Vote and rate on Jamie Clubb's Work by clicking on the following links. Thank you!

Tuesday, 4 December 2007

The Indian Elephant: Wild and Domestic (Deleted Chapter from "The Legend of Salt and Sauce")

The following is an early version of a chapter I completely re-wrote for my book "The Legend of Salt and Sauce". Salt and Sauce were Indian elephants not, as it is occasionally been stated, Singhalese. The Asiatic elephant was, up until the 1960s, the most popular type of circus elephant. The large African counterpart (Loxodonta africana) only became popular in the later 1960s onwards.

The Indian Elephant: Wild and Domestic

Most historians begin the Salt and Sauce story from their arrival in Brighton, when George Lockhart Snr, the elephant trainer, took delivery of them. Yet the two elephants had already passed between at least two countries before they arrived in Britain and had been through at least one other trainer’s hands. I thought that if I intended to do as thorough job on the history of Salt and Sauce as possible, I could at least spend a chapter looking at their real roots and the institutions that were responsible for their capture and exportation. After all, Salt and Sauce were not born into the lively Victorian theatres or travelling circuses they would be forever associated with. Their lives began as newborn members of a herd of elephants in the jungles of India.

Elephas maximus, otherwise known as the Asian or Asiatic elephant, has been captured and domesticated in India and its surrounding countries for centuries. Generally speaking the Asian elephants’ temperaments prove to be far calmer than their African counterparts, which make them safer to work with. In addition to this, the two species have a few physical differences as well. The most obvious of these is that the African elephant, or Loxodonta Africana, has comparatively far larger ears than its Asian cousin and is also noticeably bigger in stature. Another conspicuous distinction between the two is that the African has a convex forehead, whereas the Asian has a hollow space at the top of its skull. On closer inspection we see that the African elephant also has three nails, known as hooves, on its rear toes compared to the Asian’s four, sometimes five rear toe hooves. Just for the record both elephants have five hooves on their front toes and both possess huge, wide columnar-shaped feet.

The modern-day elephant originated in Africa and are of the family Elephantidae.
They evolved from a semi-aquatic plant-eating African species called Moeritherium, which lived over forty million years ago. These creatures were pig-like in appearance with long bodies and short necks. Popular theory has it that as they increased in height Moeritherium found it more difficult to eat plants and therefore developed their upper lips and noses into trunks.

Around forty five million years later the animal had evolved into a creature known as Stegodon, which resembled the shape of the modern day elephant. There were still further biological developments for the animal to undergo and the most celebrated variation of the order was the enormous Mammoth. This fifteen-foot tall behemoth, believed to be the ancestor of the Asian elephant, lived up until nine or ten thousand years ago, when either through a dramatic climate change or excessive hunting by man the species was wiped out. At the time of writing scientists are attempting to clone a mammoth using genetic material from preserved remains and a current day female Asian elephant.

Elephants spread throughout Europe, Asia and North America. Over two hundred and seventy species of elephant have said to exist, of which the African and Asian are the only surviving members. Popular theory has Elephas maximus first occurring in Syria, Iraq and southern Asia. Today their wild numbers are restricted to the Asian continent, where large numbers have been captured and trained.

The female or cow of the Asian elephant species is a natural herd animal, living in large groups sometimes reaching a hundred members, but most commonly between fifteen and forty. One dominant female leads the group. These herds are proof of the extent of the species’ intelligence as their movements are thoroughly organised. Sometimes the herds divide up into sub-units and at other times they converge en masse into one large “clan” that can amount up to two hundred elephants in one area. This is quite different to the males or bull elephants, which are usually quite solitary once they have hit puberty; although they have occasionally been known to form small “bachelor” groups.

The Asian elephant has a head and body length measuring between 550 and 540 centimetres and the height from the shoulder to the ground measures between 250 and 300 centimetres. Males weigh over 5,000 kg and females, just less than 3,000 kg.
The animal’s entire body is covered in a thick grey to brown hide, occasionally mottled about the head, trunk and chest with flesh coloured blotches. The skin, which is surprisingly sensitive, is scarcely covered by long bristly hairs.

Evolution doesn’t seem to have been generous with improvements on the modern-day elephant. The short-necked Moeritherium’s ghost can be seen in the restricted head movements of the animal. Of its seven neck vertebrae only three are functional. Another biological shortcoming of the animal is its digestive system. The elephant can only digest forty-four per cent of what it can eat, which explains its consistent devouring of food all day long.

