Traditional Methods of Capturing Wild Elephants - Page 1

Stockade or Pen Method (Kheddah)

The kheddah or stockade method of capturing elephants varied from one region to another in the countries where it was practised. The main advantage of this method was that an entire herd of elephants was impounded or captured in a single operation. The wooden stockades were built either across major elephant paths or in the vicinity of salt licks where elephants visit on their own. Wild elephants were then rounded up and driven into the enclosure. Kheddahs in Assam worked on a less pretentious scale than in Mysore. In Bengal, after wild elephants were located in the forest, a wooden stockade was put up nearby and the elephants were then rounded up and driven into the enclosure. In Bengal and northeastern India permanent pens were not built in view of heavy cost and the fear of elephants getting alert (Baruah 1997). But in many places the kheddah sites were more or less permanent – often in the vicinity of natural salt licks. However, in the Mysore district of Karnataka, southern India, the kheddah sites were permanently located at specific sites, usually along rivers.

Stockades used to vary in shape and size according to the locality, but were generally more or less oval or oblong, about 20 to 25 m wide and a few more metres in length. A gate was necessary at each end, so that the elephants can be driven into the stockade from both sides and the gates have to be built across the path itself. The best site for a gate normally was where the path passes between two trees, which can be utilised as doorposts. This precludes the need for artificial narrowing of the path. An elephant passing through was usually accustomed to squeezing between two trees. Swing gates were preferred to drop gates, which were normally 3 to 3.75 m high and manoeuvred into position with the doors opening outwards. Before the drive commences, the door through which the herd was expected to enter was opened and kept in position by a long rope leading to a machan (small treetop hut) concealed in some convenient tree outside the stockade. A slash with a knife can cut the rope to release the gate, which swings on its own accord and shuts the entrance.

Vertical posts 5 to 5.5 m long were buried 1.5 m in the ground about 1.5 m apart in prepared pits and three rows of horizontal beams were tied on the outside, one row near the ground level, one at breast height and the third near the top. Struts from the ground to the three rows of horizontal beams strengthen the whole structure. The space between the upright posts was filled by vertical poles, 7-8cm in diameter, which merely rest on the ground and were kept in position by beams tied to the inside of the 3 rows of horizontal beams. A 'V' shaped trench or ditch about 2.25 m wide at top and 1.5 m deep was dug on the inside periphery of the stockade for protection from direct assault. a ‘V’ shaped funnel or wing extend out from the gateposts so that all elephants taking a course parallel to the path were diverted towards the entrance. The entire stockade, including the doors and door post, as well as the wings were camouflaged by using living tree, ferns, orchids and other locally available green vegetation.

Care was taken during this construction to preserve the jungle growing in the middle of the enclosure. The presence of the ditch prevents a direct assault on the barricade wall by the new captives. However, the weak point is the gate, which is movable. Hence, men with spears and lighted torches keep vigil at this point to ward off a determined charge by any member of the impounded herd. Driving was best done late in the afternoon and evening, when the elephants were normally on the move. A tracking party locates the herd and by gentle manoeuvring, guides the herd slowly towards the stockade without causing a stampede. When the herd was in the vicinity of the stockade, parties of beaters, which may normally number about 8 to 12 persons, put pressure on the animals. The beaters divide themselves into two parties and follow the two flanks on either side of the herd. The men keep a single file to enable them to get through the undergrowth without struggling.

Big bulls caught with a herd can prove to be troublesome and hence they may get shot to prevent them injuring the smaller sized members of the herd. Guns were fired only as a last resort and only when the elephants deliberately move in a wrong direction. The sound of gunshots terrifies elephants resulting in stampede beyond control. Nothing can stop a herd that has made up its mind to retreat. Retreating elephants were likely to kill the beaters in the ensuing melee. Men in machans block the diverging paths near the stockade and the herd was gradually diverted towards the concealed gate. Once the herd has entered the funnel, a gun was fired and all those behind the elephants proceed to making noise to drive them inside the stockade. Before the herd realises that its trapped and returns back to the entrance, the door must be shut.