of elephants, which inflict serious injury on their gardens and growing
crops. For a similar reason the priests encourage the practice, because
the elephants destroy their sacred Bo-trees, of the leaves of which they
are passionately fond; besides which it promotes the facility for
obtaining elephants for the processions of the temples: and the
Rata-mahat-mayas and headmen have a pride in exhibiting the number of
retainers who follow them to the field, and the performances of the tame
elephants which they lend for the business of the corral. Thus vast
numbers of the peasantry are voluntarily occupied for many weeks in
putting up the stockades, cutting paths through the jungle, and
relieving the beaters who are engaged in surrounding and driving in the

In selecting the scene for the hunt a position is chosen which lies on
some old and frequented route of the animals, in their periodical
migrations in search of forage and water; and the vicinity of a stream
is indispensable, not only for the supply of the elephants during the
time spent in inducing them to approach the enclosure, but to enable
them to bathe and cool themselves throughout the process of training
after capture.


In constructing the corral itself, care is taken to avoid disturbing the
trees or the brushwood within the included space, and especially on the
side by which the elephants are to approach, where it is essential to
conceal the stockade as much as possible by the density of the foliage.
The trees used in the structure are from ten to twelve inches in
diameter; and are sunk about three feet in the earth, so as to leave a
length of from twelve to fifteen feet above ground; with spaces between
each stanchion sufficiently wide to permit a man to glide through. The
uprights are made fast by transverse beams, to which they are lashed
securely by ratans and flexible climbing plants, or as they are called
"jungle ropes," and the whole is steadied by means of forked supports,
which grasp the tie beams, and prevent the work from being driven
outward by the rush of the wild elephants.

On the occasion I am now attempting to describe, the space thus enclosed
was about 500 feet in length by 250 wide. At one end an entrance was
left open, fitted with sliding bars, so prepared as to be capable of
being instantly shut;--and from each angle of the end by which the
elephants were to approach, two lines of the same strong fencing were
continued, and cautiously concealed by the trees; so that if, instead of
entering by the open passage, the herd should swerve to right, or left,
they would find themselves suddenly stopped and forced to retrace their
course to the gate.

The preparations were completed by placing a stage for the Governor's
party on a group of the nearest trees looking down into the enclosure,
so that a view could be had of the entire proceeding, from the entrance
of the herd, to the leading out of the captive elephants.

It is hardly necessary to observe that the structure here described,
massive as it is, would be entirely ineffectual to resist the shock, if
assaulted by the full force of an enraged elephant; and accidents have
sometimes happened by the breaking through of the herd; but reliance is
placed not so much on the resistance of the stockade as on the timidity
of the captives and their unconsciousness of their own strength, coupled
with the daring of their captors and their devices for ensuring

The corral being prepared, the beaters address themselves to drive in
the elephants. For this purpose it is often necessary to fetch a circuit
of many miles in order to surround a sufficient number, and the caution
to be observed involves patience and delay; as it is essential to avoid
alarming the elephants, which might otherwise escape. Their disposition
being essentially peaceful, and their only impulse to browse in solitude
and security, they withdraw instinctively before the slightest
intrusion, and advantage is taken of this timidity and love of seclusion
to cause only just such an amount of disturbance as will induce them to
return slowly in the direction which it is desired they should take.
Several herds are by this means concentrated within such an area as will
admit of their being completely surrounded by the watchers; and day
after day, by degrees, they are moved gradually onwards to the immediate
confines of the corral. When their suspicions become awakened and they
exhibit restlessness and alarm, bolder measures are adopted for
preventing their escape. Fires are kept burning at ten paces apart,
night and day, along the circumference of the area within which they are
detained; a corps of from two to three thousand beaters is completed,
and pathways are carefully cleared through the jungle so as to keep open
a communication along the entire circuit. The headmen keep up a constant
patrol, to see that their followers are alert at their posts, since
neglect at any one spot might permit the escape of the herd, and undo in
a moment the vigilance of weeks. By this means any attempt of the
elephants to break away is generally checked, and on any point
threatened a sufficient force can be promptly assembled to drive them
back. At last the elephants are forced onwards so close to the
enclosure, that the investing cordon is united at either end with the
wings of the corral, the whole forming a circle of about two miles,
within the area of which the herd is detained to await the signal for
the final drive.

Two months had been spent in these preliminaries, and the preparations
had been thus far completed, on the day when we arrived and took our
places on the stage erected for us, overlooking the entrance to the
corral. Close beneath us a group of tame elephants sent by the temples
and the chiefs to assist in securing the wild ones, were picketed in the
shade, and lazily fanning themselves with leaves. Three distinct herds,
whose united numbers were variously represented at from forty to fifty
elephants, were enclosed, and were at that moment concealed in the
jungle within a short distance of the stockade. Not a sound was
permitted to be made, each person spoke to his neighbour in whispers,
and such was the silence observed by the multitude of the watchers at
their posts, that occasionally we could hear the rustling of the
branches as some of the elephants stripped off a leaf.

Suddenly the signal was made, and the stillness of the forest was broken
by the shouts of the guard, the rolling of the drums and tom-toms, and
the discharge of muskets; and beginning at the most distant side of the
area, the elephants were urged forward at a rapid pace towards the
entrance into the corral.

The watchers along the line kept silence only till the herd had passed
them, and then joining the cry in their rear they drove them onward with
redoubled shouts and noises. The tumult increased as the terrified rout
drew near, swelling now on one side now on the other, as the herd in
their panic dashed from point to point in their endeavours to force the
line, but they were instantly driven back by screams, muskets, and

At length the breaking of the branches and the crackling of the
brushwood announced their close approach, and the leader bursting from
the jungle rushed wildly forward to within twenty yards of the entrance
followed by the rest of the herd. Another moment and they would have
plunged into the open gate, when suddenly they wheeled round, re-entered
the forest, and in spite of the hunters resumed their original position.
The chief headman came forward and accounted for the freak by saying
that a wild pig[1], an animal which the elephants are said to dislike,
had started out of the cover and run across the leader, who would
otherwise have held on direct for the corral; and intimated that as the
herd was now in the highest pitch of excitement: and it was at all times
much more difficult to effect a successful capture by daylight than by
night when the fires and flambeaux act with double effect, it was the
wish of the hunters to defer their final effort till the evening, when
the darkness would greatly aid their exertions.

[Footnote 1: Fire, the sound of a horn, and the grunting of a boar are
the three things which the Greeks, in the middle ages, believed the
elephant specially to dislike:

Pyr de ptoeitai kai krion kerasphoron,
Kai ton monion ten boen ten athroan.]

--PHILE, _Expositio de Elephante_, 1. 177.]

After sunset the scene exhibited was of extraordinary interest; the low
fires, which had apparently only smouldered in the sunlight, assumed
their ruddy glow amidst the darkness, and threw their tinge over the
groups collected round them; while the smoke rose in eddies through the
rich foliage of the trees. The crowds of spectators maintained a
profound silence, and not a sound was perceptible beyond the hum of an
insect. On a sudden the stillness was broken by the distant roll of a
drum, followed by a discharge of musketry. This was the signal for the
renewed assault, and the hunters entered the circle with shouts and
clamour; dry leaves and sticks were flung upon the watch-fires till they
blazed aloft, and formed a line of flame on every side, except in the
direction of the corral, which was studiously kept dark; and thither the
terrified elephants betook themselves, followed by the yells and racket
of their pursuers.

The elephants approached at a rapid pace, trampling down the brushwood
and crushing the dry branches; the leader emerged in front of the
corral, paused for an instant, stared wildly round, and then rushed
headlong through the open gate, followed by the rest of the herd.
Instantly, as if by magic, the entire circuit of the corral, which up to
this moment had been kept in profound darkness, blazed with thousands of
lights, every hunter on the instant that the elephants entered, rushing
forward to the stockade with a torch kindled at the nearest watch-fire.

The elephants first dashed to the very extremity of the enclosure, and
being brought up by the fence, retreated to regain the gate, but found
it closed. Their terror was sublime: they hurried round the corral at a
rapid pace, but saw it now girt by fire on every side; they attempted to
force the stockade, but were driven back by the guards with spears and
flambeaux; and on whichever side they approached they were repulsed with
shouts and volleys of musketry. Collecting into one group, they would
pause for a moment in apparent bewilderment, then burst off in another
direction, as if it had suddenly occurred to them to try some point
which they had before overlooked; but again baffled, they slowly
returned to their forlorn resting-place in the centre of the corral.

