Tennent's Natural History of Ceylon - 1861

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Habits when Wild.

Although found generally in warm and sunny climates, it is a mistake to suppose that the elephant is partial either to heat or to light. In Ceylon, the mountain tops, and not the sultry valleys, are its favourite resort. In Oovah, where the elevated plains are often crisp with the morning frost, and on Pedura-talla-galla, at the height of upwards of eight thousand feet, they are found in herds, whilst the hunter may search for them without success in the hot jungles of the low country. No altitude, in fact, seems too lofty or too chill for the elephant, provided it affords the luxury of water in abundance; and, contrary to the general opinion that the elephant delights in sunshine, it seems at all times impatient of glare, and spends the day in the thickest depth of the forests, devoting the night to excursions, and to the luxury of the bath, in which it also indulges occasionally by day. This partiality for shade is doubtless ascribable to the animal's love of coolness and solitude; but it is not altogether unconnected with the position of the eye, and the circumscribed use which its peculiar mode of life permits it to make of the faculty of sight.

[pg 95]

All the elephant hunters and natives to whom I have spoken on the subject, concur in opinion that its range of vision is circumscribed, and that it relies more on its ear and sense of smell than on its sight, which is liable to be obstructed by dense foliage; besides which, from the formation of its short neck, the elephant is incapable of directing the range of the eye much above the level of the head. 1

The elephant's small range of vision is sufficient to account for its excessive caution, its alarm at unusual noises, and the timidity and panic exhibited at trivial [pg 96] objects and incidents which, imperfectly discerned, excite suspicions for its safety. 2 In 1841 an officer 3 was chased by an elephant that he had slightly wounded. Seizing him near the dry bed of a river, the animal had its forefoot already raised to crush him; but its forehead being caught at the instant by the tendrils of a climbing plant which had suspended itself from the branches above, it suddenly turned and fled; leaving him badly hurt, but with no limb broken. I have heard similar instances, equally well attested, of this peculiarity in the elephant.

On the other hand, the power of smell is so remarkable as almost to compensate for the deficiency of sight. A herd is not only apprised of the approach of danger by this means, but when scattered in the forest, and dispersed out of range of sight, they are enabled by it to reassemble with rapidity and adopt precautions for their common safety. The same necessity is met by a delicate sense of hearing, and the use of a variety of noises or calls, by means of which elephants succeed in communicating with each other upon all emergencies. "The sounds which they utter have been described by the African hunters as of three kinds: the first, which is very shrill, produced by blowing through the trunk, is indicative of pleasure; the second, produced by the mouth, is expressive of want; and the third, proceeding from the throat, is a terrific roar of anger or revenge." 4 These words convey but an imperfect idea of the variety of noises made by the elephant in Ceylon; and the shrill cry produced by blowing through his trunk, so far [pg 97] from being regarded as an indication of "pleasure," is the well-known cry of rage with which he rushes to encounter an assailant. ARISTOTLE describes it as resembling the hoarse sound of a "trumpet." 5 The French still designate the proboscis of an elephant by the same expression "trompe," (which we have unmeaningly corrupted into trunk,) and hence the scream of the elephant is known as "trumpeting" by the hunters in Ceylon. Their cry when in pain, or when subjected to compulsion, is a grunt or a deep groan from the throat, with the proboscis curled upwards and the lips wide apart.

Should the attention of an individual in the herd be attracted by any unusual appearance in the forest, the intelligence is rapidly communicated by a low suppressed sound made by the lips, somewhat resembling the twittering of a bird, and described by the hunters by the word "prut."

A very remarkable noise has been described to me by more than one individual, who has come unexpectedly upon a herd during the night, when the alarm of the elephants was apparently too great to be satisfied with the stealthy note of warning just described. On these occasions the sound produced resembled the hollow booming of an empty tun when struck with a wooden mallet or a muffled sledge. Major MACREADY, Military Secretary in Ceylon in 1836, who heard it by night amongst the wild elephants in the great forest of Bintenne, describes it as "a sort of banging noise like a [pg 98] cooper hammering a cask;" and Major SKINNER is of opinion that it must be produced by the elephant striking his sides rapidly and forcibly with his trunk. Mr. CRIPPS informs me that he has more than once seen an elephant, when surprised or alarmed, produce this sound by striking the ground forcibly with the flat side of the trunk; and this movement was instantly succeeded by raising it again, and pointing it in the direction whence the alarm proceeded, as if to ascertain by the sense of smell the nature of the threatened danger. As this strange sound is generally mingled with the bellowing and ordinary trumpeting of the herd, it is in all probability a device resorted to, not alone for warning their companions of some approaching peril, but also for the additional purpose of terrifying unseen intruders. 6

Elephants are subject to deafness; and the Singhalese regard as the most formidable of all wild animals, a "rogue" 7 afflicted with this infirmity.

Extravagant estimates are recorded of the height of the elephant. In an age when popular fallacies in relation to him were as yet uncorrected in Europe by the actual inspection of the living animal, he was supposed to grow to the height of twelve or fifteen feet. Even within the last century in popular works on natural history, the elephant, when full grown, was said to measure from seventeen to twenty feet from the ground to the shoulder. 8 At a still later period, so imperfectly had [pg 99] the facts been collated, that the elephant of Ceylon was believed "to excel that of Africa in size and strength." 9 But so far from equalling the size of the African species, that of Ceylon seldom exceeds the height of nine feet; even in the Hambangtotte country, where the hunters agree that the largest specimens are to be found, the tallest of ordinary herds do not average more than eight feet. WOLF, in his account of the Ceylon elephant 10 , says he saw one taken near Jaffna, which measured twelve feet and one inch high. But the truth is, that the general bulk of the elephant so far exceeds that of the animals which we are accustomed to see daily, that the imagination magnifies its unusual dimensions; and I have seldom or ever met with an inexperienced spectator who did not unconsciously over-estimate the size of an elephant shown to him, whether in captivity or in a state of nature. Major DENHAM would have guessed some which he saw in Africa to be sixteen feet in height, but

[pg 100]

the largest when killed was found to measure nine feet six, from the foot to the hip-bone. 11

For a creature of such extraordinary weight it is astonishing how noiselessly and stealthily the elephant can escape from a pursuer. When suddenly disturbed in the jungle, it will burst away with a rush that seems to bear down all before it; but the noise sinks into absolute stillness so suddenly, that a novice might well be led to suppose that the fugitive had only halted within a few yards of him, when further search will disclose that it has stolen silently away, making scarcely a sound in its escape; and, stranger still, leaving the foliage almost undisturbed by its passage.

The most venerable delusion respecting the elephant, and that which held its ground with unequalled tenacity, is the ancient fallacy which is explained by SIR THOMAS BROWNE in his Pseudodoxia Epidemica, that "it hath no joynts; and this absurdity is seconded by another, that being unable to lye downe it sleepeth against a tree, which the hunters observing doe saw almost asunder, whereon the beast relying, by the fall of the tree falls also downe it-selfe and is able to rise no more." 12 Sir THOMAS is disposed to think that "the hint and ground of this opinion might be the grosse and somewhat cylindricall composure of the legs of the elephant, and the equality and lesse perceptible disposure of the joynts, especially in the forelegs of this animal, they [pg 101] appearing, when he standeth, like pillars of flesh;" but he overlooks the fact that PLINY has ascribed the same peculiarity to the Scandinavian beast somewhat resembling a horse, which he calls a "machlis," 13 and that CÆSAR in describing the wild animals in the Hercynian forests, enumerates the alce, "in colour and configuration approaching the goat, but surpassing it in size, its head destitute of horns and its limbs of joints, whence it can neither lie down to rest, nor rise if by any accident it should fall, but using the trees for a resting-place, the hunters by loosening their roots bring the alce to the ground, so soon as it is tempted to lean on them." 14 This fallacy, as Sir THOMAS BROWNE says, is "not the daughter of latter times, but an old and grey-headed errour, even in the days of ARISTOTLE," who deals with the story as he received it from CTESIAS, by whom it [pg 102] appears to have been embodied in his lost work on India. But although ARISTOTLE generally receives the credit of having exposed and demolished the fallacy of CTESIAS, it will be seen by a reference to his treatise On the Progressive Motions of Animals, that in reality he approached the question with some hesitation, and has not only left it doubtful in one passage whether the elephant has joints in his knee, although he demonstrates that it has joints in the shoulders 15 ; but in another he distinctly affirms that on account of his weight the elephant cannot bend his forelegs together, but only one at a time, and reclines to sleep on that particular side. 16

So great was the authority of ARISTOTLE, that ÆLIAN, who wrote two centuries later and borrowed many of his statements from the works of his predecessor, perpetuates this error; and, after describing the exploits of the trained elephants exhibited at Rome, adds the expression of his surprise, that an animal without joints ([Greek: anarthron]) should yet be able to dance. 17 The fiction was too agreeable to be readily abandoned by the poets [pg 103] of the Lower Empire and the Romancers of the middle ages; and PHILE, a contemporary of PETRARCH and DANTE, who in the early part of the fourteenth century, addressed his didactic poem on the elephant to the Emperor Andronicus II., untaught by the exposition of ARISTOTLE, still clung to the old delusion,


"Podes de toutps thauma kai saphes teras,

Ous, ou kathaper talla tôn zôôn genê,

Eiôthe kinein ex anarthrôn klasmatôn,

Kai gar stibarois syntethentes osteois,

Kai tê pladara tôn sphyrôn katastasei,

Kai tê pros arthra tôn skelôn hypokrisei,

Nyn eis tonous agousi, nyn eis hypheseis,

Tas pantodapas ekdromas tou thêriou.

Brachyterous ontas de ton opisthiôn

'Anamphilektôs oida tous emprosthious

Toutois elephas entatheis osper stylois

'Orthostadên akamptos hypnôttôn menei."]

v. 106, &c.

SOLINUS introduced the same fable into his Polyhistor; and DICUIL, the Irish commentator of the ninth century, who had an opportunity of seeing the elephant sent by Haroun Alraschid as a present to Charlemagne 18 in the year 802, corrects the error, and attributes its perpetuation to the circumstance that the joints in the elephant's leg are not very apparent, except when he lies down. 19

It is a strong illustration of the vitality of error, that the delusion thus exposed by Dicuil in the ninth century, was revived by MATTHEW PARIS in the thirteenth; and stranger still, that Matthew not only saw [pg 104] but made a drawing of the elephant presented to King Henry III. by the King of France in 1255, in which he nevertheless represents the legs as without joints. 20

In the numerous mediæval treatises on natural history, known under the title of Bestiaries, this delusion regarding the elephant is often repeated; and it is given at length in a metrical version of the Physiologus of THEOBALDUS, amongst the Arundel Manuscripts in the British Museum. 21

With the Provençal song writers, the helplessness of the fallen elephant was a favourite simile, and amongst others RICHARD DE BARBEZIEUX, in the latter half of the twelfth century, sung 22 ,

[pg 105]

"Atressi cum l'olifans

Que quan chai no s'pot levar."

As elephants were but rarely seen in Europe prior to the seventeenth century, there were but few opportunities of correcting the popular fallacy by ocular demonstration. Hence SHAKSPEARE still believed that,

"The elephant hath joints; but none for courtesy:

His legs are for necessity, not flexure:" 23

and DONNE sang of

"Nature's great masterpiece, an Elephant;

The only harmless great thing:

Yet Nature hath given him no knee to bend:

Himself he up-props, on himself relies;

Still sleeping stands." 24

Sir THOMAS BROWNE, while he argues against the delusion, does not fail to record his suspicion, that "although the opinion at present be reasonably well suppressed, yet from the strings of tradition and fruitful recurrence of errour, it was not improbable it might revive in the next generation;" 25 —an anticipation which has proved singularly correct; for the heralds still continued to explain that the elephant is the emblem of watchfulness, "nec jacet in somno," 26 and poets almost of our own times paint the scene when

[pg 106]

"Peaceful, beneath primeval trees, that cast

Their ample shade on Niger's yellow stream,

Or where the Ganges rolls his sacred waves,

Leans the huge Elephant." 27

It is not difficult to see whence this antiquated delusion took its origin; nor is it, as Sir THOMAS BROWNE imagined, to be traced exclusively "to the grosse and cylindricall structure" of the animal's legs. The fact is, that the elephant, returning in the early morning from his nocturnal revels in the reservoirs and water-courses, is accustomed to rub his muddy sides against a tree, and sometimes against a rock if more convenient. In my rides through the northern forests, the natives of Ceylon have often pointed out that the elephants which had preceded me must have been of considerable size, from the height at which their marks had been left on the trees against which they had been rubbing. Not unfrequently the animals themselves, overcome with drowsiness from the night's gambolling, are found dosing and resting against the trees they had so visited, and in the same manner they have been discovered by sportsmen asleep, and leaning against a rock.

It is scarcely necessary to explain that the position is accidental, and that it is taken by the elephant not from any difficulty in lying at length on the ground, but rather from the coincidence that the structure of his legs affords such support in a standing position, that reclining scarcely adds to his enjoyment of repose; and elephants in a state of captivity have been known for [pg 107] months together to sleep without lying down. 28 So distinctive is this formation, and so self-sustaining the configuration of the limbs, that an elephant shot in the brain, by Major Rogers in 1836, was killed so instantaneously that it died literally on its knees, and remained resting on them. About the year 1826, Captain Dawson, the engineer of the great road to Kandy, over the Kaduganava pass, shot an elephant at Hangwelle on the banks of the Kalany Ganga; it remained on its feet, but so motionless, that after discharging a few more balls, he was induced to go close to it, and found it dead.

The real peculiarity in the elephant in lying down is, that he extends his hind legs backwards as a man does when he kneels, instead of bringing them under him like the horse or any other quadruped. The wise purpose of this arrangement must be obvious to any one who observes the struggle with which the horse gets up from the ground, and the violent efforts which he makes to raise himself erect. Such an exertion in the case of the elephant, and the force requisite to apply a similar movement to raise his weight (equal to four or five tons) would be attended with a dangerous strain upon the muscles, and hence the simple arrangement, which by enabling him to draw the hind feet gradually under him, assists him to rise without a perceptible effort.

The same construction renders his gait not a "gallop," [pg 108] as it has been somewhat loosely described 29 , which would be too violent a motion for so vast a body; but a shuffle, that he can increase at pleasure to a pace as rapid as that of a man at full speed, but which he cannot maintain for any considerable distance.

Horses leg joint structure

It is to the structure of the knee-joint that the elephant is indebted for his singular facility in ascending and descending steep activities, climbing rocks and traversing precipitous ledges, where even a mule dare not [pg 109] venture; and this again leads to the correction of another generally received error, that his legs are "formed more for strength than flexibility, and fitted to bear an enormous weight upon a level surface, without the necessity of ascending or descending great acclivities." 30 The same authority assumes that, although the elephant is found in the neighbourhood of mountainous ranges, and will even ascend rocky passes, such a service is a violation of its natural habits.

Of the elephant of Africa I am not qualified to speak, nor of the nature of the ground which it most frequents; but certainly the facts in connection with the elephant of India are all irreconcilable with the theory mentioned above. In Bengal, in the Nilgherries, in Nepal, in Burmah, in Siam, Sumatra, and Ceylon, the districts in which the elephants most abound, are all hilly and mountainous. In the latter, especially, there is not a range so elevated as to be inaccessible to them. On the very summit of Adam's Peak, at an altitude of 7,420 feet, and on a pinnacle which the pilgrims climb with difficulty, by means of steps hewn in the rock, Major Skinner, in 1840, found the spoor of an elephant.

Prior to 1840, and before coffee-plantations had been extensively opened in the Kandyan ranges, there was not a mountain or a lofty feature of land of Ceylon which they had not traversed, in their periodical migrations in search of water; and the sagacity which they display in "laying out roads" is almost incredible. They generally keep along the backbone of a chain of hills, avoiding steep gradients: and one curious observation was not lost upon the government surveyors, that in crossing [pg 110] the valleys from ridge to ridge, through forests so dense as altogether to obstruct a distant view, the elephants invariably select the line of march which communicates most judiciously with the opposite point, by means of the safest ford. 31 So sure-footed are they, that there are few places where man can go that an elephant cannot follow, provided there be space to admit his bulk, and solidity to sustain his weight.

This faculty is almost entirely derived from the unusual position, as compared with other quadrupeds, of the knee joint of the hind leg; arising from the superior length of the thigh-bone, and the shortness of the metatarsus: the heel being almost where it projects in man, instead of being lifted up as a "hock." It is this which enables him, in descending declivities, to depress and adjust the weight of his hinder portions, which would otherwise overbalance and force him headlong. 32 It is by the same arrangement that he is [pg 111] enabled, on uneven ground, to lift his feet, which are tender and sensitive, with delicacy, and plant them with such precision as to ensure his own safety as well as that of objects which it is expedient to avoid touching.

A herd of elephants is a family, not a group whom accident or attachment may have induced to associate together. Similarity of features and caste attest that, among the various individuals which compose it, there is a common lineage and relationship. In a herd of [pg 112] twenty-one elephants, captured in 1844, the trunks of each individual presented the same peculiar formation,—long, and almost of one uniform breadth throughout, instead of tapering gradually from the root to the nostril. In another instance, the eyes of thirty-five taken in one corral were of the same colour in each. The same slope of the back, the same form of the forehead, is to be detected in the majority of the same group.

In the forest several herds will browse in close contiguity, and in their expeditions in search of water they may form a body of possibly one or two hundred; but on the slightest disturbance each distinct herd hastens to re-form within its own particular circle, and to take measures on its own behalf for retreat or defence.

The natives of any place which may chance to be frequented by elephants, observe that the numbers of the same herd fluctuate very slightly; and hunters in pursuit of them, who may chance to have shot one or more, always reckon with certainty the precise number of those remaining, although a considerable interval may intervene before they again encounter them. The proportion of males is generally small, and some herds have been seen composed exclusively of females; possibly in consequence of the males having been shot. A herd usually consists of from ten to twenty individuals, though occasionally they exceed the latter number; and in their frequent migrations and nightly resort to tanks and water-courses, alliances are formed between members of associated herds, which serve to introduce new blood into the family.

In illustration of the attachment of the elephant to its young, the authority of KNOX has been quoted, that "the shees are alike tender of any one's young ones as [pg 113] of their own." 33 Their affection in this particular is undoubted, but I question whether it exceeds that of other animals; and the trait thus adduced of their indiscriminate kindness to all the young of the herd,—of which I have myself been an eye-witness,—so far from being an evidence of the strength of parental attachment individually, is, perhaps, somewhat inconsistent with the existence of such a passion to any extraordinary degree. 34 In fact, some individuals, who have had extensive facilities for observation, doubt whether the fondness of the female elephants for their offspring is so great as that of many other animals; as [pg 114] instances are not wanting in Ceylon, in which, when pursued by the hunters, the herd has abandoned the young ones in their flight, notwithstanding the cries of the latter for help.

In an interesting paper on the habits of the Indian elephant, published in the Philosophical Transactions for 1793, Mr. CORSE says: "If a wild elephant happens to be separated from its young for only two days, though giving suck, she never after recognises or acknowledges it," although the young one evidently knows its dam, and by its plaintive cries and submissive approaches solicits her assistance.

If by any accident an elephant becomes hopelessly separated from his own herd, he is not permitted to attach himself to any other. He may browse in the vicinity, or frequent the same place to drink and to bathe; but the intercourse is only on a distant and conventional footing, and no familiarity or intimate association is under any circumstances permitted. To such a height is this exclusiveness carried, that even amidst the terror and stupefaction of an elephant corral, when an individual, detached from his own party in the mêlée and confusion, has been driven into the enclosure with an unbroken herd, I have seen him repulsed in every attempt to take refuge among them, and driven off by heavy blows with their trunks as often as he attempted to insinuate himself within the circle which they had formed for common security. There can be no reasonable doubt that this jealous and exclusive policy not only contributes to produce, but mainly serves to perpetuate, the class of solitary elephants which are known by the term goondahs, in India, and which from [pg 115] their vicious propensities and predatory habits are called Hora, or Rogues, in Ceylon. 35

It is believed by the Singhalese that these are either individuals, who by accident have lost their former associates and become morose and savage from rage and solitude; or else that being naturally vicious they have become daring from the yielding habits of their milder companions, and eventually separated themselves from the rest of the herd which had refused to associate with them. Another conjecture is, that being almost universally males, the death or capture of particular females may have detached them from their former companions in search of fresh alliances. 36 It is also believed that a tame elephant escaping from captivity, unable to rejoin its former herd, and excluded from any other, becomes a "rogue" from necessity. In Ceylon it is generally believed that the rogues are all males (but of this I am not certain), and so sullen is their disposition that

[pg 116]

although two may be in the same vicinity, there is no known instance of their associating, or of a rogue being seen in company with another elephant.

They spend their nights in marauding, often about the dwellings of men, destroying their plantations, trampling down their gardens, and committing serious ravages in rice grounds and young coco-nut plantations. Hence from their closer contact with man and his dwellings, these outcasts become disabused of many of the terrors which render the ordinary elephant timid and needlessly cautious; they break through fences without fear; and even in the daylight a rogue has been known near Ambogammoa to watch a field of labourers at work in reaping rice, and boldly to walk in amongst them, seize a sheaf from the heap, and retire leisurely to the jungle. By day they generally seek concealment, but are frequently to be met with prowling about the by-roads and jungle paths, where travellers are exposed to the utmost risk from their savage assaults. It is probable that this hostility to man is the result of the enmity engendered by those measures which the natives, who have a constant dread of their visits, adopt for the protection of their growing crops. In some districts, especially in the low country of Badulla, the villagers occasionally enclose their cottages with rude walls of earth and branches to protect them from nightly assaults. In places infested by them, the visits of European sportsmen to the vicinity of their haunts are eagerly encouraged by the natives, who think themselves happy in lending their services to track the ordinary herds in consideration of the benefit conferred on the village communities by the destruction of a rogue. In 1847 one of these formidable creatures frequented for some months the Rangbodde Pass on the [pg 117] great mountain road leading to the sanatarium, at Neuera-ellia; and amongst other excesses, killed a Caffre belonging to the corps of Caffre pioneers, by seizing him with its trunk and beating him to death against the bank.

To return to the herd: one member of it, usually the largest and most powerful, is by common consent implicitly followed as leader. A tusker, if there be one in the party, is generally observed to be the commander; but a female, if of superior energy, is as readily obeyed as a male. In fact, in this promotion there is no reason to doubt that supremacy is almost unconsciously assumed by those endowed with superior vigour and courage rather than from the accidental possession of greater bodily strength; and the devotion and loyalty which the herd evince to their leader are very remarkable. This is more readily seen in the case of a tusker than any other, because in a herd he is generally the object of the keenest pursuit by the hunters. On such occasions the others do their utmost to protect him from danger: when driven to extremity they place their leader in the centre and crowd so eagerly in front of him that the sportsmen have to shoot a number which they might otherwise have spared. In one instance a tusker, which was badly wounded by Major ROGERS, was promptly surrounded by his companions, who supported him between their shoulders, and actually succeeded in covering his retreat to the forest.

Those who have lived much in the jungle in Ceylon, and who have had constant opportunities of watching the habits of wild elephants, have witnessed instances of the submission of herds to their leaders, that suggest an inquiry of singular interest as to the means adopted by [pg 118] the latter to communicate with distinctness, orders which are observed with the most implicit obedience by their followers. The following narrative of an adventure in the great central forest toward the north of the island, communicated to me by Major SKINNER, who was engaged for some time in surveying and opening roads through the thickly-wooded districts there, will serve better than any abstract description to convey an idea of the conduct of a herd on such occasions:—

"The case you refer to struck me as exhibiting something more than ordinary brute instinct, and approached nearer to reasoning powers than any other instance I can now remember. I cannot do justice to the scene, although it appeared to me at the time to be so remarkable that it left a deep impression in my mind.

"In the height of the dry season in Neuera-Kalawa, you know the streams are all dried up, and the tanks nearly so. All animals are then sorely pressed for water, and they congregate in the vicinity of those tanks in which there may remain ever so little of the precious element.

"During one of those seasons I was encamped on the bund or embankment of a very small tank, the water in which was so dried that its surface could not have exceeded an area of 500 square yards. It was the only pond within many miles, and I knew that of necessity a very large herd of elephants, which had been in the neighbourhood all day, must resort to it at night.

"On the lower side of the tank, and in a line with the embankment, was a thick forest, in which the elephants sheltered themselves during the day. On the upper side and all around the tank there was a considerable [pg 119] margin of open ground. It was one of those beautiful bright, clear, moonlight nights, when objects could be seen almost as distinctly as by day, and I determined to avail myself of the opportunity to observe the movements of the herd, which had already manifested some uneasiness at our presence. The locality was very favourable for my purpose, and an enormous tree projecting over the tank afforded me a secure lodgement in its branches. Having ordered the fires of my camp to be extinguished at an early hour, and all my followers to retire to rest, I took up my post of observation on the overhanging bough; but I had to remain for upwards of two hours before anything was to be seen or heard of the elephants, although I knew they were within 500 yards of me. At length, about the distance of 300 yards from the water, an unusually large elephant issued from the dense cover, and advanced cautiously across the open ground to within 100 yards of the tank, where he stood perfectly motionless. So quiet had the elephants become (although they had been roaring and breaking the jungle throughout the day and evening), that not a movement was now to be heard. The huge vidette remained in his position, still as a rock, for a few minutes, and then made three successive stealthy advances of several yards (halting for some minutes between each, with ears bent forward to catch the slightest sound), and in this way he moved slowly up to the water's edge. Still he did not venture to quench his thirst, for though his fore-feet were partially in the tank and his vast body was reflected clear in the water, he remained for some minutes listening in perfect stillness. Not a motion could be perceived in himself or his shadow. He returned cautiously and slowly to [pg 120] the position he had at first taken up on emerging from the forest. Here in a little while he was joined by five others, with which he again proceeded as cautiously, but less slowly than before, to within a few yards of the tank, and then posted his patrols. He then re-entered the forest and collected around him the whole herd, which must have amounted to between 80 and 100 individuals,—led them across the open ground with the most extraordinary composure and quietness, till he joined the advanced guard, when he left them for a moment and repeated his former reconnoissance at the edge of the tank. After which, having apparently satisfied himself that all was safe, he returned and obviously gave the order to advance, for in a moment the whole herd rushed into the water with a degree of unreserved confidence, so opposite to the caution and timidity which had marked their previous movements, that nothing will ever persuade me that there was not rational and preconcerted co-operation throughout the whole party, and a degree of responsible authority exercised by the patriarch leader.

"When the poor animals had gained possession of the tank (the leader being the last to enter), they seemed to abandon themselves to enjoyment without restraint or apprehension of danger. Such a mass of animal life I had never before seen huddled together in so narrow a space. It seemed to me as though they would have nearly drunk the tank dry. I watched them with great interest until they had satisfied themselves as well in bathing as in drinking, when I tried how small a noise would apprise them of the proximity of unwelcome neighbours. I had but to break a little twig, and the solid mass instantly took to flight like a herd of frightened [pg 121] deer, each of the smaller calves being apparently shouldered and carried along between two of the older ones." 37

In drinking, the elephant, like the camel, although preferring water pure, shows no decided aversion to it when discoloured with mud 38 ; and the eagerness with which he precipitates himself into the tanks and streams attests his exquisite enjoyment of the fresh coolness, which to him is the chief attraction. In crossing deep rivers, although his rotundity and buoyancy enable him to swim with a less immersion than other quadrupeds, he generally prefers to sink till no part of his huge body is visible except the tip of his trunk, through which he breathes, moving beneath the surface, and only now and then raising his head to look that he is keeping the proper direction. 39 In the dry season the scanty streams which, during the rains, are sufficient to convert the rivers of the low country into torrents, often entirely disappear, leaving only broad expanses of dry sand, which they have swept down with them from the hills. In this the elephants contrive to sink wells for their own use by scooping out the sand to the depth of four or five feet, and leaving a hollow for the percolation of the spring. But as the weight of the elephant would force in the side if left perpendicular, one approach is always formed with such a gradient that he can reach

[pg 122]

the water with his trunk without disturbing the surrounding sand.

I have reason to believe, although the fact has not been authoritatively stated by naturalists, that the stomach of the elephant will be found to include a section analogous to that possessed by some of the ruminants, calculated to contain a supply of water as a provision against emergencies. The fact of his being enabled to retain a quantity of water and discharge it at pleasure has been long known to every observer of the habits of the animal; but the proboscis has always been supposed to be "his water-reservoir," 40 and the theory of an internal receptacle has not been discussed. The truth is that the anatomy of the elephant is even yet but imperfectly understood 41 , and, although some peculiarities of his

[pg 123]

stomach were observed at an early period, and even their configuration described, the function of the abnormal portion remained undetermined, and has been only recently conjectured. An elephant which belonged to Louis XIV. died at Versailles in 1681 at the age of seventeen, and an account of its dissection was published in the Mémoires pour servir à l'Histoire Naturelle, under the authority of the Academy of Sciences, in which the unusual appendages of the stomach are pointed out with sufficient particularity, but no suggestion is made as to their probable uses." 42

[pg 124]

A writer in the Quarterly Review for December 1850, says that "CAMPER and other comparative anatomists have shown that the left, or cardiac end of the stomach in the elephant is adapted, by several wide folds of lining membrane, to serve as a receiver for water;" but this is scarcely correct, for although CAMPER has accurately figured the external form of the stomach, he disposes of the question of the interior functions with the simple remark that its folds "semblent en faire une espèce de division particulière." 43 In like manner SIR EVERARD HOME, in his Lectures on Comparative Anatomy, has not only carefully described the form of the elephant's stomach, and furnished a drawing of it even more accurate than CAMPER; but he has equally omitted to assign any purpose to so strange a formation, contenting himself with observing that the structure is a peculiarity, and that one of the remarkable folds nearest the orifice of the diaphragm appears to act as a valve, so that the portion beyond may be considered as an appendage similar to that of the hog and the peccary. 44

[pg 125]

The appendage thus alluded to by Sir EVERARD HOME is the grand "cul-de-sac," noticed by the Académic des Sciences, and the "division particulière," figured by CAMPER. It is of sufficient dimensions to contain ten gallons of water, and by means of the valve above alluded to, it can be shut off from the chamber devoted to the process of digestion. Professor OWEN is probably the first who, not from an autopsy, but from the mere inspection of the drawings of CAMPER and HOME, ventured to assert (in lectures hitherto unpublished), that the uses of this section of the elephant's stomach may be analogous to those ascertained to belong to a somewhat similar arrangement in the stomach of the camel, one cavity of which is exclusively employed as a reservoir for water, and performs no function the preparation of food. 45

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Whilst Professor OWEN was advancing this conjecture, another comparative anatomist, from the examination of another portion of the structure of the elephant, was led to a somewhat similar conclusion. Dr. HARRISON of Dublin had, in 1847, an opportunity of dissecting the body of an elephant which had suddenly died; and in the course of his examination of the thoracic viscera, he observed that an unusually close connection existed between the trachea and oesophagus, which he found to depend on a muscle unnoticed by any previous anatomist, connecting the back of the former with the forepart of the latter, along which the fibres descend and can be distinctly traced to the cardiac orifice of the stomach. Imperfectly acquainted with the habits and functions of the elephant in a state of nature, Dr. HARRISON found it difficult to pronounce as to the use of this very peculiar [pg 127] structure; but looking to the intimate connection between the mechanism concerned in the functions of respiration and deglutition, and seeing that the proboscis served in a double capacity as an instrument of voice and an organ for the prehension of food, he ventured (apparently without adverting to the abnormal form of the stomach) to express the opinion that this muscle, viewing its attachment to the trachea, might either have some influence in raising the diaphragm, and thereby assisting in expiration, "or that it might raise the cardiac orifice of the stomach, and so aid this organ to regurgitate a portion of its contents into the oesophagus." 46

Dr. HARRISON, on the reflection that "we have no satisfactory evidence that the animal ever ruminates," thought it useless to speculate on the latter supposition as to the action of the newly discovered muscle, and rather inclined to the surmise that it was designed to assist the elephant in producing the remarkable sound through his proboscis known as "trumpeting;" but there is little room to doubt that of the two the rejected hypothesis was the more correct one. I have elsewhere described the occurrence to which I was myself a witness 47 , of elephants inserting their proboscis in their mouths, and withdrawing gallons of water, which could only have been contained in the receptacle figured by CAMPER and HOME, and of which the true uses were discerned by the clear intellect of Professor OWEN. I was not, till very recently, aware that a similar observation as to the remarkable habit of the elephant, had been made by the author of the Ayeen Akbery, in his account of the Feel [pg 128] Kaneh, or elephant stables of the Emperor Akbar, in which he says, "an elephant frequently with his trunk takes water out of his stomach and sprinkles himself with it, and it is not in the least offensive." 48 FORBES, in his Oriental Memoirs, quotes this passage of the Ayeen Akbery, but without a remark; nor does any European writer with whose works I am acquainted appear to have been cognisant of the peculiarity in question.


It is to be hoped that Professor OWEN'S dissection of the young elephant, recently arrived, may serve to decide this highly interesting point. 49 Should scientific investigation hereafter more clearly establish the fact that, in this particular, the structure of the elephant is assimilated to that of the llama and the camel, it will be [pg 129] regarded as more than a common coincidence, that an apparatus, so unique in its purpose and action, should thus have been conferred by the Creator on the three animals which in sultry climates are, by this arrangement, enabled to traverse arid regions in the service of man. 50 To show this peculiar organization where it attains its fullest development, I have given a sketch of the water-cells, in the stomach of the camel on the preceding page.

The food of the elephant is so abundant, that in feeding he never appears to be impatient or voracious, but rather to play with the leaves and branches on which he leisurely feeds. In riding by places where a herd has recently halted, I have sometimes seen the bark peeled curiously off the twigs, as though it had been done in mere dalliance. In the same way in eating grass the elephant selects a tussac which he draws from the ground by a dexterous twist of his trunk, and nothing can be more graceful than the ease with which, before conveying it to his mouth, he beats the earth from its roots by striking it gently upon his fore-leg. A coco-nut he first rolls under foot, to detach the strong outer bark, then stripping off with his trunk the thick layer of fibre within, he places the shell in his mouth, and swallows with evident relish the fresh liquid which flows as he crushes it between his grinders.

The natives of the peninsula of Jaffna always look for the periodical appearance of the elephants, at the precise

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time when the fruit of the palmyra palm begins to fall to the ground from ripeness. In like manner in the eastern provinces where the custom prevails of cultivating what is called chena land (by clearing a patch of forest for the purpose of raising a single crop, after which the ground is abandoned, and reverts to jungle again), although a single elephant may not have been seen in the neighbourhood during the early stages of the process, the Moormen, who are the cultivators of this class, will predict their appearance with almost unerring confidence so soon as the grains shall have begun to ripen; and although the crop comes to maturity at different periods in different districts, herds are certain to be seen at each in succession, as soon as it is ready to be cut. In these well-timed excursions, they resemble the bison of North America, which, by a similarly mysterious instinct, finds its way to portions of the distant prairies, where accidental fires have been followed by a growth of tender grass. Although the fences around these chenas are little more than lines of reeds loosely fastened together, they are sufficient, with the presence of a single watcher, to prevent the entrance of the elephants, who wait patiently till the rice and coracan have been removed, and the watcher withdrawn; and, then finding gaps in the fence, they may be seen gleaning among the leavings and the stubble; and they take their departure when these are exhausted, apparently in the direction of some other chena, which they have ascertained to be about to be cut.

There is something still unexplained in the dread which an elephant always exhibits on approaching a fence, and the reluctance which he displays to face the slightest artificial obstruction to his passage. In the [pg 131] fine old tank of Tissa-weva, close by Anarajapoora, the natives cultivate grain, during the dry season, around the margin where the ground has been left bare by the subsidence of the water. These little patches of rice they enclose with small sticks an inch in diameter and five or six feet in height, such as would scarcely serve to keep out a wild hog if he attempted to force his way through. Passages of from ten to twenty feet wide are left between each field, to permit the wild elephants, which abound in the vicinity to make their nocturnal visits to the water still remaining in the tank. Night after night these open pathways are frequented by immense herds, but the tempting corn is never touched, nor is a single fence disturbed, although the merest, movement of a trunk would be sufficient to demolish the fragile structure. Yet the same spots, the fences being left open as soon as the grain has been cut and carried home, are eagerly entered by the elephants to glean amongst the stubble.

