Elephant Hunting

I have a book, a huge, heavy tome, called Southern India: Its History, People, Commerce & Industrial Resources, published by The Foreign & Colonial Compiling & Publishing Co., London, in 1916. I’m not sure what it’s for really, but it may have been meant to lure English businessmen to South India: there’s a lot about the industries of South India, pictures of the principal cities, information about the hill plantations, and so on.

Last night I was leafing through it, and came to the Fauna section, which was full of photographs like this one:

1. Tiger shot by G. Hadfield. 2. Shot by J. H. Wapshare,
on June 28, 1891. 3. Record Bison, 46 in.; shot by Gordon Hadfield.
4. Panther (7 ft. 9 in.) shot by Gordon Hadfield.

Here is an excerpt from the Fauna section, describing the hunting of a rogue elephant:
The elephant is generally protected in British territory. Only proclaimed rogues may be shot, but leave may occasionally be obtained to shoot one in Native States or on private land. …

In some localities immunity from pursuit has made them very bold, and they do a considerable amount of damage by devouring the crops of the villagers, and refuse to be frightened away by the shouts of the watchers who are on guard to protect the fields from the ravages of wild beasts. Solitary tuskers are most troublesome in this respect … As a rule the elephant is inoffensive as far as human beings are concerned, but a rogue elephant will frequently terrorize a whole countryside, chasing any one whom it sees and killing any one whom it can catch. There is perhaps no sport which is quite so dangerous as the pursuit of the rogue elephant. His keenness of scent makes it a matter of difficulty to approach him unobserved, while the thickness of the jungle which he usually inhabits gives the sportsman but a poor chance of escape if he should fail to floor him.

The following account of the death of a rogue elephant gives a good idea of the dangers to be overcome: --

"The tracks led us at first through bamboo forest, and then we got into terrible country, which consisted of a series of low hills and deep ravines. The undergrowth of thorns and shrubs was bad enough, but in addition the whole place was chock-full of a sort of reed with long leaves about an inch or so broad. The elephants, had, of course, knocked these down in their passage, so going downhill was one long slide and going up beggars description. To add to the difficulties the thorned cane grew everywhere. The reeds were 8 to 10 ft. high on the lower slopes, and taller still in the ravines. On the tops of the hills the undergrowth was only up to our knees. We twisted and turned in all directions, and several times came to places where the elephants had rested. After passing one of these the scent became red-hot, and a pig suddenly grunting put the Korachas into the 'On your marks, gentlemen,' position. Not long after this, at about noon, we heard the elephants feeding in front, and I and one Koracha crept forward. The elephants were in a deep nullah, hidden among the reeds and cane. The sides were, for a wonder, clear of reeds, but were covered with a mixed tangle of thorn bushes and saplings. From our side the further bank was visible, but only in one place was there a space sufficiently open for us to see even an elephant. We could only get within 30 yards, and at that distance could see the tops of the reeds shake as the elephants fed on them. The wind seemed steady in the right direction. We watched from behind a huge tree trunk, and the Koracha showed me by signs that he thought the elephants would move towards us. A quarter of an hour thus passed; then suddenly one of the elephants trumpeted, and a tremendous crashing in the reeds ensued. The Koracha bolted away to the side of the ravine. One of the elephants went away to the side and the other crossed the open space mentioned above and stood with its head hidden and body perfectly exposed. I had been looking in the wrong direction, so did not notice whether this elephant was the tusker or no. Consequently I did nothing, but the Koracha, pointing frantically and calling as I then imagined (though, needless to say, he knows not a word of English), 'That is the one,' I took careful aim just behind the shoulder and fired. The elephant moved a yard and then stood still again. Thereupon I fired the left barrel and the brute rolled into the ravine. There was a tremendous crashing noise for a few minutes and then all was quiet. After a wait I started to climb down to investigate, but gave up the idea on a frenzied protest from the Koracha. He signed that we should clear out, and as it as only wise to give the elephant time to die, I agreed. We had walked 20 yards parallel with the ravine and a few yards from the top when we heard the elephant following us along the bottom. The reeds appeared to me to be only 4 or 5 ft. high, so I concluded the elephant's death struggles were causing it to move down the slope. Thinking another shot would be advisable, I approached to within a distance of 15 yards, the Koracha protesting, but following all the same. The elephant was moving about, and suddenly its head appeared in the normal position. This surprised me greatly, as I still imagined it to be on its side, as it was till then invisible. I fired at the head and it was withdrawn. In a few minutes the trunk appeared, pointed in our direction, and wagging about like a leech. A trumpet, and the elephant came out of the reeds full speed. I had been absolutely deceived as to the depth of the ravine and the height of the reeds: the latter approached 20 ft. The Koracha was off like a shot, and shouted frantically for me to follow. I knew that escape by running was impossible for me in that tangle of thorns and trees, so stood still and trusted to Providence to be able to stop the brute. It got 5 yards out of the reeds, and was then 8 or 10 yards from me. At that point the bank was not far from perpendicular, and the ground being soft and slippery the elephant was temporarily checked. Taking advantage of this I fired, but it had not the desired effect. I see now that I misjudged the position of the head, and put the bullet into the hard bone at the top. I did not dare try and load my right barrel, but thought my best chance was to wait until the elephant was right on me and then fire in his face and try to escape past him in the confusion. Just as this flashed across my mind the elephant turned a bit to the side and exposed the side of his head. I immediately fired my second cartridge, and to my relief the elephant fell back into the ravine. Apparently the shot had finished him, for he lay like a log for two or three minutes. The Koracha and I commenced mutual congratulations in dumb show, and were carrying on an excited conversation without being able to understand a word the other said, when the elephant returned to life and started to rise. The Koracha disappeared like magic, and I opened a steady fire on the brute’s head. After three ineffectual shots I began to wonder if the orderly was right when he said that the bullets would not penetrate the skin. The elephant recovered rapidly, and if the fourth shot had not floored him I should certainly have retired in confusion. This time the brute fell right back into the reeds and lay completely hidden. The noise of his breathing showed that one of the body shots had pierced his lungs, and I imagine that a solid nickel bullet through the lungs has no immediate effect on a large animal, though it must eventually kill it. I now went back to camp, a distance of 3 or 4 miles, and on returning after having some food, found the elephant stone dead.

The tusks of this elephant measured 5 ft 9 in. and 5 t 11 in. respectively, and weighed 127 lb. the pair."


Sally said...

For your info, the original 1914/15 version of the book you refer to is available on Amazon for £857. I suggest you look after your copy especially if it is the 1914 or 15 edition, rather then the reprint!!

Nancy said...

That's interesting -- I do have the 1914-15 edition. It's in pretty good shape, too, except that the front cover has partly come away from the spine. Thanks for telling me!