The attraction of this strange scene was not confined to the spectators;
it extended to the tame elephants which were stationed outside. At the
first approach of the flying herd they evinced the utmost interest. Two
in particular which were picketed near the front were intensely excited,
and continued tossing their heads, pawing the ground, and starting as
the noise drew near. At length, when the grand rush into the corral took
place, one of them fairly burst from her fastenings and rushed towards
the herd, levelling a tree of considerable size which obstructed her

[Footnote 1: The other elephant, a fine tusker, which belonged to
Dehigam Ratamahatmeya, continued in extreme excitement throughout all
the subsequent operations of the capture, and at last, after attempting
to break its way into the corral, shaking the bars with its forehead and
tusks, it went off in a state of frenzy into the jungle. A few days
after the Aratchy went in search of it with a female decoy, and watching
its approach, sprang fairly on the infuriated beast, with a pair of
sharp hooks in his hands, which he pressed into tender parts in front of
the shoulder, and thus held the elephant firmly till chains were passed
over its legs, and it permitted itself to be led quietly away.]

For upwards of an hour the elephants continued to traverse the corral
and assail the palisade with unabated energy, trumpeting and screaming
with rage after each disappointment. Again and again they attempted to
force the gate, as if aware, by experience, that it ought to afford an
exit as it had already served as an entrance, but they shrank back
stunned and bewildered. By degrees their efforts became less and less
frequent. Single ones rushed excitedly here and there, returning
sullenly to their companions after each effort; and at last the whole
herd, stupified and exhausted, formed themselves into a single group,
drawn up in a circle with the young in the centre, and stood motionless
under the dark shade of the trees in the middle of the corral.

Preparations were now made to keep watch during the night, the guard was
reinforced around the enclosure, and wood heaped on the fires to keep up
a high flame till sunrise.

Three herds had been originally entrapped by the beaters outside; but
with characteristic instinct they had each kept clear of the other,
taking up different stations in the space invested by the watchers. When
the final drive took place one herd only had entered the enclosure, the
other two keeping behind; and as the gate had to be instantly shut on
the first division, the last were unavoidably excluded and remained
concealed in the jungle. To prevent their escape, the watchers were
ordered to their former stations, the fires were replenished; and all
precautions having been taken, we returned to pass the night in our
bungalows by the river.



* * * * *

_The Captives._

As our sleeping-place was not above two hundred yards from the corral,
we were frequently awakened by the din of the multitude who were
bivouacking in the forest, by the merriment round the watch-fires, and
now and then by the shouts with which the guards repulsed some sudden
charge of the elephants in attempts to force the stockade. But at
daybreak, on going down to the corral, we found all still and vigilant.
The fires were allowed to die out as the sun rose, and the watchers who
had been relieved were sleeping near the great fence, the enclosure on
all sides being surrounded by crowds of men and boys with spears or
white peeled wands about ten feet long, whilst the elephants within were
huddled together in a compact group, no longer turbulent and restless,
but exhausted and calm, and utterly subdued by apprehension and
amazement at all that had been passing around them.

Nine only had been as yet entrapped[1], of which three were very large,
and two were little creatures but a few months old. One of the large
ones was a "rogue" and being unassociated with the rest of the herd, he
was not admitted to their circle, although permitted to stand near them.

[Footnote 1: In some of the elephant hunts conducted in the southern
provinces of Ceylon by the earlier British Governors, as many as 170 and
200 elephants were secured in a single corral, of which a portion only
were taken out for the public service, and the rest shot, the motive
being to rid the neighbourhood of them, and thus protect the crops from
destruction. In the present instance, the object being to secure only as
many as were required for the Government stud, it was not sought to
entrap more than could conveniently be attended to and trained after

Meanwhile, preparations were making outside to conduct the tame
elephants into the corral, in order to secure the captives. Noosed ropes
were in readiness; and far apart from all stood a party of the out-caste
Rodiyas, the only tribe who will touch a dead carcase, to whom,
therefore, the duty is assigned of preparing the fine flexible rope for
noosing, which is made from the fresh hides of the deer and the buffalo.

At length, the bars which secured the entrance to the corral were
cautiously withdrawn, and two trained elephants passed stealthily in,
each ridden by its mahout (or _ponnekella_, as the keeper is termed in
Ceylon), and one attendant; and, carrying a strong collar, formed by
coils of rope made from coco-nut fibre, from which hung on either side
cords of elk's hide, prepared with a ready noose. Along with these, and
concealed behind them, the headman of the "_cooroowe_," or noosers,
crept in, eager to secure the honour of taking the first elephant, a
distinction which this class jealously contests with the mahouts of the
chiefs and temples. He was a wiry little man, nearly seventy years old,
who had served in the same capacity under the Kandyan king, and wore two
silver bangles, which had been conferred on him in testimony of his
prowess. He was accompanied by his son, named Ranghanie, equally
renowned for his courage and dexterity.

On this occasion ten tame elephants were in attendance; two were the
property of an adjoining temple (one of which had been caught but the
year before, yet it was now ready to assist in capturing others), four
belonged to the neighbouring chiefs, and the rest, including the two
which first entered the corral, were part of the Government stud. Of the
latter, one was of prodigious age, having been in the service of the
Dutch and English Governments in succession for upwards of a century.[1]
The other, called by her keeper "Siribeddi," was about fifty years old,
and distinguished for gentleness and docility. She was a most
accomplished decoy, and evinced the utmost relish for the sport. Having
entered the corral noiselessly, carrying a mahout on her shoulders with
the headman of the noosers seated behind him, she moved slowly along
with a sly composure and an assumed air of easy indifference; sauntering
leisurely in the direction of the captives, and halting now and then to
pluck a bunch of grass or a few leaves as she passed. As she approached
the herd, they put themselves in motion to meet her, and the leader,
having advanced in front and passed his trunk gently over her head,
turned and paced slowly back to his dejected companions. Siribeddi
followed with the same listless step, and drew herself up close behind
him, thus affording the nooser an opportunity to stoop under her and
slip the noose over the hind foot of the wild one. The latter instantly
perceived his danger, shook off the rope, and turned to attack the man.
He would have suffered for his temerity had not Siribeddi protected him
by raising her trunk and driving the assailant into the midst of the
herd, when the old man, being slightly wounded, was helped out of the
corral, and his son, Ranghanie, took his place.

[Footnote 1: This elephant is since dead; she grew infirm and diseased,
and died at Colombo in 1848. Her skeleton is now in the Museum of the
Natural History Society at Belfast.]

The herd again collected in a circle, with their heads towards the
centre. The largest male was singled out, and two tame ones pushed
boldly in, one on either side of him, till the three stood nearly
abreast. He made no resistance, but betrayed his uneasiness by shifting
restlessly from foot to foot. Ranghanie now crept up, and, holding the
rope open with both hands (its other extremity being made fast to
Siribeddi's collar), and watching the instant when the wild elephant
lifted its hind-foot, succeeded in passing the noose over its leg, drew
it close, and fled to the rear. The two tame elephants instantly fell
back, Siribeddi stretched the rope to its full length, and, whilst she
dragged out the captive, her companion placed himself between her and
the herd to prevent any interference.

In order to tie him to a tree he had to be drawn backwards some twenty
or thirty yards, making furious resistance, bellowing in terror,
plunging on all sides, and crushing the smaller timber, which bent like
reeds beneath his clumsy struggles. Siribeddi drew him steadily after
her, and wound the rope round the proper tree, holding it all the time
at its full tension, and stepping cautiously across it when, in order to
give it a second turn, it was necessary to pass between the tree and the
elephant. With a coil round the stem, however, it was beyond her
strength to haul the prisoner close up, which was, nevertheless,
necessary in order to make him perfectly fast; but the second tame one,
perceiving the difficulty, returned from the herd, confronted the
struggling prisoner, pushed him shoulder to shoulder, and head to head,
forcing him backwards, whilst at every step Siribeddi hauled in the
slackened rope till she brought him fairly up to the foot of the tree,
where he was made fast by the cooroowe people. A second noose was then
passed over the other hind-leg, and secured like the first, both legs
being afterwards hobbled together by ropes made from the fibre of the
kitool or jaggery palm, which, being more flexible than that of the
coco-nut, occasions less formidable ulcerations. The two decoys then
ranged themselves, as before, abreast of the prisoner on either side,
thus enabling Ranghanie to stoop under them and noose the two fore-feet
as he had already done the hind; and these ropes being made fast to a
tree in front, the capture was complete, and the tame elephants and
keepers withdrew to repeat the operation on another of the herd.