The elephant is not only unique in the respect that it is the largest land animal alive; it also has other distinguishing features, the most unusual being its trunk. This highly adapted prehensile part of the animal’s face is used not only for breathing but also as a highly effective tool. The trunk is long, flexible and strong. It functions like an extra limb and picks up food that it pushes into its mouth, or dirt that it throws over its back also as a method of cooling down. At the end of the trunk there is a small finger-like part that is sensitive enough to pick up very small objects. The trunk is also able to suck up water and spray the elephant’s body when it bathes.
Another outstanding feature of the species is its tusks, used both for digging during draughts and as weapons when fighting challenging elephants. Because of its tremendous size, weight and strength, the elephant has few natural predators. Tusks are most noticeable in the male elephant, but females also have them, albeit generally a shorter version. In places such as Sri Lanka, males rarely have them and the females never do. Ironically this lack of a defensive tool protects the Sri Lankan species from the elephants’ greatest enemy: Man.

The trade of ivory has been one of the most dramatic impacts on the lives of elephants. Large amounts of their wild number were hunted for their tusks, which reached high prices all over the world for the various ornaments and furniture that can be carved out of them. This large-scale destruction reached its zenith in the early nineteenth century, resulting in a huge reduction of numbers in Sumatra, Thailand and the Malaccan peninsula. In addition to this the increasing population of humans brought man and elephant closer together in a rather less than friendly relationship. Over the centuries the Indian wild elephants were pushed back into the jungle as their natural habitat became destroyed. In response to the human intrusion considerable numbers of elephants wrecked farmland, causing major economic problems within the native crop industry. The danger of these rampaging herds was quite significant too. Even as late as 1989 it was reported that between 100 and 150 people were killed annually in India during elephant crop raids. The humans reacted to the problem with one swift solution; the animals were culled. As a result of this and the ivory poaching, today elephants are a registered endangered species.

However, elephants have been a part of Indian culture for almost as long as there has been civilisation in Asia. You only have to look at images of the Indian Hindu god of prophecy, Ganesa, who is represented with an elephant head, to see the cultural regard such a creature is held in. The tradition of capturing them from the wild goes back at least 5,500 years and its origins can be traced to the historical Indus Valley.

The process of capturing these magnificent animals was an operation steeped in ritual for the villages that took part and became their sole means of profit. The trap the elephants were herded into was a fenced-in area known as a Keddah. It stood four metres high, surrounding an area of more than a kilometre and a half. This fence was made up of tree trunks sunken two and a half metres into the ground and lashed together by ropes and jungle creepers. It had a huge V-shaped entrance where a heavy trap door was positioned above the herd’s eye view and held in place by thick ropes that were tied to trees ready for the gate-men’s sharp knives to sever. Time passed and the monsoon season came, bringing rain that had washed the scent of man away from the Keddah, making it look as if it were a natural part of the jungle.

Scouts who made their living by delivering information to Keddah contractors were sent out into the jungle to observe herds of elephants as they drew nearer to the trap. Eventually news arrived at the Keddah village that a herd of elephants had moved into position.

One day in around the year 1901 the herds Salt and Sauce belonged to were startled by a gunshot and the sudden presence of humans – thousands of them. In blind panic the animals charged through jungle undergrowth towards their orchestrated capture. Onward they ran finding themselves heading for a series of bamboo-bridges strategically positioned ahead. As they crossed, two huge walls of fire, lit by the bridgemen, sprung up around them to narrow their passage.

Having lit the fires, the men who had been honoured with this task rushed away, as the bridges themselves erupted into flames behind the charging herd of elephants. Escaping the blaze the herd would rush through the Keddah’s gateway and into the awaiting darkness. With split second timing the ropes would be cut and the trap door dropped sealing their fate. From here the village would select appropriate elephants and release the rest.

The chosen elephants would be trained in basic obedience and then be auctioned off to various purchasers. In most cases the elephants were used to transport teak logs down the Indian rivers, as general beasts of burden and also as steeds for hunting. The elephant is a majestic looking creature and royalty, along with other people of high standing, ride on top of the animals in richly decorated howdahs. In addition to this, they are raced and there are historic records of huge amounts of Asian elephants even being used in battle from 1100 BC to AD 1500.

It was in this country that the traditional industry of capturing wild elephants in some way contributed to keeping the animal away from the threat of extinction. Before the days of funded conservation, the only way to prevent mankind from wiping out endangered species was if that species became a desirable commodity alive. So long as these animals were needed as beasts of burden or ceremonial showpieces their species would remain. There was also another institution where man would have a large place for elephants: the world of entertainment.

The mid-nineteenth century saw an increasing interest from Europe and America to see live elephants as well as other Asian and African animals. These unusual creatures were now being transported back to the menageries and circuses that were fascinating the western world. By touring, these shows were bringing animals, normally only seen in zoos, to a far wider audience. Soon western adventurers were going out on safari to bring back exotic specimens for the growing demand back home. As contact with foreign animals grew, so did public sympathy. Even during the regency era, when ivory was in incredibly high demand; the elephant touched the hearts of celebrities such as the poet, Lord Byron. He remarked once on his happy experience he had visiting the London Tower Menagerie when the resident elephant enchanted him. Byron, like many others, kept a small private collection of exotic animals and was famed for sharing his university boarding quarters with a trained bear.

