Traditional Methods of Capturing Wild Elephants - Page 2

Different countries have different methods of bringing the newly caught wild elephants out of the stockade. To begin with, the koomkies were arranged in a single file outside the gate before the gates were opened. The wild ones were distracted towards the far side of the stockade by throwing fodder towards them. The bands tying the gate were loosened and while men pull on the ropes, the leading koomkie butts the gate open and stalks in with the other koomkies crowding after it. The gates were shut quietly after the last koomkie enters. The wild elephants, particularly larger ones, initially tend to be aggressive and put up resistance. The koomkies were well-trained for their job and the men on them do not have much difficulty in subduing the group of wild ones. The would-be captives were taken out of the stockade as early as possible, to avoid exhaustion due to thirst and hunger. Hence, a time limit was set for roping the selected animals and bringing them out and clearing the stockade. If there was undue delay for any reason, the rest of the catch was set free.

Rope making for elephant capture:

The materials used for making ropes vary in different countries. Smooth, flexible and light ropes, such as those made of jute fibre or hemp, are ideal for the operation. In Southeast Asian countries, ropes made of braided buffalo hide made pliable with lard or tallow are used. In southern India, ropes made of the bark of Sterculia villosa or Helicteres spp. fibre are used for noosing elephants. The handmade ropes are long enough for the purpose and the thickness depend on the size of the animal to be captured. One end of the rope was wound around the chest of the koomkie immediately behind the forelimbs and secured properly. The free end was made into a noose to be fixed around the neck of the wild one. The men trained to carry out this work do it with amazing dexterity.

To prevent the noose from either strangulating the wild animal or slipping out, a check knot was put around the main knot, which effectively keeps the noose properly around the neck. The noosing was often a tiresome job especially in the case of small animals, which try to run under the bellies of their mothers. Hence, sometimes it becomes necessary for the koomkies to kneel down, in order to noose a very small elephant properly. The properly tied and restrained animals are detached from the main group and hauled towards the gate. A large koomkie, preferably a tusker was kept as a rearguard to prevent the other new captives from following the noosed one. Once outside the door, the pace quickens to prevent the noosed elephants from offering resistance and ultimately they settle down and walk in step beside the koomkies. They were then taken to the training camp where the new elephants were tied up. The process was repeated until all the animals, fit for capture, were secured. The remaining elephants in the stockade were then set free.

During the first night, the new elephants were tied by their hind legs to one tree and by a long rope from the neck to another tree in front, as high as possible. This was to prevent the elephants from catching the rope and biting through it. Koomkies on either side prevents kicking when the hind legs are fastened. An elephant tied in this manner may throw itself on the ground and exert all its efforts to break free and may become completely exhausted, before becoming calm enough to settle down for training. It is then moved to the training camp escorted by the koomkies. After the first night, it was customary to fasten the elephants short by the neck to a tree in such a way that they can move around the tree. Usually the bark of such tethering trees was removed prior to tying up the elephant, in order to facilitate the rope slipping around it without fraying. In southern India, the stockade and mela shikar methods of capturing elephants were never practised, because of the nature of the terrain, which was hilly and thus unsuitable for such ventures. Hence, Sanderson introduced a variation of kheddah after his initial efforts in the Chittagong hill tracts, where he used only the stockade and mela shikar methods for capture.

Unlike the stockade, otherwise known as kheddah in northeastern India and many countries in Southeast Asia, the Mysore kheddah was totally different, much more elaborate and expensive and a spectacular show. This operation was held periodically to control the increase of the wild elephant population and also to keep down the incidence of crop-raiding. Advantage was taken of the habitual beaten tracks of the elephant herds in locating permanent sites for staging the kheddah. The riverbanks were scraped to make them steep and inaccessible to wild elephants. The timber barricades were camouflaged the night before the final drive to make the area look natural. Two temporary suspension bridges were constructed out of bamboo with steel ropes across the river to facilitate posting of men and staff at these points across the river during the magnificent ‘river-drive’ to prevent escape of the elephants.