As long as the tame ones stood beside him the poor animal remained
comparatively calm and almost passive under his distress, but the moment
they moved off, and he was left utterly alone, he made the most
surprising efforts to set himself free and rejoin his companions. He
felt the ropes with his trunk and tried to untie the numerous knots; he
drew backwards to liberate his fore-legs, then leaned forward to
extricate the hind ones, till every branch of the tall tree vibrated
with his struggles. He screamed in anguish, with his proboscis raised
high in the air, then falling on his side he laid his head to the
ground, first his cheek and then his brow, and pressed down his
doubled-in trunk as though he would force it into the earth; then
suddenly rising he balanced himself on his forehead and forelegs,
holding his hind-feet fairly off the ground. This scene of distress
continued some hours, with occasional pauses of apparent stupor, after
which the struggle was from time to time renewed convulsively, and as if
by some sudden impulse; but at last the vain strife subsided, and the
poor animal remained perfectly motionless, the image of exhaustion and

Meanwhile Ranghanie presented himself in front of the governor's stage
to claim the accustomed largesse for tying the first elephant. He was
rewarded by a shower of rupees, and retired to resume his perilous
duties in the corral.

The rest of the herd were now in a state of pitiable dejection, and
pressed closely together as if under a sense of common misfortune. For
the most part they stood at rest in a compact body, fretful and uneasy.
At intervals one more impatient than the rest would move out a few steps
to reconnoitre; the others would follow at first slowly, then at a
quicker pace, and at last the whole herd would rush off furiously to
renew the often-baffled attempt to storm the stockade.

There was a strange combination of the sublime and the ridiculous in
these abortive onsets; the appearance of prodigious power in their
ponderous limbs, coupled with the almost ludicrous shuffle of their
clumsy gait, and the fury of their apparently resistless charge,
converted in an instant into timid retreat. They rushed madly down the
enclosure, their backs arched, their tails extended, their ears spread,
and their trunks raised high above their heads, trumpeting and uttering
shrill screams, yet when one step further would have dashed the opposing
fence into fragments, they stopped short on a few white rods being
pointed at them through the paling[1]; and, on catching the derisive
shouts of the crowd, they turned in utter discomfiture, and after an
objectless circle or two through the corral, they paced slowly back to
their melancholy halting place in the shade.

[Footnote 1: The fact of the elephant exhibiting timidity, on having a
long rod pointed towards him, was known to the Romans; and PLINY,
quoting from the annals of PISO, relates, that in order to inculcate
contempt for want of courage in the elephant, they were introduced into
the circus during the triumph of METELLUS, after the conquest of the
Carthaginians in Sicily, and _driven round the area by workmen holding
blunted spears_,--"Ab operariis hastas praepilatas habentibus, per circum
totam actos."--Lib. viii. c. 6.]

The crowd, chiefly comprised of young men and boys, exhibited
astonishing nerve and composure at such moments, rushing up to the point
towards which the elephants charged, pointing their wands at their
trunks, and keeping up the continual cry of _whoop! whoop!_ which
invariably turned them to flight.

The second victim singled out from the herd was secured in the same
manner as the first. It was a female. The tame ones forced themselves in
on either side as before, cutting her off from her companions, whilst
Ranghanie stooped under them and attached the fatal noose, and Siribeddi
dragged her out amidst unavailing struggles, when she was made fast by
each leg to the nearest group of strong trees. When the noose was placed
upon her fore-foot, she seized it with her trunk, and succeeded in
carrying it to her mouth, where she would speedily have severed it had
not a tame elephant interfered, and placing his foot on the rope pressed
it downwards out of her jaws. The individuals who acted as leaders in
the successive charges on the palisades were always those selected by
the noosers, and the operation of tying each, from the first approaches
of the decoys, till the captive was left alone by the tree, occupied on
an average somewhat less than three-quarters of an hour.

It is strange that in these encounters the wild elephants made no
attempt to attack or dislodge the mahouts or the cooroowes, who rode on
the tame ones. They moved in the very midst of the herd, any individual
in which could in a moment have pulled the riders from their seats; but
no effort was made to molest them.[1]

[Footnote 1: "In a corral, to be on a tame elephant, seems to insure
perfect immunity from the attacks of the wild ones. I once saw the old
chief Mollegodde ride in amongst a herd of wild elephants, on a small
elephant; so small that the Adigar's head was on a level the back of the
wild animals: I felt very nervous, but he rode right in among them, and
received not the slightest molestation."--_Letter from_ MAJOR SKINNER.]


As one after another their leaders wore entrapped and forced away from
them, the remainder of the group evinced increased emotion and
excitement; but whatever may have been their sympathy for their lost
companions, their alarm seemed to prevent them at first from following
them to the trees to which they had been tied. In passing them
afterwards they sometimes stopped, mutually entwined their trunks,
lapped them round each other's limbs and neck, and exhibited the most
touching distress at their detention, but made no attempt to disturb the
cords that bound them.


The variety of disposition in the herd as evidenced by difference of
demeanour was very remarkable: some submitted with comparatively little
resistance; whilst others in their fury dashed themselves on the ground
with a force sufficient to destroy any weaker animal. They vented their
rage upon every tree and plant within reach; if small enough to be torn
down, they levelled them with their trunks, and stripping them of their
leaves and branches, they tossed them wildly over their heads on all
sides. Some in their struggles made no sound, whilst others bellowed and
trumpeted furiously, then uttered short convulsive screams, and at last,
exhausted and hopeless, gave vent to their anguish in low and piteous
moanings. Some, after a few violent efforts of this kind, lay motionless
on the ground, with no other indication of suffering than the tears
which suffused their eyes and flowed incessantly. Others in all the
vigour of their rage exhibited the most surprising contortions; and to
us who had been accustomed to associate with the unwieldy bulk of the
elephant the idea that he must of necessity be stiff and inflexible, the
attitudes into which they forced themselves were almost incredible. I
saw one lie with the cheek pressed to the earth, and the fore-legs
stretched in front, whilst the body was twisted round till the hind-legs
extended in the opposite direction.

It was astonishing that their trunks were not wounded by the violence
with which they flung them on all sides. One twisted his proboscis into
such fantastic shapes, that it resembled the writhings of a gigantic
worm; he coiled it and uncoiled it with restless rapidity, curling it up
like a watch-spring, and suddenly unfolding it again to its full length.
Another, which lay otherwise motionless in all the stupor of hopeless
anguish, slowly beat the ground with the extremity of his trunk, as a
man in despair beats his knee with the palm of his hand.

They displayed an amount of sensitiveness and delicacy of touch in the
foot, which was very remarkable in a limb of such clumsy dimensions and
protected by so thick a covering. The noosers could always force them to
lift it from the ground by the gentlest touch of a leaf or twig,
apparently applied so as to tickle; but the imposition of the rope was
instantaneously perceived, and if it could not be reached by the trunk
the other foot was applied to feel its position, and if possible remove
it before the noose could be drawn tight.

One practice was incessant with almost the entire herd: in the interval
between their struggles they beat the ground with their fore feet, and
taking up the dry earth in a coil of the trunk, they flung it
dexterously over every part of their body. Even when lying down, the
sand within reach was thus collected and scattered over their limbs:
then inserting the extremity of the trunk in their mouths, they withdrew
a quantity of water, which they discharged over their backs, repeating
the operation again and again, till the dust was thoroughly saturated. I
was astonished at the quantity of water thus applied, which was
sufficient when the elephant, as was generally the case, had worked the
spot where he lay into a hollow, to convert its surface into a coating
of mud. Seeing that the herd had been now twenty-four hours without
access to water of any kind, surrounded by watch-fires, and exhausted by
struggling and terror, the supply of moisture an elephant is capable of
containing in the receptacle attached to his stomach must be very

The conduct of the tame ones during all these proceedings was truly
wonderful. They displayed the most perfect conception of every movement,
both of the object to be attained, and of the means to accomplish it.

They manifested the utmost enjoyment in what was going on. There was no
ill-humour, no malignity in the spirit displayed, in what was otherwise
a heartless proceeding, but they set about it in a way that showed a
thorough relish for it, as an agreeable pastime. Their caution was as
remarkable as their sagacity; there was no hurrying, no contusion, they
never ran foul of the ropes, were never in the way of the animals
already noosed; and amidst the most violent struggles, when the tame
ones had frequently to step across the captives, they in no instance
trampled on them, or occasioned the slightest accident or annoyance. So
far from this, they saw intuitively a difficulty or a danger, and
addressed themselves unbidden to remove it. In tying up one of the
larger elephants, he contrived before he could be hauled close up to the
tree, to walk once or twice round it, carrying the rope with him; the
decoy, perceiving the advantage he had thus gained over the nooser,
walked up of her own accord, and pushed him backwards with her head,
till she made him unwind himself again; upon which the rope was hauled
tight and made fast. More than once, when a wild one was extending his
trunk, and would have intercepted the rope about to be placed over his
leg, Siribeddi, by a sudden motion of her own trunk, pushed his aside,
and prevented him; and on one occasion, when successive efforts had
failed to put the noose over the fore-leg of an elephant which was
already secured by one foot, but which wisely put the other to the
ground as often as it was attempted to pass the noose under it, I saw
the decoy watch her opportunity, and when his foot was again raised,
suddenly push in her own leg beneath it, and hold it up till the noose
was attached and drawn tight.

