Mela shikar or Lassoing

Mela shikar or Lassoing:

This method of capturing elephants requires great skill and courage on the part of both the koomkie and its mahout. In this method, wild elephants were chased and noosed by a man specialised in the art of riding on the elephant trained for the purpose. From ancient times this method has been practised in India, Myanmar, Thailand (Siam) and Indo-China. In the Indian subcontinent this method was confined to the forests of northeastern India and West Bengal, but its main home was Assam and Assamese mahouts and elephants are experts in this job (Stracey 1963).

The method consists of pursuing the wild herds with tame elephants carrying nooses. Three or four koomkies usually operate together in a mela shikar and it was considered desirable that one of them is a sturdy bull of known courage to control if any of the wild elephants became aggressive. Each koomkie has three attendants. The nooser (phandi) sits on the neck of the koomkie and throws the noose (phand). An able assistant (lohitiya) hanging on to the belly rope, prods the koomkie in the flanks or the root of the tail when speed was required. The third person (kamala) was responsible for collection of fodder for the koomkie.

The catching-gear consists only of a jute rope (phand), which was attached to the koomkie’s girth. In Southeast Asian countries, buffalo or ox hide was braided into ropes and seasoned with animal fat to make them pliable. The koomkies work their way quietly, undetected, into the middle of a herd when the herd was feeding in open forest. Many a time, the wild ones become suspicious of the presence of the new animal among them and attempt to escape. In such cases, the herd was pursued and effort was made to separate the calves and noose them, as they cannot keep pace with the main herd. Even though elephants of large size can be caught by this method, it is not the practice, since it is difficult to train animals by the northeastern Indian method. Hence, another koomkie with a rope comes to the assistance of the first and puts one more rope around the neck to prevent it from escaping. Guide ropes attached to the knot in the noose prevent the noose from strangulating the noosed animal. As soon as the noose was around the wild elephant's neck, the koomkie proceeds to control the noosed animal. It was the phandi's concern to shorten the length of the rope until the captive was secured close, alongside his own animal, between bouts of pulling and struggling. No leg ropes were put on, as was done in southern India and many Southeast Asian countries.

In Thailand and Indo-China, the noose was put around one of the hind legs. The coiled rope lies between the person who puts the noose and his assistant. He carries it in his right hand and the noose was fixed at the end of a three metre long pole. When his mount was close to the animal to be captured and when the animal's hind leg was raised high enough, the noose was slipped around it as high up on the leg as possible. Before noosing, the herd was approached in different directions by a group of koomkies. By skilful use of the koomkies, the herd was attacked and stampeded and the intended animal was detached from the main group. The free end of the rope was secured around the nearest tree. When the noosed animal struggles and becomes aggressive, other koomkies nearby control and subdues the animal and another rope was put around the leg and properly secured. Then a collar made of the same kind of leather used for the ropes, with a swivel hook made of ox horn, was attached above the neck. A rope or chain was fixed to the swivel hook and secured high up in a tree. When the animal was properly secured and subdued, the neck rope, as well as the leg ropes was secured to the koomkie, which escorts the captive to the training camp.