Sportsmen observe that an elephant, even when enraged by a wound, will hesitate to charge an assailant across an intervening hedge, but will hurry along it to seek for an opening. It is possible that, on the part of the elephant, there may be some instinctive consciousness, that owing to his superior bulk, he is exposed to danger from sources that might be perfectly harmless in the case of lighter animals, and hence his suspicion that every fence may conceal a snare or pitfall. Some similar apprehension is apparent in the deer, which shrinks from attempting a fence of wire, although it will clear without hesitation a solid wall of greater height.

At the same time, the caution with which the elephant is supposed to approach insecure ground and places of [pg 132] doubtful 51 solidity, appears to me, so far as my own observation and experience extend, to be exaggerated, and the number of temporary bridges which are annually broken down by elephants in all parts of Ceylon, is sufficient to show that, although in captivity, and when familiar with such structures, the tame ones may, and doubtless do, exhibit all the wariness attributed to them; yet, in a state of liberty, and whilst unaccustomed to such artificial appliances, their instincts are not sufficient to ensure their safety. Besides, the fact is adverted to elsewhere 52 , that the chiefs of the Wanny, during the sovereignty of the Dutch, were accustomed to take in pitfalls the elephants which they rendered as tribute to government.

A fact illustrative at once of the caution and the spirit of curiosity with which an elephant regards an unaccustomed object has been frequently mentioned to me by the officers engaged in opening roads through the forest. On such occasions the wooden "tracing pegs" which they are obliged to drive into the ground to mark the levels taken during the day, will often be withdrawn by the elephants during the night, to such an extent as frequently to render it necessary to go over the work a second time, in order to replace them. 53

Colonel HARDY, formerly Deputy Quarter-Master-General in Ceylon, when proceeding, about the year 1820, to a military out-post in the south-east of the island, imprudently landed in an uninhabited part of [pg 133] the coast, intending to take a short cut through the forest, to his destination. He not only miscalculated the distance, but, on the approach of nightfall, he was chased by a vicious rogue elephant. The pursuer was nearly upon him, when, to gain time, he flung down a small dressing-case, which he happened to be carrying. The device was successful; the elephant halted and minutely examined its contents, and thus gave the colonel time to effect his escape. 54

As regards the general sagacity of the elephant, although it has not been over-rated in the instances of those whose powers have been largely developed in captivity, an undue estimate has been formed in relation to them whilst still untamed. The difference of instincts and habits renders it difficult to institute a just comparison between them and other animals. CUVIER 55 is disposed to ascribe the exalted idea that prevails of their intellect to the feats which an elephant performs with that unique instrument, its trunk, combined with an imposing expression of countenance: but he records his own conviction that in sagacity it in no way excels the dog, and some other species of Carnivora. If there be a superiority, I am disposed to award it to the dog, not from any excess of natural capacity, but from the [pg 134] higher degree of development consequent on his more intimate domestication and association with man.

One remarkable fact was called to my attention by a gentleman who resided on a coffee plantation at Rassawé, one of the loftiest mountains of the Ambogammoa range. More than once during the terrific thunder-bursts that precede the rains at the change of each monsoon, he observed that the elephants in the adjoining forest hastened from under cover of the trees and took up their station in the open ground, where I saw them on one of these occasions collected into a group; and here, he said, it was their custom to remain till the lightning had ceased, when they retired again into the jungle. 56 It must be observed, however, that showers, and especially light drizzling rain, are believed to bring the elephants from the jungle towards pathways or other openings in the forest;—and hence, in places infested by them, timid persons are afraid to travel in the afternoon during uncertain weather.

When free in its native woods the elephant evinces rather simplicity than sagacity, and its intelligence seldom exhibits itself in cunning. The rich profusion in which nature has supplied its food, and anticipated its every want, has made it independent of those devices by which carnivorous animals provide for their subsistence; and, from the absence of all rivalry between it and the other denizens of the plains, it is never required to resort to artifice for self-protection. For these reasons, in its tranquil and harmless life, it may appear to casual observers to exhibit even less than [pg 135] ordinary ability; but when danger and apprehension call for the exertion of its powers, those who have witnessed their display are seldom inclined to undervalue its sagacity.

Mr. CRIPPS has related to me an instance in which a recently captured elephant was either rendered senseless from fear, or, as the native attendants asserted, feigned death in order to regain its freedom. It was led from the corral as usual between two tame ones, and had already proceeded far towards its destination; when night closing in, and the torches being lighted, it refused to go on, and finally sank to the ground, apparently lifeless. Mr. CRIPPS ordered the fastenings to be removed from its legs, and when all attempts to raise it had failed, so convinced was he that it was dead, that he ordered the ropes to be taken off and the carcase abandoned. While this was being done he and a gentleman by whom he was accompanied leaned against the body to rest. They had scarcely taken their departure and proceeded a few yards, when, to their astonishment, the elephant rose with the utmost alacrity, and fled towards the jungle, screaming at the top of its voice, its cries being audible long after it had disappeared in the shades of the forest.

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The following narratives have been taken down by a Singhalese gentleman, from the statements of the natives by whom they are recounted;—and they are here inserted, in order to show the opinion prevalent amongst the people of Ceylon as to the habits and propensities of the rogue elephant. The stories are given in words of my correspondent, who writes in English, as follows:—

1. "We," said my informant, who was a native trader of Caltura, "were on our way to Badulla, by way of Ratnapoora and Balangodde, to barter our merchandize for coffee. There were six in our party, myself, my brother-in-law, and four coolies, who carried on pingoes 57 our merchandize, which consisted of cloth and brass articles. About 4 o'clock, P.M., we were close to Idalgasinna, and our coolies were rather unwilling to go further for fear of elephants, which they said were sure to be met with at that noted place, especially as there had been a slight drizzling of rain during the whole afternoon. I was as much afraid of elephants as the coolies themselves; but I was anxious to proceed, and so, after a few words of encouragement addressed to them, and a prayer or two offered up to Saman dewiyo 58 , we resumed our journey. I also took the [pg 137] further precaution of hanging up a few leaves. 59 As the rain was coming down fast and thick, and I was anxious to get to our halting-place before night, we moved on at a rapid pace. My brother-in-law was in the van of the party, I myself was in the rear, and the four coolies between us, all moving along on a rugged, rocky, and difficult path; as the road to Badulla till lately was on the sloping side of a hill, covered with jungle, pieces of projecting rock, and brushwood. It was about five o'clock in the evening, or a little later, and we had hardly cleared the foot of the hill and got to the plain below, when a rustling of leaves and a crackling of dry brushwood were heard on our right, followed immediately by the trumpeting of a hora allia 60 , which was making towards us. We all fled, followed by the elephant. I, who was in the rear of the party, was the first to take to flight; the coolies threw away their pingoes, and my brother-in-law his umbrella, and all ran in different directions. I hid myself behind a large boulder of granite nearly covered by jungle: but as my place of concealment was on high ground, I could see all that was going on below. The first thing I observed was the elephant returning to the place where one of the pingoes was lying: he was carrying one of the coolies in a coil of his trunk. The body of the man was dangling with the head downward. I cannot say whether he was then alive or not; I could not perceive any marks of blood or bruises on his person: but he appeared to be lifeless. The elephant placed him down on the ground, put the pingo on his (the man's) shoulder, steadying both the man and the pingo with his trunk and fore-legs. But the man of course did not move or stand up with his pingo. Seeing this, the elephant again raised the cooly and dashed him against the ground, and then trampled [pg 138] the body to a very jelly. This done, he took up the pingo and moved away from the spot; but at the distance of about a fathom or two, laid it down again, and ripping open one of the bundles, took out of it all the contents, somans 61 , cambāyas 62 , handkerchiefs, and several pieces of white cambrick cloth, all which he tore to small pieces, and flung them wildly here and there. He did the same with all the other pingoes. When this was over the elephant quietly walked away into the jungle, trumpeting all the way as far as I could hear. When danger was past I came out of my concealment, and returned to the place where we had halted that morning. Here the rest of my companions joined me soon after. The next morning we set out again on our journey, our party being now increased by some seven or eight traders from Salpity Corle: but this time we did not meet with the elephant. We found the mangled corpse of our cooly on the same spot where I had seen it the day before, together with the torn pieces of my cloths, of which we collected as fast as we could the few which were serviceable, and all the brass utensils which were quite uninjured. That elephant was a noted rogue. He had before this killed many people on that road, especially those carrying pingoes of coco-nut oil and ghee. He was afterwards killed by an Englishman. The incidents I have mentioned above, took place about twenty years ago."

The following also relates to the same locality. It was narrated to me by an old Moorman of Barberyn, who, during his earlier years, led the life of a pedlar.

2. "I and another," said he, "were on our way to Badulla, one day some twenty-five or thirty years ago. We were quietly moving along a path which wound round a hill, when all of a sudden, and without the slightest previous intimation either by the rustling of leaves or by any other sign, a huge elephant with short tusks rushed to the path. Where he had been before I can't say; I believe he must have been lying in [pg 139] wait for travellers. In a moment he rushed forward to the road, trumpeting dreadfully, and seized my companion. I, who happened to be in the rear, took to flight, pursued by the elephant, which had already killed my companion by striking him against the ground. I had not moved more than seven or eight fathoms, when the elephant seized me, and threw me up with such force, that I was carried high into the air towards a Cahata tree, whose branches caught me and prevented my falling to the ground. By this I received no other injury than the dislocation of one of my wrists. I do not know whether the elephant saw me after he had hurled me away through the air; but certainly he did not come to the tree to which I was then clinging: even if he had come, he couldn't have done me any more harm, as the branch on which I was far beyond the reach of his trunk, and the tree itself too large for him to pull down. The next thing I saw was the elephant returning to the corpse of my companion, which he again threw on the ground, and placing one of his fore feet on it, he tore it with his trunk limb after limb; and dabbled in the blood that flowed from the shapeless mass of flesh which he was still holding under his foot."

3. "In 1847 or '46," said another informant, "I was a superintendent of a coco-nut estate belonging to Mr. Armitage, situated about twelve miles from Negombo. A rogue elephant did considerable injury to the estate at that time; and one day, hearing that it was then on the plantation, a Mr. Lindsay, an Englishman, who was proprietor of the adjoining property, and myself, accompanied by some seven or eight people of the neighbouring village, went out, carrying with us six rifles loaded and primed. We continued to walk along a path which, near one of its turns, had some bushes on one side. We had calculated to come up with the brute where it had been seen half an hour before; but no sooner had one of our men, who was walking foremost, seen the animal at the distance of some fifteen or twenty fathoms, than he exclaimed, 'There! there!' and immediately took to his heels, and we all [pg 140] followed his example. The elephant did not see us until we had run some fifteen or twenty paces from the spot where we turned, when he gave us chase, screaming frightfully as he came on. The Englishman managed to climb a tree, and the rest of my companions did the same; as for myself I could not, although I made one or two superhuman efforts. But there was no time to be lost. The elephant was running at me with his trunk bent down in a curve towards the ground. At this critical moment Mr. Lindsay held out his foot to me, with the help of which and then of the branches of the tree, which were three or four feet above my head, I managed to scramble up to a branch. The elephant came directly to the tree and attempted to force it down, which he could not. He first coiled his trunk round the stem, and pulled it with all his might, but with no effect. He then applied his head to the tree, and pushed for several minutes, but with no better success. He then trampled with his feet all the projecting roots, moving, as he did so, several times round and round the tree. Lastly, failing in all this, and seeing a pile of timber, which I had lately cut, at a short distance from us, he removed it all (thirty-six pieces) one at a time to the root of the tree, and piled them up in a regular business-like manner; then placing his hind feet on this pile, he raised the fore part of his body, and reached out his trunk, but still he could not touch us, as we were too far above him. The Englishman then fired, and the ball took effect somewhere on the elephant's head, but did not kill him. It made him only the more furious. The next shot, however, levelled him to the ground. I afterwards brought the skull of the animal to Colombo, and it is still to be seen at the house of Mr. Armitage."

4. "One night a herd of elephants entered a village in the Four Corles. After doing considerable injury to plaintain bushes and young coco-nut trees, they retired, the villagers being unable to do anything to protect their fruit trees from destruction. But one elephant was left behind, who continued to scream the whole night through at the same spot. It was [pg 141] then discovered that the elephant, on seeing a jak fruit on a tree somewhat beyond the reach of his trunk, had raised himself on his hind legs, placing his fore feet against the stem, in order to lay hold of the fruit, but unluckily for him there happened to be another tree standing so close to it that the vacant space between the two stems was only a few inches. During his attempts to take hold of the fruit one of his legs happened to get in between the two trees, where, on account of his weight and his clumsy attempts to extricate himself, it got so firmly wedged that he could not remove it, and in this awkward position he remained for some days, till he died on the spot."


After writing the above, I was permitted by the late Dr. HARRISON, of Dublin, to see some accurate drawings of the brain of an elephant, which he had the opportunity of dissecting in 1847; and on looking to that of the base, I have found a remarkable verification of the information which I collected in Ceylon.

The small figure A is the ganglion of the fifth nerve, showing the small motor and large sensitive portion.

Brain of an elephant

The olfactory lobes, from which the olfactory nerves proceed, are large, whilst the optic and muscular nerves of the orbit are singularly small for so vast an animal; and one is immediately struck by the prodigious size of the fifth nerve, which supplies the proboscis with its exquisite sensibility, as well as by the great size of the motor portion of the seventh, which supplies the same organ with its power of movement and action.


Menageries, &c., "The Elephant," p. 27.


Major ROGERS. An account of this singular adventure will be found in the Ceylon Miscellany for 1842, vol. i. p. 221.


Menageries, &c., "The Elephant," ch. iii. p. 68.


ARISTOTLE, De Anim., lib. iv. c. 9. "[Greek: homoion salpingi]." See also PLINY, lib. x. ch. cxiii. A manuscript in the British Museum, containing the romance of "Alexander" which is probably of the fifteenth century, is interspersed with drawings illustrative of the strange animals of the East. Amongst them are two elephants, whose trunks are literally in form of trumpets with expanded mouths. See WRIGHT'S Archæological Album, p. 176.


PALLEGOIX, in his Description du Royaume Thai ou Siam, adverts to a sound produced by the elephant when weary: "quand il est fatigué, il frappe la terre avec sa trompe, et en tire un son semblable à celui du cor."—Tom. i. p. 151.


For an explanation of the term "rogue" as applied to an elephant, see p. 115.


Natural History of Animals. By Sir JOHN HILL, M.D. London, 1748-52, p. 565. A probable source of these false estimates is mentioned by a writer in the Indian Sporting Review for Oct. 1857. "Elephants were measured formerly, and even now, by natives, as to their height, by throwing a rope over them, the ends brought to the ground on each side, and half the length taken as the true height. Hence the origin of elephants fifteen and sixteen feet high. A rod held at right angles to the measuring rod, and parallel to the ground, will rarely give more than ten feet, the majority being under nine."—P. 159.


SHAW'S Zoology. Lond. 1806. vol. i. p. 216; ARMANDI, Hist. Milit. des Eléphans, liv. i. ch. i. p. 2.


WOLF'S Life and Adventures, &c., p. 164. Wolf was a native of Mecklenburg, who arrived in Ceylon about 1750, as chaplain in one of the Dutch East Indiamen, and having been taken into the government employment, he served for twenty years at Jaffna, first as Secretary to the Governor, and afterwards in an office the duties of which he describes to be the examination and signature of the "writings which served to commence a suit in any of the Courts of justice." His book embodies a truthful and generally accurate account of the northern portion of the island, with which alone he was conversant, and his narrative gives a curious insight into the policy of the Dutch Government, and of the condition of the natives under their dominion.


DENHAM'S Travels, &c., 4to p. 220. The fossil remains of the Indian elephant have been discovered at Jabalpur, showing a height of fifteen feet.—Journ. Asiat. Soc. Beng. vi. Professor ANSTED in his Ancient World, p. 197, says he was informed by Dr. Falconer "that out of eleven hundred elephants from which the tallest were selected and measured with care, on one occasion in India, there was not one whose height equalled eleven feet."


Vulgar Errors, book iii. chap. 1.


Machlis (said to be derived from a, priv., and [Greek: klinô], cubo, quod non cubat). "Moreover in the island of Scandinavia there is a beast called Machlis, that hath neither ioynt in the hough, nor pasternes in his hind legs, and therefore he never lieth down, but sleepeth leaning to a tree, wherefore the hunters that lie in wait for these beasts cut downe the trees while they are asleepe, and so take them; otherwise they should never be taken, they are so swift of foot that it is wonderful."—PLINY, Natur. Hist. Transl. Philemon Holland, book viii. ch. xv. p. 200.


"Sunt item quæ appellantur Alces. Harum est consimilis capreis figura, et varietas pellium; sed magnitudine paulo antecedunt, mutilæque sunt cornibus, et crura sine nodis articulisque habent; neque quietis causa procumbunt; neque, si quo afflictæ casu considerunt, erigere sese aut sublevare possunt. His sunt arbores pro cubilibus; ad eas sese applicant, atque ita, paulum modo reclinatæ, quietem capiunt, quarum ex vestigiis cum est animadversum a venatoribus, quo se recipere consueverint, omnes eo loco, aut a radicibus subruunt aut accidunt arbores tantum, ut summa species earum stantium relinquatur. Huc cum se consuetudine reclinaverint, infirmas arbores pondere affligunt, atque una ipsæ concidunt."—CÆSAR, De Bello Gall. lib. vi. ch. xxvii.

The same fiction was extended by the early Arabian travellers to the rhinoceros, and in the MS. of the voyages of the "Two Mahometans" it is stated that the rhinoceros of Sumatra "n'a point d'articulation au genou ni à la main."—Relations des Voyages, &c., Paris, 1845, vol. i. p. 29.


When an animal moves progressively an hypothenuse is produced, which is equal in power to the magnitude that is quiescent, and to that which is intermediate. But since the members are equal, it is necessary that the member which is quiescent should be inflected either in the knee or in the incurvation, if the animal that walks is without knees. It is possible, however, for the leg to be moved, when not inflected, in the same manner as infants creep; and there is an ancient report of this kind about elephants, which is not true, for such animals as these, are moved in consequence of an inflection taking place either in their shoulders or hips."—ARISTOTLE, De Ingressu Anim., ch. ix. Taylor's Transl.


ARISTOTLE, De Animal., lib. ii. ch. i. It is curious that Taylor, in his translation of this passage, was so strongly imbued with the "grey-headed errour," that in order to elucidate the somewhat obscure meaning of Aristotle, he has actually interpolated the text with the exploded fallacy of Ctesias, and after the word reclining to sleep, has inserted the words "leaning against some wall or tree," which are not to be found in the original.


[Greek: "Zpson de anarthron sunienai kai rhuthmou kai melous, kai phylattein schêma physeôs dôra tauta hama kai idiotês kath' ekaston ekplêktikê]."—ÆLIAN, De Nat. Anim., lib. ii. cap. xi.


Eginhard, Vita Karoli, c. xvi. and Annales Francorum, A.D. 810.


"Sed idem Julius, unum de elephantibus mentions, falso loquitur; dicens elephantem nunquam jacere; dum ille sicut bos certissime jacet, ut populi communiter regni Francorum elephantem, in tempore Imperatoris Karoli viderunt. Sed, forsitan, ideo hoc de elephante ficte æstimando scriptum est, eo quod genua et suffragines sui nisi quando jacet, non palam apparent."—DICUILUS, De Mensura Orbis Terræ, c. vii.


Cotton MSS. NERO. D. 1. fol. 168, b.


Arundel MSS. No. 292, fol. 4, &c. It has been printed in the Reliquiæ Antiquæ, vol. i. p. 208, by Mr. WRIGHT, to whom I am indebted for the following rendering of the passage referred to:—

in water ge sal stonden

in water to mid side

that wanne hire harde tide

that ge ne falle nither nogt

that it most in hire thogt

for he ne haven no lith

that he mugen risen with, etc.

"They will stand in the water,

in water up to the middle of the side,

that when it comes to them hard,

they may not fall down:

that is most in their thought,

for they have no joint

to enable them to rise again.

How he resteth him this animal,

when he walketh abroad,

hearken how it is here told.

For he is all unwieldy,

forsooth he seeks out a tree,

that it strong and stedfast,

and leans confidently against it,

when he is weary of walking.

The hunter has observed this,

who seeks to ensnare him,

where his usual dwelling is,

to do his will;

saws this tree and props it

in the manner that he best may,

covers it well that he (the elephant) may not be on his guard.

Then he makes thereby a seat,

himself sits alone and watches

whether his trap takes effect.

Then cometh this unwieldy elephant,

and leans him on his side,

rests against the tree in the shadow,

and so both fall together.

If nobody be by when he falls,

he roars ruefully and calls for help,

roars ruefully in his manner,

hopes he shall through help rise.

Then cometh there one (elephant) in haste,

hopes he shall cause him to stand up;

labours and tries all his might,

but he cannot succeed a bit.

He knows then no other remedy,

but roars with his brother,

many and large (elephants) come there in search,

thinking to make him get up,

but for the help of them all

he may not get up.

Then they all roar one roar,

like the blast of a horn or the sound of bell,

for their great roaring

a young one cometh running,

stoops immediately to him,

puts his snout under him,

and asks the help of them all;

this elephant they raise on his legs:

and thus fails this hunter's trick,

in the manner that I have told you."


One of the most venerable authorities by whom the fallacy was transmitted to modern times was PHILIP de THAUN, who wrote, about the year 1121, A.D., his Livre des Créatures, dedicated to Adelaide of Louvaine, Queen of Henry I. of England. In the copy of it printed by the Historical Society of Science in 1841, and edited by Mr. WRIGHT, the following passage occurs:—

"Et Ysidre nus dit ki le elefant descrit,

Es jambes par nature nen ad que une jointure,

Il ne pot pas gesir quant il se volt dormir,

Ke si cuchet estait par sei nen leveraît;

Pur ceo li stot apuier, el lui del cucher,

U à arbre u à mur, idunc dort aseur.

E le gent de la terre, ki li volent conquere,

Li mur enfunderunt, u le arbre encíserunt;

Quant li elefant vendrat, ki s'i apuierat,

La arbre u le mur carrat, e il tribucherat;

Issi faiterement le parnent cele gent."

P. 100.


Troilus and Cressida, act ii. sc. 3. A.D. 1609.


Progress of the Soul, A.D. 1633.


Sir T. BROWNE, Vulgar Errors, A.D. 1646.


RANDAL HOME'S Academy of Armory, A.D. 1671. HOME only perpetuated the error of GUILLAM, who wrote his Display of Heraldry in A.D. 1610; wherein he explains that the elephant is "so proud of his strength that he never bows himself to any (neither indeed can he), and when he is once down he cannot rise up again."—Sec. III. ch. xii. p. 147.


THOMSON'S Seasons, A.D. 1728.


So little is the elephant inclined to lie down in captivity, and even after hard labour, that the keepers are generally disposed to suspect illness when he betakes himself to this posture. PHILE, in his poem De Animalium Proprietate, attributes the propensity of the elephant to sleep on his legs, to the difficulty he experiences in rising to his feet:

[Greek: 'Orthostadên de kai katheudei panychos

'HOt ouk anastêsai men eucherôs pelei.]

But this is a misapprehension.


Menageries, &c. "The elephant," ch. i.

Sir CHARLES BELL, in his essay on The Hand and its Mechanism, which forms one of the "Bridgewater Treatises," has exhibited the reasons deducible from organisation, which show the incapacity of the elephant to spring or leap like the horse and other animals whose structure is designed to facilitate agility and speed. In them the various bones of the shoulder and fore limbs, especially the clavicle and humerus, are set at such an angle, that the shock in descending is modified, and the joints and sockets protected from the injury occasioned by concussion. But in the elephant, where the weight of the body is immense, the bones of the leg, in order to present solidify and strength to sustain it, are built in one firm and perpendicular column; instead of being placed somewhat obliquely at their points of contact. Thus whilst the force of the weight in descending is broken and distributed by this arrangement in the case of the horse; it would be so concentrated in the elephant as to endanger every joint from the toe to the shoulder.


Menageries, &c., "The Elephant," ch. ii.


Dr. HOOKER, in describing the ascent of the Himalayas, says, the natives in making their paths despise all zigzags, and run in straight lines up the steepest hill faces; whilst "the elephant's path is an excellent specimen of engineering—the opposite of the native track,—for it winds judiciously."—Himalayan Journal, vol. i. ch. iv.


Since the above passage was written, I have seen in the Journal of the Asiatic Society of Bengal, vol. xiii, pt. ii. p. 916, a paper upon this subject, illustrated by the subjoined diagram.

The writer says, "an elephant descending a bank of too acute an angle to admit of his walking down it direct, (which, were he to attempt, his huge tody, soon disarranging the centre of gravity, would certainly topple over,) proceeds thus. His first manoeuvre is to kneel down close to the edge of the declivity, placing his chest to the ground: one fore-leg is then cautiously passed a short way down the slope; and if there is no natural protection to afford a firm footing, he speedily forms one by stamping into the soil if moist, or kicking out a footing if dry. This point gained, the other fore-leg is brought down in the same way; and performs the same work, a little in advance of the first; which is thus at liberty to move lower still. Then, first one and then the second of the hind legs is carefully drawn over the side, and the hind-feet in turn occupy the resting-places previously used and left by the fore ones. The course, however, in such precipitous ground is not straight from top to bottom, but slopes along the face of the bank, descending till the animal gains the level below. This an elephant has done, at an angle of 45 degrees, carrying a howdah, its occupant, his attendant, and sporting apparatus; and in a much less time than it takes to describe the operation." I have observed that an elephant in descending a declivity uses his knees, on the side next the bank; and his feet on the lower side only.


A correspondent of Buffon, M. MARCELLUS BLES, Seigneur de Moergestal, who resided eleven years in Ceylon in the time of the Dutch, says in one of his communications, that in herds of forty or fifty, enclosed in a single corral, there were frequently very young calves; and that "on ne pouvoit pas reconnaître quelles étoient les mères de chacun de ces petits éléphans, car tous ces jeunes animaux paroissent faire manse commune; ils têtent indistinctement celles des femelles de toute la troupe qui ont du lait, soit qu'elles aient elles-mêmes un petit en propre, soit qu'elles n'en aient point."—BUFFON, Suppl. à l'Hist. des Anim., vol. vi. p. 25.


WHITE, in his Natural History of Selborne, philosophising on the fact which had fallen under his own notice of this indiscriminate suckling of the young of one animal by the parent of another, is disposed to ascribe it to a selfish feeling; the pleasure and relief of having its distended teats drawn by this intervention. He notices the circumstance of a leveret having been thus nursed by a cat, whose kittens had been recently drowned: and observes, that "this strange affection was probably occasioned by that desiderium, those tender maternal feelings, which the loss of her kittens had awakened in her breast; and by the complacency and ease she derived to herself from procuring her teats to be drawn, which were too much distended with milk; till from habit she became as much delighted with this foundling as if it had been her real offspring. This incident is no bad solution of that strange circumstance which grave historians, as well as the poets, assert of exposed children being sometimes nurtured by female wild beasts that probably had lost their young. For it is not one whit more marvellous that Romulus and Remus in their infant state should be nursed by a she wolf than that a poor little suckling leveret should be fostered and cherished by a bloody Grimalkin."—WHITE'S Selborne, lett. xx.


The term "rogue" is scarcely sufficiently accounted for by supposing it to be the English equivalent for the Singhalese word Hora. In that very curious book, the Life and Adventures of JOHN CHRISTOPHER WOLF, late principal Secretary at Jaffnapatam in Ceylon, the author says, when a male elephant in a quarrel about the females "is beat out of the field and obliged to go without a consort, he becomes furious and mad, killing every living creature, be it man or beast: and in this state is called ronkedor, an object of greater terror to a traveller than a hundred wild ones."—P. 142. In another passage, p. 164, he is called runkedor, and I have seen it spelt elsewhere ronquedue, WOLF does not give "ronkedor" as a term peculiar to that section of the island; but both there and elsewhere, it is obsolete at the present day, unless it be open to conjecture that the modern term "rogue" is a modification of ronquedue.


BUCHANAN, in his Survey of Bhagulpore, p. 503, says that solitary males of the wild buffalo, "when driven from the herd by stronger competitors for female society, are reckoned very dangerous to meet with; for they are apt to wreak their vengeance on whatever they meet, and are said to kill annually three or four people." LIVINGSTONE relates the same of the solitary hippopotamus which becomes soured in temper, and wantonly attacks the passing canoes.—Travels in South Africa, p. 231.


Letter from Major SKINNER.


This peculiarity was known in the middle ages, and PHILE, writing in the fourteenth century, says, that such is his preference, for muddy water that the elephant stirs it before he drinks.


"Ydor de pineisynchythen prin anpinoi

To gar dieides akribos diaptuei."]

—PHILE de Eleph., i. 144.


A tame elephant, when taken by his keepers to be bathed, and to have his skin washed and rubbed, lies down on his side, pressing his head to the bottom under water, with only the top of his trunk protruded, to breathe.


BRODERIP'S Zoological Recreations, p. 259.


For observing the osteology of the elephant, materials are of course abundant in the indestructible remains of the animal: but the study of the intestines, and the dissection of the softer parts by comparative anatomists in Europe, have been up to the present time beset by difficulties. These arise not alone from the rarity of subjects, but even in cases where elephants have died in these countries, decomposition interposes, and before the thorough examination of so vast a body can be satisfactorily completed, the great mass falls into putrefaction.

The principal English authorities are An Anatomical Account of the Elephant accidentally burnt in Dublin, by A. MOLYNEUX, A.D. 1696; which is probably a reprint of a letter on the same subject in the library of Trinity College, Dublin, addressed by A. Moulin, to Sir William Petty, Lond. 1682. There are also some papers communicated to Sir Hans Sloane, and afterwards published in the Philosophical Transactions of the year 1710, by Dr. P. BLAIR, who had an opportunity of dissecting an elephant which died at Dundee in 1708. The latter writer observes that, "notwithstanding the vast interest attaching to the elephant in all ages, yet has its body been hitherto very little subjected to anatomical, inquiries;" and he laments that the rapid decomposition of the carcase, and other causes, had interposed obstacles to the scrutiny of the subject he was so fortunate as to find access to.

In 1723 Dr. WM. STUCKLEY published Some Anatomical Observations made upon the Dissection of an Elephant; but each of the above essays is necessarily unsatisfactory, and little has since been done to supply their defects. One of the latest and most valuable contributions to the subjects, is a paper read before the Royal Irish Academy, on the 18th of Feb., 1847, by Professor HARRISON, who had the opportunity of dissecting an Indian elephant which died of acute fever; but the examination, so far as he has made it public, extends only to the cranium, the brain, and the proboscis, the larynx, trachea, and oesophagus. An essential service would be rendered to science if some sportsman in Ceylon, or some of the officers connected with the elephant establishment there, would take the trouble to forward the carcase of a young one to England in a state fit for dissection.

Postscriptum.—I am happy to say that a young elephant, carefully preserved in spirits, has recently been obtained in Ceylon, and forwarded to Prof. Owen, of the British Museum, by the joint exertions of M. DIARD and Major SKINNER. An opportunity has thus been afforded from which science will reap advantage, of devoting a patient attention to the internal structure of this interesting animal.


The passage as quoted by BUFFON from the Mémoires is as follows:

—"L'estomac avoit peu de diamètre; il en avoit moins que le colon, car son diamètre n'étoit que de quatorze pouces dans la partie la plus large; il avoit trois pieds et demi de longueur: l'orifice supérieur étoit à-peu-près aussi éloigné du pylore que du fond du grand cul-de-sac qui se terminoit en une pointe composée de tuniques beaucoup plus épaisses que celles du reste de l'estomac; il y avoit au fond du grand cul-de-sac plusieurs feuillets épais d'une ligne, larges d'un pouce et demi, et disposés irrégulierement; le reste de parois intérieures étoit percé de plusieurs petits trous et par de plus grands qui correspondoîent à des grains glanduleux."—BUFFON, Hist. Nat., vol. xi. p. 109.


"L'extrémité voisine du cardia se termine par une poche très-considérable et doublée à l'intérieure du quatorze valvules orbiculaires que semblent en faire une espèce de division particulière."—CAMPER, Description Anatomique d'un Eléphant Mâle, p. 37, tabl. IX.


"The elephant has another peculiarity in the internal structure of the stomach. It is longer and narrower than that of most animals. The cuticular membrane of the oesophagus terminates at the orifice of the stomach. At the cardiac end, which is very narrow and pointed at the extremity, the lining is thick and glandular, and is thrown into transverse folds, of which five are broad and nine narrow. That nearest the orifice of the æsophagus is the broadest, and appears to act occasionally as a valve, so that the part beyond may be considered as an appendage similar to that of the peccary and the hog. The membrane of the cardiac portion is uniformly smooth; that of the pyloric is thicker and more vascular."—Lectures on Comparative Anatomy, by Sir EVERARD HOME, Bart. 4to. Lond. vol. i. p. 155. The figure of the elephant's stomach is given, in his Lectures, vol. ii. plate xviii.


A similar arrangement, with some modifications, has more recently been found in the llama of the Andes, which, like the camel, is used as a beast of burden in the Cordilleras of Chili and Peru; but both these and the camel are ruminants, whilst the elephants belongs to the Pachydermata.


Proceed. Roy. Irish Acad., vol. iv. p. 133.


In the account of an elephant corral, chap. vi.


Ayeen Akbery, transl. by GLADWIN, vol i. pt. i, p. 147.


One of the Indian names for the elephant is duipa, which signifies "to drink twice" (AMANDI, p. 513). Can this have reference to the peculiarity of the stomach for retaining a supply of water? Or has it merely reference to the habit of the animal to fill his trunk before transferring the water to his mouth.


The buffalo and the humped cattle of India, which are used for draught and burden, have, I believe, a development of the organisation of the reticulum which enables the ruminants generally, to endure thirst, and abstain from water, somewhat more conspicuous than in the rest of their congeners; but nothing that approaches in singularity of character to the distinct cavities in the stomach exhibited by the three animals above alluded to.


"One of the strongest instincts which the elephant possesses, is this which impels him to experiment upon the solidity of every surface which he is required to cross."—Menageries, &c. "The Elephant," vol. i. pp. 17, 19, 66.


WOLF'S Life and Adventures, p. 151. See p. 115, note.


Private Letter from Dr. DAVY, author of An Account of the Interior of Ceylon.


The Colombo Observer for March 1858, contains an offer of a reward of twenty-five guineas for the destruction of an elephant which infested the Rajawallé coffee plantation, in the vicinity of Kandy. Its object seemed to be less the search for food, than the satisfying of its curiosity and the gratification of its passion for mischief. Mr. TYTLER, the proprietor, states that it frequented the jungle near the estate, whence it was its custom to sally forth at night for the pleasure of pulling down buildings and trees, "and it seemed to have taken a spite at the pipes of the water-works, the pillars of which it several times broke down—its latest fancy being to wrench off the taps." This elephant has since been shot.


CUVIER, Règne Animal. "Les Mammiferes," p. 280.


The elephant is believed by the Singhalese to express his uneasiness by his voice, on the approach of rain; and the Tamils have a proverb.—"Listen to the elephant, rain is coming."


Yokes borne on the shoulder, with a package at each end.


The tutelary spirit of the sacred mountain, Adam's Peak.


The Singhalese hold the belief, that twigs taken from one bush and placed on another growing close to a pathway, ensure protection to travellers from the attacks of wild animals, and especially of elephants. Can it be that the latter avoid the path, on discovering this evidence of the proximity of recent passengers?


A rogue elephant.


Woman's robe.


The figured cloth worn by men.

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