One could almost fancy there was a display of dry humour in the manner
in which the decoys thus played with the fears of the wild herd, and
made light of their efforts at resistance. When reluctant they shoved
them forward, when violent they drove them back; when the wild ones
threw themselves down, the tame ones butted them with head and
shoulders, and forced them up again. And when it was necessary to keep
them down, they knelt upon them, and prevented them from rising, till
the ropes were secured.

At every moment of leisure they fanned themselves with a bunch of
leaves, and the graceful ease with which an elephant uses his trunk on
such occasions is very striking. It is doubtless owing to the
combination of a circular with a horizontal movement in that flexible
limb; but it is impossible to see an elephant fanning himself without
being struck by the singular elegance of motion which he displays. The
tame ones, too, indulged in the luxury of dusting themselves with sand,
by flinging it from their trunks; but it was a curious illustration of
their delicate sagacity, that so long as the mahout was on their necks,
they confined themselves to flinging the dust along their sides and
stomach, as if aware, that to throw it over their heads and back would
cause annoyance to their riders.

One of the decoys which rendered good service, and was obviously held in
special awe by the wild herd, was a tusker belonging to Dehigame
Rata-mahatmeya. It was not that he used his tusks for purposes of
offence, but he was enabled to insinuate himself between two elephants
by wedging them in where he could not force his head; besides which they
assisted him in raising up the fallen and refractory with greater ease.
In some instances where the intervention of the other decoys failed to
reduce a wild one to order, the mere presence and approach of the tusker
seemed to inspire fear, and insure submission, without more active

I do not know whether it was the surprising qualities exhibited by the
tame elephants that cast the courage and dexterity of the men into the
shade, but even when supported by the presence, the sagacity, and
co-operation of these wonderful creatures, the part sustained by the
noosers can bear no comparison with the address and daring displayed by
the _picador_ and _matador_ in a Spanish bull-fight. They certainly
possessed great quickness of eye in watching the slightest movement of
the elephant, and great expertness in flinging the noose over its foot
and attaching it firmly before the animal could tear it off with its
trunk; but in all this they had the cover of the decoys to conceal them;
and their shelter behind which to retreat. Apart from the services
which, from their prodigious strength, the tame elephants are alone
capable of rendering, in dragging out and securing the captives, it is
perfectly obvious that without their co-operation the utmost prowess and
dexterity of the hunters would not avail them, unsupported, to enter the
corral and ensnare and lead out a single captive.

Of the two tiny elephants which were entrapped, one was about ten months
old, the other somewhat more. The smaller one had a little bolt head
covered with woolly brown hair, and was the most amusing and interesting
miniature imaginable. Both kept constantly with the herd, trotting after
them in every charge; when the others stood at rest they ran in and out
between the legs of the older ones; and not their own mothers alone, but
every female in the group caressed them in turn.

The dam of the youngest was the second elephant singled out by the
noosers, and as she was dragged along by the decoys, the little creature
kept by her side till she was drawn close to the fatal tree. The men at
first were rather amused than otherwise by its anger; but they found
that it would not permit them to place the second noose upon its mother;
it ran between her and them, it tried to seize the rope, it pushed them
and struck them with its little trunk, till they were forced to drive it
back to the herd. It retreated slowly, shouting all the way, and pausing
at every step to look back. It then attached itself to the largest
female remaining in the group, and placed itself across her forelegs,
whilst she hung down her trunk over its side and soothed and caressed
it. Here it continued moaning and lamenting; till the noosers had left
off securing its mother, when it instantly returned to her side; but as
it became troublesome again, attacking every one who passed, it was at
last tied up by a rope to an adjoining tree, to which the other young
one was also tied. The second little one, equally with its playmate,
exhibited great affection for its dam; it went willingly with its captor
as far as the tree to which she was fastened, and in passing her
stretched out its trunk and tried to rejoin her; but finding itself
forced along, it caught at every twig and branch within its reach, and
screamed with grief and disappointment.

These two little creatures were the most vociferous of the whole herd,
their shouts were incessant, they struggled to attack every one within
reach; and as their bodies were more lithe and pliant than those of
greater growth, their contortions were quite wonderful. The most amusing
thing was, that in the midst of all their agony and affliction, the
little fellows seized on every article of food that was thrown to them,
and ate and roared simultaneously.

Amongst the last of the elephants noosed was the rogue. Though far more
savage than the others, he joined in none of their charges and assaults
on the fences, as they uniformly drove him off and would not permit him
to enter their circle. When dragged past another of his companions in
misfortune, who was lying exhausted on the ground, he flew upon him and
attempted to fasten his teeth in his head; this was the only instance of
viciousness which occurred during the progress of the corral. When tied
up and overpowered, he was at first noisy and violent, but soon lay down
peacefully, a sign, according to the hunters, that his death was at
hand. Their prognostication was correct; he continued for about twelve
hours to cover himself with dust like the others, and to moisten it with
water from his trunk; but at length he lay exhausted, and died so
calmly, that having been moving but a few moment before, his death was
only perceived by the myriads of black flies by which his body was
almost instantly covered, although not one was visible a moment
before.[1] The Rodiyas were called in to loose the ropes that bound him,
from the tree, and two tame elephants being harnessed to the dead body,
it was dragged to a distance without the corral.

[Footnote 1: The surprising faculty of vultures for discovering carrion,
has been a subject of much speculation, as to whether it be dependent on
their power of sight or of scent. It is not, however, more mysterious
than the unerring certainty and rapidity with which some of the minor
animals, and more especially insects, in warm climates congregate around
the offal on which they feed. Circumstanced as they are, they must be
guided towards their object mainly if not exclusively by the sense of
smell; but that which excites astonishment is the small degree of odour
which seems to suffice for the purpose; the subtlety and rapidity with
which it traverses and impregnates the air; and the keen and quick
perception with which it is taken up by the organs of those creatures.
The instance of the scavenger beetles has been already alluded to; the
promptitude with which they discern the existence of matter suited to
their purposes, and the speed with which they hurry to it from all
directions; often from distances as extraordinary, proportionably, as
those traversed by the eye of the vulture. In the instance of the dying
elephant referred to above, life was barely extinct when the flies, of
which not one was visible but a moment before, arrived in clouds and
blackened the body by their multitude; scarcely an instant was allowed
to elapse for the commencement of decomposition; no odour of
putrefaction could be discerned by us who stood close by; yet some
peculiar smell of mortality, simultaneously with parting breath, must
have summoned them to the feast. Ants exhibit an instinct equally
surprising. I have sometimes covered up a particle of refined sugar with
paper on the centre of a polished table; and counted the number of
minutes which would elapse before it was fastened on by the small black
ants of Ceylon, and a line formed to lower it safely to the floor. Here
was a substance which, to our apprehension at least, is altogether
inodorous, and yet the quick sense of smell must have been the only
conductor of the ants. It has been observed of those fishes which travel
overland on the evaporation of the ponds in which they live, that they
invariably march in the direction of the nearest water, and even when
captured, and placed on the floor of a room, their efforts to escape are
always made towards the same point. Is the sense of smell sufficient to
account for this display of instinct in them? or is it aided by special
organs in the case of the others? Dr. MCGEE, formerly of the Royal Navy,
writing to me on the subject of the instant appearance of flies in the
vicinity of dead bodies, says: "In warm climates they do not wait for
death to invite them to the banquet. In Jamaica I have again and again
seen them settle on a patient, and hardly to be driven away by the
nurse, the patient himself saying. 'Here are these flies coming to eat
me ere I am dead.' At times they have enabled the doctor, when otherwise
he would have been in doubt as to his prognosis, to determine whether
the strange apyretic interval occasionally present in the last stage of
yellow fever was the fatal lull or the lull of recovery; and 'What say
the flies?' has been the settling question. Among many, many cases
during a long period I have seen but one recovery after the assembling
of the flies. I consider the foregoing as a confirmation of smell being
the guide even to the attendants, a cadaverous smell has been perceived
to arise from the body of a patient twenty-four hours before death."]

When every wild elephant had been noosed and tied up, the scene
presented was truly oriental. From one to two thousand natives, many of
them in gaudy dresses and armed with spears, crowded about the
enclosures. Their families had collected to see the spectacle; women,
whose children clung like little bronzed Cupids by their sides; and
girls, many of them in the graceful costume of that part of the
country,--a scarf, which, after having been brought round the waist, is
thrown over the left shoulder, leaving the right arm and side free and

At the foot of each tree was its captive elephant; some still struggling
and writhing in feverish excitement, whilst others, in exhaustion and
despair, lay motionless, except that, from time to time, they heaped
fresh dust upon their heads. The mellow notes of a Kandyan flute, which
was played at a distance, had a striking effect upon one or more of
them; they turned their heads in the direction from which the music
came, expanded their broad ears, and were evidently soothed with the
plaintive sound. The two young ones alone still roared for freedom; they
stamped their feet, and blew clouds of dust over their shoulders,
brandishing their little trunks aloft, and attacking every one who came
within their reach.

At first the older ones, when secured, spurned every offer of food,
trampled it under foot, and turned haughtily away. A few, however, as
they became more composed, could not resist the temptation of the juicy
stems of the plantain, but rolling them under foot, till they detached
the layers, they raised them in their trunks, and commenced chewing

On the whole, whilst the sagacity, the composure, and docility of the
decoys were such as to excite lively astonishment, it was not possible
to withhold the highest admiration from the calm and dignified demeanour
of the captives. Their entire bearing was at variance with the
representation made by some of the "sportsmen" who harass them, that
they are treacherous, savage, and revengeful; when tormented by the guns
of their persecutors, they, no doubt, display their powers and sagacity
in efforts to retaliate or escape; but here their every movement was
indicative of innocence and timidity. After a struggle, in which they
evinced no disposition to violence or revenge, they submitted with the
calmness of despair. Their attitudes were pitiable, their grief was most
touching, and their low moaning went to the heart. We could not have
borne to witness their distress had their capture been effected by the
needless infliction of pain, or had they been destined to ill-treatment

It was now about two hours after noon, and the first elephants that had
entered the corral having been disposed of, preparations were made to
reopen the gate, and drive in the other two herds, over which the
watchers were still keeping guard. The area of the enclosure was
cleared; and silence was again imposed on the crowds who surrounded the
corral. The bars that secured the entrance were withdrawn and every
precaution repeated as before; but as the space inside was now somewhat
trodden down, especially near the entrance, by the frequent charges of
the last herd, and as it was to be apprehended that the others might be
earlier alarmed and retrace their steps, before the barricades could be
replaced, two tame ones were stationed inside to protect the men to whom
that duty was assigned.

All preliminaries being at length completed, the signal was given; the
beaters on the side most distant from the corral closed in with tom-toms
and discordant noises; a hedge-fire of musketry was kept up in the rear
of the terrified elephants; thousands of voices urged them forward; we
heard the jungle crashing as they came on, and at last they advanced
through an opening amongst the trees, bearing down all before them like
a charge of locomotives. They were led by a huge female, nearly nine
feet high, after whom one half of the herd dashed precipitately through
the narrow entrance, but the rest turning suddenly towards the left,
succeeded in forcing the cordon of guards and making good their escape
to the forest.

No sooner had the others passed the gate, than the two tame elephants
stepped forward from either side, and before the herd could return from
the further end of the enclosure, the bars were drawn, the entrance
closed, and the men in charge glided outside the stockade. The elephants
which had previously been made prisoners within exhibited intense
excitement as the fresh din arose around them; they started to their
feet, and stretched their trunks in the direction whence they winded the
scent of the herd in its headlong flight; and as the latter rushed past,
they renewed their struggles to get free and follow. It is not possible
to imagine anything more exciting than the spectacle which the wild ones
presented careering round the corral, uttering piercing screams, their
heads erect and trunks aloft, the very emblems of rage and perplexity,
of power and helplessness.

Along with those which entered at the second drive was one that
evidently belonged to another herd, and had been separated from them in
the _melee_ when the latter effected their escape, and, as usual, his
new companions in misfortune drove him off indignantly as often as he
attempted to approach them.

The demeanour of those taken in the second drive differed materially
from that of the preceding captives, who, having entered the corral in
darkness, to find themselves girt with fire and smoke, and beset by
hideous sounds and sights on every side, were speedily reduced by fear
to stupor and submission--whereas, the second herd having passed into
the enclosure by daylight, and its area being trodden down in many
places, could clearly discover the fences, and were consequently more
alarmed and enraged at their confinement. They were thus as restless as
the others had been calm, and so much more vigorous in their assaults
that, on one occasion, their courageous leader, undaunted by the
multitude of white wands thrust towards her, was only driven back from
the stockade by a hunter hurling a blazing flambeau at her head. Her
attitude as she stood repulsed, but still irresolute, was a study for a
painter. Her eye dilated, her ears expanded, her back arched like a
tiger, and her fore-foot in air, whilst she uttered those hideous
screams that are imperfectly described by the term "_trumpeting_."

Although repeatedly passing by the unfortunates from the former drove,
the new herd seemed to take no friendly notice of them; they halted
inquiringly for a minute, and then resumed their career round the
corral, and once or twice in their headlong flight they rushed madly
over the bodies of the prostrate captives as they lay in their misery on
the ground.

It was evening before the new captives had grown wearied with their
furious and repeated charges, and stood still in the centre of the
corral collected into a terrified and motionless group. The fires were
then relighted, the guard redoubled by the addition of the watchers, who
were now relieved from duty in the forest, and the spectators retired to
their bungalows for the night. The business of the _third day_ began by
noosing and tying up the new captives, and the first sought out was
their magnificent leader. Siribeddi and the tame tusker having forced
themselves on either side of her, a boy in the service of the
Rata-Mahatmeya succeeded in attaching a rope to her hind-foot. Siribeddi
moved off, but feeling her strength insufficient to drag the reluctant
prize, she went down on her fore-knees, so as to add the full weight of
her body to the pull. The tusker, seeing her difficulty, placed himself
in front of the prisoner, and forced her backwards, step by step, till
his companion, brought her fairly up to the tree, and wound the rope
round the stem. Though overpowered by fear, she showed the fullest sense
of the nature of the danger she had to apprehend. She kept her head
turned towards the noosers, and tried to step in advance of the decoys;
in spite of all their efforts, she tore off the first noose from her
fore-leg, and placing it under her foot, snapped it into fathom lengths.
When finally secured, her writhings were extraordinary. She doubled in
her head under her chest, till she lay as round as a hedgehog, and
rising again, stood on her fore-feet, and lifting her hind-feet off the
ground, she wrung them from side to side, till the great tree above her
quivered in every branch.

Before proceeding to catch the others, we requested that the smaller
trees and jungle, which partially obstructed our view, might be broken
away, being no longer essential to screen the entrance to the corral;
and five of the tame elephants were brought up for the purpose. They
felt the strength of each tree with their trunks, then swaying it
backwards and forwards, by pushing it with their foreheads, they watched
the opportunity when it was in full swing to raise their fore-feet
against the stem, and bear it down to the ground. Then tearing off the
festoons of climbing plants, and trampling down the smaller branches and
brushwood, they pitched them with their tusks, piling them into heaps
along the side of the fence.

[Illustration of elephant resisting capture.]

Amongst the last that was secured was the solitary individual belonging
to the fugitive herd. When they attempted to drag him backwards from the
tree near which he was noosed, he laid hold of it with his trunk and lay
down on his side immoveable. The temple tusker and another were ordered
up to assist, and it required the combined efforts of the three
elephants to force him along. When dragged to the place at which he was
to be tied up, he continued the contest with desperation, and to prevent
the second noose being placed on his foot, he sat down on his haunches,
almost in the attitude of the "Florentine Boar," keeping his hind-feet
beneath him, and defending his fore-feet with his trunk, with which he
flung back the rope as often as it was attempted to attach it.

[Illustration of elephant lying on ground after capture.]

When overpowered and made fast, his grief was most affecting; his
violence sunk to utter prostration, and he lay on the ground, uttering
choking cries, with tears trickling down his cheeks.