I am not about to argue that the people who caught, sold and bought elephants did it consciously to preserve these animals. However, I think it is interesting to note that after the potential threat of having the entire elephant species wiped out by the ivory fashion; man’s tastes once again changed the course of natural history.

During the 1880s huge numbers of elephants were being exported to the west. As animal husbandry improved so did the elephants’ survival rate. Once they arrived they had to be fit enough to be exhibited. Those who had the ability to organise the successful selecting and importation of large numbers of elephants could more or less name their price to huge circuses such as Barnum and Bailey’s in America. Elephant trainers began to come into their own, making their fortune by presenting these gigantic creatures.

The elephant would soon replace the horse in becoming the most popular animal in the circus. Words such as elephantine and mammoth would enter the English language to describe great size. Even the English word “jumbo”, meaning huge, came from the legendary circus and showbusiness pioneer Phineas T. Barnum’s gargantuan elephant of the same name.

The female elephant calves soon to be known as Salt and Sauce, along with two others who would share equally eccentric Cruet names, “Mustard” and “Pepper”, were destined for to be sold to the entertainment history. Soon they would be cruelly removed from their mothers and the rest of the herd, but mercifully saved from a possible fate with a poacher’s bullets. In such cases the lucky ones would die, whereas the wounded would be left to a lingering death caused by infection and starvation. Man was not their only predator either. The hot humid weather of Southeast Asia presented ideal conditions for the breeding of parasites. Such diseases as these thrived within the Indian jungles and swamps, where elephants frequented. We know for definite that such a disease already had infected at least three of these baby “Cruet” elephants.

Perhaps the four calves were related or maybe they were caught on separate occasions. We will never know. One can only imagine the frightened animals listening as all around them the Indian village began celebrating as the sun rose over their Keddah after a successful elephant catching operation had been completed. Being very young it is unlikely that their captors would have bothered training them. Such attention was normally reserved for the older elephants. They were displayed, still wild, in front of many bidders and traders that came to India.

Amongst these people was an agent for the German animal trainer, zoo-owner and catcher Carl Hagenbeck. Hagenbeck was born on 10th June 1844, the son of a fishmonger, who almost by accident had chanced upon the wild animal trade. Over the years Hagenbeck had carried on his father’s business, building up zoos around Germany and also running circuses. He was amongst the first trainers who advocated what he called the “gentle” or “gentling” methods in training animals. This food reward system would be the foundation to what would much later be known as “positive reinforcement” training and was soon readily picked up after his high-profile international demonstrations in the 1890’s. This was in opposition to the aggressive methods often used by wild animal exhibitors, which pretty much amounted to fighting the animals on display.

The reach of Hagenbeck was considerable. He had a number of experienced and famous animal catchers on various assignments all over the world tracking down large quantities of animals for zoos, circuses, menageries and various other exhibitions. However, it was the considerable popularity of the elephant in late nineteenth century England and America, which helped push his business to new heights. At the turn of the century such success was demonstrated in his buying of a new four and half acre property in Stellington near Hamburg. Hagenbeck had gradually outgrown each of his zoos and had helped revolutionise the care in captive animals in the process. He transferred everything he had from his old zoo in Neuer Pferdemarkt to the new location and, with the help of investors, bought land in-between Hamburg and Stellington. This would be a new beginning for the zoological pioneer as he rose to international success in the captive animal world.

His new zoo opened in 1902. This was the same year that he sent his elephant man, William Philadelphia, to Great Britain with the future Cruet members. They arrived at the doorstep of a very unique individual. This man was a true representative of the Hagenbeck-style of training and also an innovator in his own right. At different times both this man and his brother would be given the title “the greatest elephant trainer that ever lived.”

Previously he had purchased his first elephants whilst in Asia and was credited by some press as starting the elephant craze in Europe. Americans were also accused of trying to imitate his elephants’ comedy and musical routines. According to newspaper reports of the time, because of this man, agents were “scouring” the continent in order to find acts containing elephants. Perhaps he was indirectly responsible, in part, for the numerous elephant orders Hagenbeck was now getting on a regular basis.

Two of the four members of the Cruet would be connected with their new owner’s name for the rest of their lives and over half a century after his death. They would be known as Salt and Sauce. Their relationship with him would result in both their fame and their infamy, for they would be both his protégés and his killers. And this was only part of what the future held for them as they stepped out of the remains of their wooden containers and into the life of George William Lockhart.
©Copyright. Jamie Clubb 2007

No comments: