Stories of Animal Sagacity by William Henry Giles Kingston



  We have, I think, sufficient evidence to prove that elephants are moresagacious, and possessed of greater reasoning power, than any otheranimals. They seem, indeed, to have many of the feelings of humanbeings. In spite of their size, what activity do they exhibit! whatwonderful judgment! How cautious they are in all their proceedings!How great is their love of regularity and good order! So gentle, too,are many of them, that the youngest infant might be safely entrusted totheir keeping; and yet, if insulted or annoyed by a grown-up person, thesame animal might hurl him to the ground with a blow of his trunk, orcrush him with his ponderous feet. I will tell you a few of thenumerous stories I have heard about these wonderful creatures.


  While the British troops were besieging Bhurtpore in India, the water inthe ponds and tanks in the neighbourhood becoming exhausted, it couldonly be obtained from deep and large wells. In this service elephantswere especially useful.

  One day two of these animals,--one of them large and strong, the othermuch smaller,--came together to a well. The smaller elephant carried byhis trunk a bucket, which the larger, not having one, stole from him.The smaller animal knew that he could not wrest it from the other, buthe eyed him, watching for an opportunity of avenging himself. Thelarger elephant now approached the edge of the well, when the smallerone, rushing forward with all his might, pushed him fairly into thewater.

  Ludicrous as was the scene, the consequences might have been disastrous.Should the huge animal not be got out, the water would be spoiled; atall events, his floundering about would make it very muddy. Theelephant, however, seemed in no way disconcerted, and kept floating athis ease, enjoying the cool liquid, and exhibiting no wish to come outof it. At length a number of fascines used in the siege were brought,and these being lowered into the well, the elephant was induced by hisdriver to place them under his feet. In this way a pile was raisedsufficiently high to enable him to stand upon it. But, being unwillingto leave the water, he after a time would allow no more fascines to belowered; and his driver had to caress him, and promise him plenty ofarrack as a reward, to induce him to raise himself out of the water.Thus incited, the elephant permitted more fascines to be thrown in; andat length, after some masonry was removed from the margin of the well,he was able to step out--the whole operation having occupied fourteenhours.

  You will probably smile at the conduct of the two huge creatures. Itwas curiously like that of human beings. A big boy plays a smaller onea trick--snatches something from him. The other retaliates. An uproaris raised, and often serious inconvenience follows. These two elephantsbehaved just like two ill-tempered boys; and through them a whole armywas doomed to suffer for many hours the pangs of thirst. Remember thegolden rule, "Do unto others as you would that they should do unto you."


  The following anecdote shows the elephant's perception of what is right.

  A large elephant was sent a few years ago to assist in piling up timberat Nagercoil. The officer who despatched it, suspecting the honesty ofthe driver, requested the wife of a missionary, to whose house theanimal was sent, to watch that he received his proper allowance of rice.After some time the lady, suspecting that her charge was beingdefrauded of his rice, intimated her mistrust to the keeper, who,pretending surprise at having such an imputation made against him,exclaimed in his native tongue, "Madam, do you think I would rob mychild?" The elephant, which was standing by, seemed aware of thesubject of the conversation, and kept eyeing the keeper, who had on abulky waist-cloth; and no sooner had he uttered these words than theanimal threw his trunk round him, and untying the waist-cloth, aquantity of rice fell to the ground.


  Some years ago a soldier, stationed at Pondicherry, formed a friendshipwith an elephant, to whom he used to give a portion of his dailyallowance of liquor. One day the soldier, getting tipsy, and beingfollowed by the guard, ran to hide himself behind the elephant, underwhose body he was in a few minutes fast asleep. The guard approached toseize the delinquent, but, though the keeper assisted the soldiers, theelephant would allow no one to come near him, and kept whirling histrunk about in a way which showed that he was determined to protect hischarge at all costs.

  What was the soldier's horror next morning, when, looking up, he foundthe huge animal standing over him! One step of his monstrous feet, andhis life would have been crushed out. If he did not then and thereresolve to abjure intoxicating liquor for the future, he deserved to beless fortunate another time. As he crawled out, the elephant evidentlyperceived the terror he was in, and, to reassure him, caressed himgently with his trunk, and signified that he might go to his quarters.The animal now seeing his friend in safety, suffered his keeper toapproach and lead him away.

  Gratitude prompted the elephant to protect his erring friend. How sadto think that human beings are so often less grateful to those from whomthey have received benefits!


