Tennent's Natural History of Ceylon - 1861

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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

[pg 157]

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 them." 2

In Nepaul and Burmah, and throughout the Chin-Indian Peninsula, when in pursuit of single elephants, either rogues detached from the herd, or individuals [pg 158] 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, [pg 159] 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. 3

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 him. 4

[pg 160]

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 [pg 161] 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 completed.

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 [pg 162] 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 [pg 163] 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. 5

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 [pg 164] 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. 6

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 [pg 165] 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 7 (from the [pg 166] 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.

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 [pg 167] 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. 8 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.

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 Ætagalla, the Rock of the Tusker. 9 But Ætagalla 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 [pg 168] 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 Ætagalla and Andagalla shall endure." 10

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 Ætagalla.

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 [pg 169] 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 [pg 170] 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 11 , 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 puswæl bean 12 , the sheath of which measures six feet long by five or six inches broad.

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 [pg 171] 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 elephants.

In selecting the scene for the hunt a position is chosen which lies on some old and frequented route of the animals, [pg 172] 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 [pg 173] 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 submission.

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 [pg 174] 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 [pg 175] 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 drums.

[pg 176]

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 13 , 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.

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 [pg 177] 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 [pg 178] 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 passage. 14

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 [pg 179] 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 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 Cæsar'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 CÆSAR, Act ii. Scene I.


KNOX'S Historical Relation of Ceylon, A.D. 1681, part i. ch. vi. p. 21.


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 foot.


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."


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.


VALENTYN. Oud en Nieuw Oost-Indien, ch. xv. p. 272.


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 cattle.


See SIR J. EMERSON TENNENT'S Ceylon, Vol. I. Pt. III. ch. xii. p. 415.


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.


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.


Pentaptera paniculata.


Entada pursætha.


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 tôn moniôn tên boên tên athroan.]

—PHILE, Expositio de Elephante, 1. 177.


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.

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