The final operation was that of slackening the ropes, and marching each
captive down to the river between two tame ones. This was effected very
simply. A decoy, with a strong collar round its neck, stood on either
side of the wild one, on which a similar collar was formed, by
successive coils of coco-nut rope; and then, connecting the three
collars together, the prisoner was effectually made safe between his two
guards. During this operation, it was curious to see how the tame
elephant, from time to time, used its trunk to shield the arm of its
rider, and ward off the trunk of the prisoner, who resisted the placing
the rope round his neck. This done, the nooses were removed from his
feet, and he was marched off to the river, in which he and his
companions were allowed to bathe; a privilege of which all availed
themselves eagerly. Each was then made fast to a tree in the forest, and
keepers being assigned to him, with a retinue of leaf-cutters, he was
plentifully supplied with his favourite food, and left to the care and
tuition of his new masters.

Returning from a spectacle such as I have attempted to describe, one
cannot help feeling how immeasurably it exceeds in interest those royal
battues where timid deer are driven in crowds to unresisting slaughter;
or those vaunted "wild sports" the amusement of which appears to be in
proportion to the effusion of blood. Here the only display of power was
the imposition of restraint; and though considerable mortality often
occurs amongst the animals caught, the infliction of pain, so far from
being an incident of the operation, is most cautiously avoided from its
tendency to enrage, the policy of the captor being to conciliate and
soothe. The whole scene exhibits the most marvellous example of the
voluntary alliance of animal sagacity and instinct in active
co-operation with human intelligence and courage; and nothing else in
nature, not even the chase of the whale, can afford so vivid an
illustration of the sovereignty of man over brute creation even when
confronted with force in its most stupendous embodiment.

Of the two young elephants which were taken in the corral, the smallest
was sent down to my house at Colombo, where he became a general
favourite with the servants. He attached himself especially to the
coachman, who had a little shed erected for him near his own quarters at
the stables. But his favourite resort was the kitchen, where he received
a daily allowance of milk and plantains, and picked up several other
delicacies besides. He was innocent and playful in the extreme, and when
walking in the grounds he would trot up to me, twine his little trunk
round my arm, and coax me to take him to the fruit-trees. In the evening
the grass-cutters now and then indulged him by permitting him to carry
home a load of fodder for the horses, on which occasions he assumed an
air of gravity that was highly amusing, showing that he was deeply
impressed with the importance and responsibility of the service
entrusted to him. Being sometimes permitted to enter the dining-room,
and helped to fruit at desert, he at last learned his way to the
side-board; and on more than one occasion having stolen in, during the
absence of the servants, he made a clear sweep of the wine-glasses and
china in his endeavours to reach a basket of oranges. For these and
similar pranks we were at last forced to put him away. He was sent to
the Government stud, where he was affectionately received and adopted by
Siribeddi, and he now takes his turn of public duty in the department of
the Commissioner of Roads.



* * * * *

_Conduct in Captivity._

The idea prevailed in ancient times, and obtains even at the present
day, that the Indian elephant surpasses that of Africa in sagacity and
tractability, and consequently in capacity for training, so as to render
its services more available to man. There does not appear to me to be
sufficient ground for this conclusion. It originated, in all
probability, in the first impressions created by the accounts of the
elephant brought back by the Greeks after the Indian expedition of
Alexander, and above all by the descriptions of Aristotle, whose
knowledge of the animal was derived exclusively from the East. A long
interval elapsed before the elephant of Africa, and its capabilities,
became known in Europe. The first elephants brought to Greece by
Antipater, were from India, as were also those introduced by Pyrrhus
into Italy. Taught by this example, the Carthaginians undertook to
employ African elephants in war. Jugurtha led them against Metellus, and
Juba against Caesar; but from inexperienced and deficient training, they
proved less effective than the elephants of India[1], and the historians
of these times ascribed to inferiority of race, that which was but the
result of insufficient education.

[Footnote 1: ARMANDI, _Hist. Milit. des Elephants_, liv. i. ch. i. p. 2.
It is an interesting fact, noticed by ARMANDI, that the elephants
figured on the coins of Alexander, and the Seleucidae invariably exhibit
the characteristics of the Indian type, whilst those on Roman medals can
at once be pronounced African, from the peculiarities of the convex
forehead and expansive ears.--_Ibid_. liv. i. cap. i. p. 3.


ARMANDI has, with infinite industry, collected from original sources a
mass of curious informations relative to the employment of elephants in
ancient warfare, which he has published under the title of _Histoire
Militaire des Elephants depuis les temps les plus recules jusqu' a
l'introduction des armes a feu_. Paris. 1843.]

It must, however, be remembered that the elephants which, at a later
period, astonished the Romans by their sagacity, and whose performances
in the amphitheatre have been described by AElian and Pliny, were brought
from Africa, and acquired their accomplishments from European
instructors[1]; a sufficient proof that under equally favourable
auspices the African species are capable of developing similar docility
and powers with those of India. It is one of the facts from which the
inferiority of the Negro race has been inferred, that they alone, of all
the nations amongst whom the elephant is found, have never manifested
ability to domesticate it; and even as regards the more highly developed
races who inhabited the valley of the Nile, it is observable that the
elephant is nowhere to be found amongst the animals figured on the
monuments of ancient Egypt, whilst the camelopard, the lion, and even
the hippopotamus are represented. And although in later times the
knowledge of the art of training appears to have existed under the
Ptolemies, and on the southern shore of the Mediterranean, it admits of
no doubt that it was communicated by the more accomplished natives of
India who had settled there.[2]

[Footnote 1: AELIAN, lib. ii. cap. ii.]

[Footnote 2: See SCHLEGEL'S Essay on the Elephant and the Sphynx.
_Classical Journal_, No. lx. Although the trained elephant nowhere
appears upon the monuments of the Egyptians, the animal was not unknown
to them, and ivory and elephants are figured on the walls of Thebes and
Karnac amongst the spoils of Thothmes III., and the tribute paid to
Rameses I. The Island of Elephantine, in the Nile, near Assouan (Syene)
is styled in hieroglyphical writing "The Land of the Elephant;" but as
it is a mere rock, it probably owes its designation to its form. See Sir
GARDNER WILKINSON'S _Ancient Egyptians_, vol. i. pl. iv.; vol. v. p.
176. Above the first cataract of the Nile are two small islands, each
bearing the name of Phylae;--quaere, is the derivation of this word at all
connected with the Arabic term _fil_? See ante, p. 76, note. The
elephant figured in the sculptures of Nineveh is universally as wild,
not domesticated.]

Another favourite doctrine of the earlier visitors to the East seems to
me to be equally fallacious; PYRARD, BERNIER, PHILLIPE, THEVENOT, and
other travellers in the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, proclaimed
the superiority of the elephant of Ceylon, in size, strength, and
sagacity, above those of all other parts of India[1]; and TAVERNIER in
particular is supposed to have stated that if a Ceylon elephant be
introduced amongst those bred in any other place, by an instinct of
nature they do him homage by laying their trunks to the ground, and
raising them reverentially. This passage has been so repeatedly quoted
in works on Ceylon that it has passed into an aphorism, and is always
adduced as a testimony to the surpassing intelligence of the elephants
of that island; although a reference to the original shows that
Tavernier's observations are not only fanciful in themselves, but are
restricted to the supposed excellence of the Ceylon animal _in war_.[2]
This estimate of the superiority of the elephant of Ceylon, if it ever
prevailed in India, was not current there at a very early period; for in
the _Ramayana_, which is probably the oldest epic in the world, the stud
of Dasartha, the king of Ayodhya, was supplied with elephants from the
Himalaya and the Vindhya Mountains.[3] I have had no opportunity of
testing by personal observation the justice of the assumption; but from
all that I have heard of the elephants of the continent, and seen of
those of Ceylon, I have reason to conclude that the difference, if not
imaginary, is exceptional, and must have arisen in particular and
individual instances, from more judicious or elaborate instruction.

[Footnote 1: This is merely a reiteration of the statement of AELIAN, who
ascribes to the elephants of Taprobane a vast superiority in size,
strength, and intelligence, above, those of continental India,--[Greek:
"Kai oide ge naesiotai elephantes ton haepiroton halkimoteroi te taen
rhomaen kai meixous idein eisi, kai thumosophoteroi de panta pantae
krinointo han."]--AELIAN, _De Nat. Anim_., lib. Xvi. Cap. xviii.

AELIAN also, in the same chapter, states the fact of the shipment of
elephants in large boats from Ceylon to the opposite continent of India,
for sale to the king of Kalinga; so that the export from Manaar,
described in a former passage, has been going on apparently without
interruption since the time of the Romans.]