  When an army marches in India, elephants are employed in carryingfield-pieces, levelling roads, piling up timber, fetching water; all ofwhich, and many other occupations, they perform with a regularity whichshows that they understand what they are about. Formerly, indeed, theywere often trained to launch ships, by pushing them off the stocks withthe weight of their huge bodies.

  Some troops, on their march, had to cross a steep and rugged hill. Thiscould only be done by cutting away portions, and laying trees to fill upthe chasms. The first elephant, when conducted up to thisroughly-formed road, shook his head, and roared piteously, evidentlyconvinced that it was insecure. On some alteration being made herecommenced his examination, by pressing with his trunk the trees thathad been thrown across. After this he advanced a fore-leg with greatcaution, raising the fore-part of his body so as to throw the weight onthe trunk. Thus he examined every tree and rock as he proceeded, whilefrequently no force could induce him to advance till some alteration hedesired had been made. On his reaching the top his delight was evident.He caressed his keepers, and threw the dirt about in a playful manner.

  A younger elephant had to follow. The first watched his ascent with themost intense interest, making motions all the while as though he wasassisting him, by shouldering him up the declivity. As the latterneared the top, a difficult spot had to be passed, when the first,approaching, extended his trunk to the assistance of his brother indistress. The younger, entwining his round it, was thus led up to thesummit in safety. The first on this evinced his delight by giving asalute something like the sound of a trumpet. The two animals thengreeted each other as if they had been long separated, and had just metafter accomplishing a perilous achievement. They mutually embraced, andstood face to face for a considerable time, as if whisperingcongratulations. The driver then made them salaam to the general, whoordered them five rupees each for sweetmeats. On this they immediatelyreturned thanks by another salaam.

  Can you, after reading this, ever refuse to help any human beings indistress? Imitate, too, that sagacious elephant, in never venturing onunsafe ground. Look before you leap.


  It is seldom that an elephant can be induced to pass over ground heconsiders unsafe. Sometimes, however, a driver obtains such a masteryover a timid animal, that he compels him to undertake what his bettersense would induce him to decline.

  An elephant of this character was owned by a person residing in theneighbourhood of Gyah. Between the house and the town was a smallbridge, over which the elephant had frequently passed. One day,however, he refused to go over. He tried it with his trunk, evidentlysuspecting that its strength was not sufficient to bear his weight.Still, the obstinate driver urged him on with the sharp spear with whichelephants are driven. At length, with cautious steps he began thepassage, still showing an extreme unwillingness to proceed. As heapproached the centre,
loud cracks were heard, when the treacherousbridge gave way, and both elephant and rider were precipitated into thestream below; the latter being killed by the fall, and the former, whohad proved himself the most sensible being of the two, being muchinjured.

  Let no force induce you to do what is wrong. All bad ways are like thatrotten bridge. When others attempt to goad you on to do evil, tell themthe story of the elephant and the rotten bridge.


  Who would expect to see a huge elephant take care of a delicate littlechild? Yet more vigilant and gentle nurses cannot be found than aresome of these animals.

  The wife of a mahout, or elephant driver, was frequently in the habit ofgiving her baby in charge of an elephant. The child would begin, assoon as it was left to itself, to crawl about, getting sometimes underthe elephant's huge legs, at others becoming entangled among thebranches on which he was feeding. On such occasions the elephant wouldgently disengage the child, by lifting it with his trunk or removing theboughs. The elephant, it should be said, was himself chained by the legto the stump of a tree. When the child had crawled nearly to the limitsof his range, he would advance his trunk, and lift it back as tenderlyas possible to the spot whence it had started. Indeed, no nurse couldhave attended an infant with more good sense and care than did thiselephant his master's child.


  To conclude my anecdotes about elephants, I must tell you two whichshow, even more than the other incidents I have mentioned, the wonderfulsense they possess.

  An elephant had been severely wounded, and submitting to have his wounddressed, used, after two or three times, to go alone to the hospital andextend himself, so that the surgeon could easily reach the injured part.Though the pain the animal suffered was so severe that he often utteredthe most plaintive groans, he never interrupted the operation, butexhibited every token of submission to the surgeon, till his cure waseffected.

  Still more curious is the following:--A young elephant which hadaccompanied its mother to the battle-field received a severe wound inthe head. Nothing could induce it to allow the injury to be attendedto. At length, by certain signs and words, the keeper explained to themother what was wanted. The sagacious animal immediately seized theyoung one with her trunk, and, though it groaned with agony, held it tothe ground, while the surgeon was thus enabled to dress the wound. Dayafter day she continued to act in the same way, till the wound wasperfectly healed.

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