How slowly and carefully the huge Elephant in the Zoo moves along! He looks like a great patient nurse as he carries a load of cheering, laughing boys and girls on his back. "Better be careful," he seems to be thinking; "mustn't jog them about too much. Nice to be able to give a treat to the little chaps; and aren't they enjoying it!" But, dear me! what a different way he used to behave in his old home on the wide plains of Africa years and years ago.
For this particular fellow is an African Elephant. He seems much the same to our eyes, perhaps, as his Indian cousin, but there are differences, if we know how to look out for them. To begin with, the African Elephant is the larger of the two, and is darker in colour. Then he has larger ears and larger eyes; and while the Indian Elephants are not famous for their tusks, their relations in Africa are very valuable big game indeed, if only for the ivory that their splendid long tusks afford.
The African Elephants are much more dangerous than the Indian Elephants, too, and that may be the reason, partly, why they have never been trained to help in the work of their country as their Indian cousins have. No doubt they would toss up their tails and trumpet at the very idea. They love their freedom, and they mean to keep it. They fear man, and they mean to keep away from him. And the few of them that are captured, and shipped away from their land to be shown in Zoos, must have very different memories of the life that they used to lead.
What kind of memories? Oh, jolly, jolly ones. The Baby Elephant in Africa joins with its mother on her journeys only a week or two after it is born, and is a very game little creature indeed, with adventures from the very first. Of course, it has no tusks, this baby8212;though to call it "little" and "baby" seems rather ridiculous, as it weighs two hundred and forty-five pounds at birth, and is quite as large as a sheep; but its trunk is there all right, groping about and finding out all about the world, like a great big movable finger. It can fan itself with its big ears, too, just as its mother and father do in the hot weather—nobody seems to have to teach it that. It is funny to see the Baby Elephant having its first meals: with its head below its mother's fore legs, turning back its small trunk, and drinking, drinking, drinking its fill of milk; for little Elephants are six months old before they begin to learn the way to feed themselves with soft grass and leaves by the help of their own waving trunks.
The Elephants choose their homes away deep in the very quietest, stillest part of the forest. There they feed most of the day, and at sundown they make their way to the nearest watering-place. A herd of them goes together at a good swinging pace, very much unlike the steady tread of the tame Elephants at the Zoo. Very often it is a family herd, with the mothers and babies going in front to set the stride, and the huge father Elephants coming along behind. There is always a leader to every herd, whose commands must be obeyed; and if danger appears, one of his orders will be for the mothers and children to fall behind the stronger members of the company. Danger sometimes means—MAN. Wild Elephants have a terror of man; and I have read that if a child passes at a quarter of a mile to windward of a herd, that is sufficient to put a hundred Elephants to flight.
There is little wonder, really, that African Elephants are afraid of man; they have been hunted to the death for generations and generations. Elephant hunts were the sport of kings very long ago. The ivory from their tusks has always been coveted by traders as well as hunters. The natives find the great beasts useful, too, in many ways. The flesh of the Elephant is used by them as food, its trunk and feet being supposed to be particularly delicious, and its fat is greatly valued. Its hide makes shields for them, water-bags for their journeys, and whips for their steeds; while its ivory will always fetch its price.
But Elephant hunts by the African natives are not only undertaken because of the value of the animal; often these hunts are necessary on account of the dreadful damage that the great wild creatures do. For they have appetites that match their tremendous size, and on their way to the river at night they think nothing of plundering crops; of tearing up whole groups of trees with their trunks, just to chew up the roots and branches and get at the sap. With their sharp tusks, too, they plough up whole miles of ground in search of bulbs; and over newly sown land whole herds will tramp, making a waste as they go. They are always a little afraid of fences, but they mean to get to the water all the same.
It must be a fine sight to see them drinking and watering themselves after the heat of the day. Without bending its head, the Elephant dips its long trunk into the water, and filling it, puts it to its mouth. A second trunkful is then probably used for bathing purposes; and after that, the whole herd, as likely as not, may go for a swim for a few miles down the stream, the young ones being held up by their mother's trunk as soon as they feel tired, or climbing up to her back and sitting there when they feel inclined to take a rest.
After the heat of the day.
Elephants are very sociable and affectionate with each other. A sportsman was once obliged to leave a wounded Elephant in the South African Bush, while he returned to camp for more ammunition. On his return, many hours afterwards, he saw from some distance that the great beast was standing, unable to move on account of its broken leg, but trumpeting loudly for help. Its calls were answered by another elephant, which came up, gave the sufferer a drink of water from its own trunk, and then did its best to help the wounded friend to escape into the Bush again. This story may seem strange, but there are many other tales told by the natives of the ways in which Elephants help each other from traps or pitfalls, and warn each other of danger.
But Elephants can be fierce enemies for all that. They do not, as a rule, attack man unless they are provoked; but if they are, there is no sport so dangerous in all the world, perhaps, as Elephant hunting. Female Elephants have been known to give chase to well-mounted sportsmen, and to overtake them, killing them with their tusks and feet. They are cunning and clever enemies, too, who will turn suddenly and charge at the unsuspecting hunter, for whom there is little escape. The African natives attack them with javelins and spears; the sportsman follows him either on foot or on horseback, with hopes of placing a bullet behind the great beast's ear; while a particularly fierce and warlike tribe of Arabs is said to face a charging Elephant with no more defence than a sword and shield. Dr. Livingstone gives a very interesting account of an African Elephant hunt which he once had the luck to watch.
He was wandering alone amongst some rocks, some way from the village which he had made his home for the time being, when he noticed a female Elephant and her calf playing at the end of a valley at some distance. The baby was enjoying itself in a mud-bath, and the mother was fanning herself from the heat with her great ears. Both were innocent enough, and had no idea that on the other side of them a whole string of men was approaching. The native hunters gave no sign of their approach until they had come quite close to their quarry, and then they began to call out and sing. "O Chief, Chief! we have come to slay you. . ." they sang, continuing the verses of the natives' killing-song.
This seemed to frighten the Elephants. They stood to attention and listened; and the little one began to run up the valley, but it saw the men, and returned to its mother for protection, and she put herself between it and the danger which seemed to be coming upon them. She looked at the men and seemed half inclined to attack them. Then she glanced at her child, and seemed to decide to stay beside it; and all the time the men drew closer and closer, driving the pair a little nearer to the river as they came.
When the hunters had reached a spot which stood about sixty feet from their prey, they began to shoot. Javelins filled the air; several of them glanced off the larger Elephant's back, and some of them remained sticking there. She began to run for her life, with blood pouring from her wounds, while the baby, which seemed to be quite forgotten, took refuge in the river and was drowned. But the large Elephant did not run very far. Suddenly she turned, charged amongst the men with great fury, and raced right through them, as they still threw their spears at her. Then she charged again and again, each time being wounded in fresh places, and losing more blood in the fight. "At last she staggered round, and sank down dead in a kneeling position."
Javelins filled the air.