[Footnote 2: The expression of TAVERNIER is to the effect that as
compared with all others, the elephants of Ceylon are "plus courageux _a
la guerre_." The rest of the passage is a curiosity:--

"Il faut remarquer ici une chose qu'on aura peut-etre de la peine a
croire main quit est toutefois tres-veritable: c'est que lorsque quelque
roi on quelque seigneur a quelqu'un de ces elephants de Ceylan, et qu'on
en amene quelqu'autre des lieux ou les marchands vont les prendre, comme
d'Achen, de Siam, d'Arakan, de Pegu, du royaume de Boutan, d'Assam, des
terres de Cochin et de la coste du Melinde, des que les elephants en
voient un de Ceylan, par un instinct de nature, ils lui font la
reverence, portant le bout de leur trompe a la terre et la relevant. Il
est vrai que les elephants que les grand seigneurs entretiennent, quand
en les amine devant eux, pour voir s'ils sent en bon point, font troi
fois une espere de reverence avec leur troupe, _a que j'ai en souvent_,
mais ils sont styles a cela, et leurs maitres le leur enseignent de
bonne heure."--_Les Six Voyages de_ J.B. TAVERNIER, lib. iii. ch. 20.]

[Footnote 3: _Ramayana_, sec. vi.: CAREY and MARSHMAN, i. 105: FAUCHE,
t. i. p. 66.]

The earliest knowledge of the elephant in Europe and the West, was
derived from the conspicuous position assigned to it in the wars of the
East: in India, from the remotest antiquity, it formed one of the most
picturesque, if not the most effective, features in the armies of the
native princes.[1] It is more than probable that the earliest attempts
to take and train the elephant, were with a view to military uses, and
that the art was perpetuated in later times to gratify the pride of the
eastern kings, and sustain the pomp of their processions.

[Footnote 1: The only mention of the elephant in Sacred History in the
account given in _Maccabees_ of the invasion of Egypt by Antiochus, who
entered it 170 B.C., "with chariots and elephants, and horsemen, and a
great navy."--1 _Macc_. i. 17. Frequent allusions to the use of
elephants in war occur in both books: and in chap. vi. 34, it is stated
that "to provoke the elephants to fight they showed them the blood of
grapes and of mulberries." The term showed, "[Greek: edeixan]," might be
thought to imply that the animals were enraged by the sight of the wine
and its colour, but in the Third Book of Maccabees, in the Greek
Septuagint, various other passages show that wine, on such occasions,
was administered to the elephants to render them furious.--Mace, v. 2.
10, 45. PHILE mentions the same fact, _De Elephante_, i. 145.

There is a very curious account of the mode in which the Arab conquerors
of Seinde, in the 9th and 10th centuries, equipped the elephant for war;
which being written with all the particularity of an eye-witness, bears
the impress of truth and accuracy. MASSOUDI, who was born in Bagdad at
the close of the 9th century, travelled in India in the year A.D. 913,
and visited the Gulf of Cambay, the coast of Malabar, and the Island of
Ceylon:--from a larger account of his journeys he compiled a summary
under the title of "_Moroudj al-dzeheb," or the "Golden Meadows_," the
MS. of which is now in the Bibliotheque Nationale. M. REINAUD, in
describing this manuscript says on its authority, "The Prince of
Mensura, whose dominions lay south of the Indus, maintained eighty
elephants trained for war, each of which bore in his trunk a bent
cymeter (carthel), with which he was taught to cut and thrust at all
confronting him. The trunk itself was effectually protected by a coat of
mail, and the rest of the body enveloped in a covering composed jointly
of iron and horn. Other elephants were employed in drawing chariots,
carrying baggage, and grinding forage, and the performance of all
bespoke the utmost intelligence and docility."--REINAUD, _Memoires sur
l'Inde, anterieurement au milieu du XIe siecle, d'apres les ecrivains
arabes, persans et chinois_. Paris, M.D.CCC. XLIX. p. 215. See
SPRENGER'S English Translation of Massoudi, vol. i. p. 383.]

An impression prevails even to the present day, that the process of
training is tedious and difficult, and the reduction of a full-grown
elephant to obedience, slow and troublesome in the extreme.[1] In both
particulars, however, the contrary is the truth. The training as it
prevails in Ceylon is simple, and the conformity and obedience of the
animal are developed with singular rapidity. For the first three days,
or till they will eat freely, which they seldom do in a less time, the
newly-captured elephants are allowed to stand quiet; and, if
practicable, a tame elephant is tied near to give the wild ones
confidence. Where many elephants are being trained at once, it is
customary to put every new captive between the stalls of half-tamed
ones, when it soon takes to its food. This stage being attained,
training commences by placing tame elephants on either side. The
"cooroowe vidahn," or the head of the stables, stands in front of the
wild elephants holding a long stick with a sharp iron point. Two men are
then stationed one on either side, assisted by the tame elephants, and
each holding a _hendoo_ or crook[2] towards the wild one's trunk, whilst
one or two others rub their hands over his back, keeping up all the
while a soothing and plaintive chaunt, interlarded with endearing
epithets, such as "ho! my son," or "ho! my father," or "my mother," as
may be applicable to the age and sex of the captive. The elephant is at
first furious, and strikes in all directions with his trunk; but the men
in front receiving all these blows on the points of their weapons, the
extremity of the trunk becomes so sore that the animal curls it up
close, and seldom afterwards attempts to use it offensively. The first
dread of man's power being thus established, the process of taking him
to bathe between two tame elephants is greatly facilitated, and by
lengthening the neck rope, and drawing the feet together as close as
possible, the process of laying him down in the water is finally
accomplished by the keepers pressing the sharp point of their hendoos
over the backbone.

[Footnote 1: BRODERIP, _Zoological Recreations_, p. 226.]

[Footnote 2: The iron goad with which the keeper directs the movements
of the elephants, called a _hendoo_ in Ceylon and _hawkus_ in Bengal,
appears to have retained the present shape from the remotest antiquity.
It is figured in the medals of Caracalla in the identical form in which
it is in use at the present day in India.

The Greeks called it [Greek: harpe], and the Romans _cuspis_.

[Illustration: Medal of Numidia.]

[Illustration: Modern Hendoo.]]

For many days the roaring and resistance which attend the operation are
considerable, and it often requires the sagacious interference of the
tame elephants to control the refractory wild ones. It soon, however,
becomes practicable to leave the latter alone, only taking them to and
from the stall by the aid of a decoy. This step lasts, under ordinary
treatment, for about three weeks, when an elephant may be taken alone
with his legs hobbled, and a man walking backwards in front with the
point of the hendoo always presented to the elephant's head, and a
keeper with an iron crook at each ear. On getting into the water, the
fear of being pricked on his tender back induces him to lie down
directly on the crook being only held over him _in terrorem_. Once this
point has been achieved, the further process of taming is dependent upon
the disposition of the creature.

The greatest care is requisite, and daily medicines are applied to heal
the fearful wounds on the legs which even the softest ropes occasion.
This is the great difficulty of training; for the wounds fester
grievously, and months and sometimes years will elapse before an
elephant will allow his feet to be touched without indications of alarm
and anger.

The observation has been frequently made that the elephants most vicious
and troublesome to tame, and the most worthless when tamed, are those
distinguished by a thin trunk and flabby pendulous ears. The period of
tuition does not appear to be influenced by the size or strength of the
animals: some of the smallest give the greatest amount of trouble;
whereas, in the instance of the two largest that have been taken in
Ceylon within the last thirty years, both were docile in a remarkable
degree. One in particular, which was caught and trained by Mr. Cripps,
when Government agent, in the Seven Korles, fed from the hand the first
night it was secured, and in a very few days evinced pleasure on being
patted on the head.[1] There is none so obstinate, not even a _rogue_,
that may not, when kindly and patiently treated, be conciliated and

[Footnote 1: This was the largest elephant that had been tamed in
Ceylon; he measured upwards of nine feet at the shoulders and belonged
to the caste so highly prized for the temples. He was gentle after his
first capture, but his removal from the corral to the stables, though
only a distance of six miles, was a matter of the extremest difficulty;
his extraordinary strength rendering him more than a match for the
attendant decoys. He, on one occasion, escaped, but was recaptured in
the forest; and he afterwards became so docile as to perform a variety
of tricks. He was at length ordered to be removed to Colombo; but such
was his terror on approaching the gate, that on coaxing him to enter the
gate, he became paralysed in the extraordinary way elsewhere alluded to,
and _died on the spot_.]

The males are generally more unmaneagable than the females, and in both
an inclination to lie down to rest is regarded as a favourable symptom
of approaching tractability, some of the most resolute having been known
to stand for months together, even during sleep. Those which are the
most obstinate and violent at first are the soonest and most effectually
subdued, and generally prove permanently docile and submissive. But
those which are sullen or morose, although they may provoke no
chastisement by their viciousness, are always slower in being taught,
and are rarely to be trusted in after life.[1]

[Footnote 1: The natives profess that the high caste elephants, such as
are allotted to the temples, are of all others the most difficult to
tame, and M. BLES, the Dutch correspondent of BUFFON, mentions a caste
of elephants which he had heard of, as being peculiar to the Kandyan
kingdom, that were not higher than a heifer (genisse), covered with
hair, and insusceptible of being tamed. (BUFFON, _Supp._ vol. vi. p.
29.) Bishop HEBER, in the account of his journey from Bareilly towards
the Himalayas, describes the Raja Gourman Sing, "mounted on a little
female elephant, hardly bigger than a Durham ox, and almost as shaggy as
a poodle."--_Journx._, ch. xvii. It will be remembered that the mammoth
discovered in 1803 embedded in icy soil in Siberia, was covered with a
coat of long hair, with a sort of wool at the roots. Hence there arose
the question whether that northern region had been formerly inhabited by
a race of elephants, so fortified by nature against cold; or whether the
individual discovered had been borne thither by currents from some more
temperate latitudes. To the latter theory the presence of hair seemed a
fatal objection; but so far as my own observation goes, I believe the
elephants are more or less provided with hair. In some it is more
developed than in others, and it is particularly observable in the
young, which when captured are frequently covered with a woolly fleece,
especially about the head and shoulders. In the older individuals in
Ceylon, this is less apparent: and in captivity the hair appears to be
altogether removed by the custom of the mahouts to rub their skin daily
with oil and a rough lump of burned clay. See a paper on the subject,
_Asiat. Journ._ N.S. vol. xiv. p. 182, by Mr. G. FAIRHOLME.]

But whatever may be its natural gentleness and docility, the temper of
an elephant is seldom to be implicitly relied on in a state of captivity
and coercion. The most amenable are subject to occasional fits of
stubbornness; and even after years of submission, irritability and
resentment will unaccountably manifest themselves. It may be that the
restraints and severer discipline of training have not been entirely
forgotten; or that incidents which in ordinary health would be
productive of no demonstration whatever, may lead, in moments of
temporary illness, to fretfulness and anger. The knowledge of this
infirmity led to the popular belief recorded by PHILE, that the elephant
had _two hearts_, under the respective influences of which it evinced
ferocity of gentleness; subdued by the one to habitual tractability and
obedience, but occasionally roused by the other to displays of rage and

[Footnote 1:
"Diples de phasin euporesai kardias
Kai te men einai thumikon to therion
Eis akrate kinesin erethismenon,
Te de prosenes kai thrasytetos xenon.
Kai pe men auton akroasthai ton logon
Ous an tis Indos eu tithaseuon legoi,
Pe de pros autous tous nomeis epitrechein
Eis tas palaias ektrapen kakoupgias."]
PHILE, _Expos. de Eleph._, l. 126, &c.]

In the process of taming, the presence of the tame ones can generally be
dispensed with after two months, and the captive may then be ridden by
the driver alone; and after three or four months he may be entrusted
with labour, so far as regards docility;--but it is undesirable, and
even involves the risk of life, to work an elephant too soon; it has
frequently happened that a valuable animal has lain down and died the
first time it was tried in harness, from what the natives believe to be
"broken heart,"--certainly without any cause inferable from injury or
previous disease.[1] It is observable, that till a captured elephant
begins to relish food, and grow fat upon it, he becomes so fretted by
work, that it kills him in an incredibly short space of time.

[Footnote 1: Captain YULE, in his _Narrative of an Embassy to Ava in_
1855, records an illustration of this tendency of the elephant to sudden
death; one newly captured, the process of taming which was exhibited to
the British Envoy, "made vigorous resistance to the placing of a collar
on its neck, and the people were proceeding to tighten it, when the
elephant, which had lain down as if quite exhausted, reared suddenly on
the hind quarters, and fell on its side--_dead_!"--P. 104.

Mr. STRACHAN noticed the same liability of the elephants to sudden death
from very slight causes; "of the fall." he says, "at any time, though on
plain ground, they either die immediately, or languish till they die;
their great weight occasioning them so much hurt by the fall."--_Phil.
Trans._ A.D. 1701, vol. xxiii. p. 1052.]

The first employment to which an elephant is put is to tread clay in a
brick-field, or to draw a waggon in double harness with a tame
companion. But the work in which the display of sagacity renders his
labours of the highest value, is that which involves the use of heavy
materials; and hence in dragging and piling timber, or moving stones[1]
for the construction of retaining walls and the approaches to bridges,
his services in an unopened country are of the utmost importance. When
roads are to be constructed along the face of steep declivities, and the
space is so contracted that risk is incurred either of the working
elephant falling over the precipice or of rocks slipping down from
above, not only are the measures to which he resorts the most judicious
and reasonable that could be devised, but if urged by his keeper to
adopt any other, he manifests a reluctance sufficient to show that he
has balanced in his own mind the comparative advantages of each. An
elephant appears on all occasions to comprehend the purpose and object
that he is expected to promote, and hence he voluntarily executes a
variety of details without any guidance whatever from his keeper. This
is one characteristic in which this animal manifests a superiority over
the horse; although his strength in proportion to his weight is not so
great as that of the latter.

[Footnote 1: A correspondent informs me that on the Malabar coast of
India, the elephant, when employed in dragging stones, moves them by
means of a rope, which he either draws with his forehead, or manages by
seizing it in his teeth.]

His minute motions when engrossed by such operations, the activity of
his eye, and the earnestness of his attitudes, can only be comprehended
by being seen. In moving timber and masses of rock his trunk is the
instrument on which he mainly relies, but those which have tusks turn
them to good account. To get a weighty stone out of a hollow an elephant
will kneel down so as to apply the pressure of his head to move it
upwards, then steadying it with one foot till he can raise himself, he
will apply a fold of his trunk to shift it to its place, and fit it
accurately in position: this done, he will step round to view it on
either side, and adjust it with due precision. He appears to gauge his
task by his eye, and to form a judgment whether the weight be
proportionate to his strength. If doubtful of his own power, he
hesitates and halts, and if urged against his will, he roars and shows

In clearing an opening through forest land, the power of the African
elephant, and the strength ascribed to him by a recent traveller, as
displayed in uprooting trees, have never been equalled or approached by
anything I have seen of the elephant in Ceylon[1] or heard of them in

[Footnote 1: "Here the trees were large and handsome, but not strong
enough to resist the inconceivable strength of the mighty monarch of
these forests; almost every tree had half its branches broken short by
them and at every hundred yards I came upon entire trees, and these,
_the largest in the forest_, uprooted clean out of the ground, and
_broken short across their stems_."--_A Hunter's Life in South Africa_.
By R. GORDON CUMMING, vol. ii. p. 305.--

"Spreading out from one another, they smash and destroy all the finest
trees in the forest which happen to be in their course.... I have rode
through forests where the trees thus broken lay so thick across one
another, that it was almost impossible to ride through the
district."--_Ibid_., p. 310.

Mr. Gordon Cumming does not name the trees which he saw thus "uprooted"
and "broken across," nor has he given any idea of their size and weight;
but Major DENHAM, who observed like traces of the elephant in Africa,
saw only small trees overthrown by them; and Mr. PRINGLE, who had an
opportunity of observing similar practices of the animals in the neutral
territory of the Eastern frontier of the Cape of Good Hope, describes
their ravages as being confined to the mimosas, "immense numbers of
which had been torn out of the ground, and placed in an inverted
position, in order to enable the animals to browse at their ease on the
soft and juicy roots, which form a favourite part of their food. Many of
the _larger mimosas had resisted all their efforts; and indeed, it is
only after heavy rain, when the soil is soft and loose, that they ever
successfully attempt this operation._"--Pringle's _Sketches of South

Of course much must depend on the nature of the timber and the moisture
of the soil; thus a strong tree on the verge of a swamp may be
overthrown with greater ease than a small and low one in parched and
solid ground. I have seen no "tree" deserving the name, nothing but
jungle and brushwood, thrown down by the mere movement of an elephant
without some special exertion of force. But he is by no means fond of
gratuitously tasking his strength; and food being so abundant that he
obtains it without an effort, it is not altogether apparent, even were
he able to do so, why he should assail "the largest trees in the
forest," and encumber his own haunts with their broken stems; especially
as there is scarcely anything which an elephant dislikes more than
venturing amongst fallen timber.

A tree of twelve inches in diameter resisted successfully the most


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