Tennent's Natural History of Ceylon - 1861

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The Captives.

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

Nine only had been as yet entrapped 1 , of which [pg 181] three were very large, and two were little creatures but a few months old. One of the large ones was a "rogue" and being unassociated with the rest of the herd, he was not admitted to their circle, although permitted to stand near them.

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

At length, the bars which secured the entrance to the corral were cautiously withdrawn, and two trained elephants passed stealthily in, each ridden by its mahout (or ponnekella, as the keeper is termed in Ceylon), and one attendant; and, carrying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

On this occasion ten tame elephants were in attendance; two were the property of an adjoining temple [pg 182] (one of which had been caught but the year before, yet it was now ready to assist in capturing others), four belonged to the neighbouring chiefs, and the rest, including the two which first entered the corral, were part of the Government stud. Of the latter, one was of prodigious age, having been in the service of the Dutch and English Governments in succession for upwards of a century. 2 The other, called by her keeper "Siribeddi," was about fifty years old, and distinguished for gentleness and docility. She was a most accomplished decoy, and evinced the utmost relish for the sport. Having entered the corral noiselessly, carrying a mahout on her shoulders with the headman of the noosers seated behind him, she moved slowly along with a sly composure and an assumed air of easy indifference; sauntering leisurely in the direction of the captives, and halting now and then to pluck a bunch of grass or a few leaves as she passed. As she approached the herd, they put themselves in motion to meet her, and the leader, having advanced in front and passed his trunk gently over her head, turned and paced slowly back to his dejected companions. Siribeddi followed with the same listless step, and drew herself up close behind him, thus affording the nooser an opportunity to stoop under her and slip the noose over the hind foot of the wild one. The latter instantly perceived his danger, shook off the rope, and turned to attack the man. He would have suffered for his temerity had not Siribeddi protected him by raising her trunk and driving the assailant into the midst of the herd, when the old man, being slightly [pg 183] wounded, was helped out of the corral, and his son, Ranghanie, took his place.

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

In order to tie him to a tree he had to be drawn backwards some twenty or thirty yards, making furious resistance, bellowing in terror, plunging on all sides, and crushing the smaller timber, which bent like reeds beneath his clumsy struggles. Siribeddi drew him steadily after her, and wound the rope round the proper tree, holding it all the time at its full tension, and stepping cautiously across it when, in order to give it a second turn, it was necessary to pass between the tree and the elephant. With a coil round the stem, however, it was beyond her strength to haul the prisoner close up, which was, nevertheless, necessary in order to make him perfectly fast; but the second tame one, perceiving the difficulty, returned from the herd, confronted the struggling prisoner, pushed him shoulder to shoulder, and head to head, forcing him backwards, whilst at [pg 184] every step Siribeddi hauled in the slackened rope till she brought him fairly up to the foot of the tree, where he was made fast by the cooroowe people. A second noose was then passed over the other hind-leg, and secured like the first, both legs being afterwards hobbled together by ropes made from the fibre of the kitool or jaggery palm, which, being more flexible than that of the coco-nut, occasions less formidable ulcerations. The two decoys then ranged themselves, as before, abreast of the prisoner on either side, thus enabling Ranghanie to stoop under them and noose the two fore-feet as he had already done the hind; and these ropes being made fast to a tree in front, the capture was complete, and the tame elephants and keepers withdrew to repeat the operation on another of the herd.

[pg 185]

As long as the tame ones stood beside him the poor animal remained comparatively calm and almost passive under his distress, but the moment they moved off, and he was left utterly alone, he made the most surprising efforts to set himself free and rejoin his companions. He felt the ropes with his trunk and tried to untie the numerous knots; he drew backwards to liberate his fore-legs, then leaned forward to extricate the hind ones, till every branch of the tall tree vibrated with his struggles. He screamed in anguish, with his proboscis raised high in the air, then falling on his side he laid his head to the ground, first his cheek and then his brow, and pressed down his doubled-in trunk as though he would force it into the earth; then suddenly rising he balanced himself on his forehead and forelegs, holding his hind-feet fairly off the ground. This scene of distress continued some hours, with occasional pauses of apparent stupor, after which the struggle was from time to time renewed convulsively, and as if by [pg 186] some sudden impulse; but at last the vain strife subsided, and the poor animal remained perfectly motionless, the image of exhaustion and despair.

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

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

There was a strange combination of the sublime and the ridiculous in these abortive onsets; the appearance of prodigious power in their ponderous limbs, coupled with the almost ludicrous shuffle of their clumsy gait, and the fury of their apparently resistless charge, converted in an instant into timid retreat. They rushed madly down the enclosure, their backs arched, their tails extended, their ears spread, and their trunks raised high above their heads, trumpeting and uttering shrill screams, yet when one step further would have dashed the opposing fence into fragments, they stopped short on a few white rods being pointed at them through the paling 3 ; and, on catching the derisive shouts of the

[pg 187]

crowd, they turned in utter discomfiture, and after an objectless circle or two through the corral, they paced slowly back to their melancholy halting place in the shade.

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

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

It is strange that in these encounters the wild elephants [pg 188] made no attempt to attack or dislodge the mahouts or the cooroowes, who rode on the tame ones. They moved in the very midst of the herd, any individual in which could in a moment have pulled the riders from their seats; but no effort was made to molest them. 4

As one after another their leaders wore entrapped and forced away from them, the remainder of the group [pg 189] evinced increased emotion and excitement; but whatever may have been their sympathy for their lost companions, their alarm seemed to prevent them at first from following them to the trees to which they had been tied. In passing them afterwards they sometimes stopped, mutually entwined their trunks, lapped them round each other's limbs and neck, and exhibited the most touching distress at their detention, but made no attempt to disturb the cords that bound them.

The variety of disposition in the herd as evidenced by difference of demeanour was very remarkable: some submitted with comparatively little resistance; whilst others in their fury dashed themselves on the ground with a force sufficient to destroy any weaker [pg 190] animal. They vented their rage upon every tree and plant within reach; if small enough to be torn down, they levelled them with their trunks, and stripping them of their leaves and branches, they tossed them wildly over their heads on all sides. Some in their struggles made no sound, whilst others bellowed and trumpeted furiously, then uttered short convulsive screams, and at last, exhausted and hopeless, gave vent to their anguish in low and piteous moanings. Some, after a few violent efforts of this kind, lay motionless on the ground, with no other indication of suffering than the tears which suffused their eyes and flowed incessantly. Others in all the vigour of their rage exhibited the most surprising contortions; and to us who had been accustomed to associate with the unwieldy bulk of the elephant the idea that he must of necessity be stiff and inflexible, the attitudes into which they forced themselves were almost incredible. I saw one lie with the cheek pressed to the earth, and the fore-legs stretched in front, whilst the body was twisted round till the hind-legs extended in the opposite direction.

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

They displayed an amount of sensitiveness and delicacy of touch in the foot, which was very remarkable [pg 191] in a limb of such clumsy dimensions and protected by so thick a covering. The noosers could always force them to lift it from the ground by the gentlest touch of a leaf or twig, apparently applied so as to tickle; but the imposition of the rope was instantaneously perceived, and if it could not be reached by the trunk the other foot was applied to feel its position, and if possible remove it before the noose could be drawn tight.

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

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

[pg 192]

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

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

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

One of the decoys which rendered good service, and was obviously held in special awe by the wild herd, was a tusker belonging to Dehigame Rata-mahatmeya. It was not that he used his tusks for purposes of offence, but he was enabled to insinuate himself between two elephants by wedging them in where he could not force his head; besides which they assisted him in raising up the fallen and refractory with greater ease. In some [pg 194] instances where the intervention of the other decoys failed to reduce a wild one to order, the mere presence and approach of the tusker seemed to inspire fear, and insure submission, without more active intervention.

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

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

[pg 195]

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

These two little creatures were the most vociferous of the whole herd, their shouts were incessant, they struggled to attack every one within reach; and as their bodies were more lithe and pliant than those of greater growth, their contortions were quite wonderful. The most amusing thing was, that in the midst of all their [pg 196] agony and affliction, the little fellows seized on every article of food that was thrown to them, and ate and roared simultaneously.

Amongst the last of the elephants noosed was the rogue. Though far more savage than the others, he joined in none of their charges and assaults on the fences, as they uniformly drove him off and would not permit him to enter their circle. When dragged past another of his companions in misfortune, who was lying exhausted on the ground, he flew upon him and attempted to fasten his teeth in his head; this was the only instance of viciousness which occurred during the progress of the corral. When tied up and overpowered, he was at first noisy and violent, but soon lay down peacefully, a sign, according to the hunters, that his death was at hand. Their prognostication was correct; he continued for about twelve hours to cover himself with dust like the others, and to moisten it with water from his trunk; but at length he lay exhausted, and died so calmly, that having been moving but a few moment before, his death was only perceived by the myriads of black flies by which his body was almost instantly covered, although not one was visible a moment before. 5 The Rodiyas were called [pg 197] in to loose the ropes that bound him, from the tree, and two tame elephants being harnessed to the dead body, it was dragged to a distance without the corral.

When every wild elephant had been noosed and tied up, the scene presented was truly oriental. From one to two thousand natives, many of them in gaudy dresses and armed with spears, crowded about the enclosures. Their [pg 198] families had collected to see the spectacle; women, whose children clung like little bronzed Cupids by their sides; and girls, many of them in the graceful costume of that part of the country,—a scarf, which, after having been brought round the waist, is thrown over the left shoulder, leaving the right arm and side free and uncovered.

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

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

On the whole, whilst the sagacity, the composure, and docility of the decoys were such as to excite lively astonishment, it was not possible to withhold the highest admiration from the calm and dignified demeanour of the captives. Their entire bearing was at variance with [pg 199] the representation made by some of the "sportsmen" who harass them, that they are treacherous, savage, and revengeful; when tormented by the guns of their persecutors, they, no doubt, display their powers and sagacity in efforts to retaliate or escape; but here their every movement was indicative of innocence and timidity. After a struggle, in which they evinced no disposition to violence or revenge, they submitted with the calmness of despair. Their attitudes were pitiable, their grief was most touching, and their low moaning went to the heart. We could not have borne to witness their distress had their capture been effected by the needless infliction of pain, or had they been destined to ill-treatment afterwards.

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

All preliminaries being at length completed, the signal was given; the beaters on the side most distant from the corral closed in with tom-toms and discordant noises; a hedge-fire of musketry was kept up in the [pg 200] rear of the terrified elephants; thousands of voices urged them forward; we heard the jungle crashing as they came on, and at last they advanced through an opening amongst the trees, bearing down all before them like a charge of locomotives. They were led by a huge female, nearly nine feet high, after whom one half of the herd dashed precipitately through the narrow entrance, but the rest turning suddenly towards the left, succeeded in forcing the cordon of guards and making good their escape to the forest.

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

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

[pg 201]

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

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

It was evening before the new captives had grown wearied with their furious and repeated charges, and stood still in the centre of the corral collected into a terrified and motionless group. The fires were then relighted, the guard redoubled by the addition of the watchers, [pg 202] who were now relieved from duty in the forest, and the spectators retired to their bungalows for the night.

The business of the third day began by noosing and tying up the new captives, and the first sought out was their magnificent leader. Siribeddi and the tame tusker having forced themselves on either side of her, a boy in the service of the Rata-Mahatmeya succeeded in attaching a rope to her hind-foot. Siribeddi moved off, but feeling her strength insufficient to drag the reluctant prize, she went down on her fore-knees, so as to add the full weight of her body to the pull. The tusker, seeing her difficulty, placed himself in front of the prisoner, and forced her backwards, step by step, till his companion, brought her fairly up to the tree, and wound the rope round the stem. Though overpowered by fear, she showed the fullest sense of the nature of the danger she had to apprehend. She kept her head turned towards the noosers, and tried to step in advance of the decoys; in spite of all their efforts, she tore off the first noose from her fore-leg, and placing it under her foot, snapped it into fathom lengths. When finally secured, her writhings were extraordinary. She doubled in her head under her chest, till she lay as round as a hedgehog, and rising again, stood on her fore-feet, and lifting her hind-feet off the ground, she wrung them from side to side, till the great tree above her quivered in every branch.

Before proceeding to catch the others, we requested that the smaller trees and jungle, which partially obstructed our view, might be broken away, being no longer essential to screen the entrance to the corral; and five of the tame elephants were brought up for the purpose. They felt the strength of each tree with their trunks, [pg 203] then swaying it backwards and forwards, by pushing it with their foreheads, they watched the opportunity when it was in full swing to raise their fore-feet against the stem, and bear it down to the ground. Then tearing off the festoons of climbing plants, and trampling down the smaller branches and brushwood, they pitched them with their tusks, piling them into heaps along the side of the fence.

Amongst the last that was secured was the solitary individual belonging to the fugitive herd. When they attempted to drag him backwards from the tree near which he was noosed, he laid hold of it with his trunk and lay down on his side immoveable. The temple tusker and another were ordered up to assist, and it required the combined efforts of the three elephants to [pg 204] force him along. When dragged to the place at which he was to be tied up, he continued the contest with desperation, and to prevent the second noose being placed on his foot, he sat down on his haunches, almost in the attitude of the "Florentine Boar," keeping his hind-feet beneath him, and defending his fore-feet with his trunk, with which he flung back the rope as often as it was attempted to attach it.

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

The final operation was that of slackening the ropes, and marching each captive down to the river between two tame ones. This was effected very simply. A decoy, with a strong collar round its neck, stood on either side of the wild one, on which a similar collar was formed, by successive coils of coco-nut rope; and [pg 205] then, connecting the three collars together, the prisoner was effectually made safe between his two guards. During this operation, it was curious to see how the tame elephant, from time to time, used its trunk to shield the arm of its rider, and ward off the trunk of the prisoner, who resisted the placing the rope round his neck. This done, the nooses were removed from his feet, and he was marched off to the river, in which he and his companions were allowed to bathe; a privilege of which all availed themselves eagerly. Each was then made fast to a tree in the forest, and keepers being assigned to him, with a retinue of leaf-cutters, he was plentifully supplied with his favourite food, and left to the care and tuition of his new masters.

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

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


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


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


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


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


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

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