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Notes on the mode of Capture of Elephants in Assam. 
By Dr. A. Campbell, late Superintendent of Darjeeling. 

By far the greater number of the Elephants for the supply of the 
Bengal markets are now caught in Assam ; the Dooars of Bootan 
are so iniquitously misgoverned that the Elephant-catchers nearly 
shun them altogether. 

The Nipal Tarai furnishes Elephants for the marts of the central 
and western provinces ; Mymunsingh and Sylhet for lower Bengal, 
&c. &c. 

The people who are principally engaged in catching Elephants for 
upper Bengal Uve in the northern parts of the Purneah and Rung- 
poor districts. Titalya is the most central position for the col- 
lection of Elephants by these people, and it is close to all the routes 
from the Elephant-catching districts*. 

The Elephant-merchants who conduct the trade between the 
eastern districts and other parts of India come from the central and 
western provinces ; some even from the Punjab, Cashmere, and 

The men who keep koonkis and supply the funds for catching 
Elephants are known as " Keda Walas." They often take their own 
Elephants for sale to the Hajipoor Fair, or further west ; but 
usually look to the merchants, zemindars, baboos, &c. of their own 
districts as purchasers. At the Nek Mured Fair, in the Dinajpoor 
district, annually held in April, there is a good deal of business done 
in Elephants. 

An Elephant- catcher (or keda wala)'s establishment consists — 
1st, of " Koonkis," i. e. tame Elephants trained to hunting and 
catching wild ones ; 2nd, " Phanaits," or noosemen ; 3rd, Lohattias, 
or Elephant-drivers, who sit on the croup and urge on the koonkis 
with an iron-spiked mallet ; 4th, mates, or under drivers ; and 
5th, an abundant supply of ropes and cables for catching and tying 
up their gigantic quarry. 

The old system of decoying or driving wild Elephants on pits dug 
for them is altogether exploded; and the lassoo, or "phan," is the 
only mode now employed to catch them. 

The process is described as sufficiently simple, although it is 
attended with some danger. It is very extraordinary to hear a thin 
miserable-looking fellow (as many of the " phanaits" are) describing 
in the quietest way possible how he has caught very large and fierce 

The usual mode seems to be to form the "keda," or encampment, 
♦ See Hooker's Himalayan Journals, vol. i. p. 181. 



at a likely place outside the forest and near water, generally selected 
on intelligence of its being the haunt of wild Elephants, or by finding 
their fresh trail. 

From this you take out the koonkis, three or four together, and 
reconnoitre in all directions in the open places at early morning or 
in the afternoon ; for the wild Elephants always keep to the heavy 
forest during the heat of the day, coming into the more open spots 
morning and evening only. When any of your parties have found 
a "khanja," or herd, it singles out one and gives immediate chase, 
sometimes even with one koonki only, if you have no more in your 
•' keda," and when the quarry is a small one ; but it is better to do 
so with two, and three are requisite to catch and master a large 
animal. The chase is kept up until one of the koonkis gets along- 
side the wild Elephant, the great object being to lay a koonki on 
either side of the wild one, as fast as possible. When alongside and 
he sees his opportunity, the "phanait" (nooseman), who drives his 
Elephant and holds the open noose with both hands above his head, 
lets it fall over the wild one's head and on the trunk, which in running 
is pendent to the ground. Immediately the noose touches the trunk, 
the animal by an instinct which is fatal to its liberty coils it in- 
wards, and by this movement it passes at once under the neck. 
The lohattia who holds the coil of the lassoo immediately pulls upon 
it, and the koonki is kept close upon the wild one and pressing 
against it until another koonki comes on the op{)osite side and a 
second noose is delivered. "When this is done both koonkis move off 
in opposite directions, and thus in a short time the wild Elephant is 
suffocated and stretched on the ground between them. This takes 
some time, however, when the noosed animal is a powerful one, as it 
sets off at speed and struggles long and violently before it is choked 
and down. As soou as it is, the running nooses are loosed to give 
the animal breath, and a stopper put on each to prevent their run- 
ning. The two koonkis again press on each side ; and by this means 
and one or two more pushing from behind, the captured animal is 
forcibly dragged away to the keda, where it is strongly picketed 
and starved into tameness. After a month or two it is quiet and 
tractable enough to be marched homewards, being in the mean- 
time led out frequently with koonkis, and gradually accustomed to 
a rider. 

During the first six months fresh Elephants become thin and 
weak-looking, and then begin to pick up again. During the first 
rainy season (or, rather, during August, September, and October of 
the first year) they are most liable to illness and death. The risk 
decreases the second season, and is not great in the third, after which 
they are considered "pucka," i. e. safe and acclimatized. 

There is no procuring any data by which to arrive at the rates of 
mortality of fresh Elephants. It seems to depend on circumstances 
quite unknown to the catchers (who suffer most from it), and is 
therefore always attributed to "kismut," chance. Som.etimes all 
the catchings of a season will die in one man's hands; at other 
times he will have a succession of seasons without anv losses. The 


" keda wala" is eniphatically described as always being in the way 
of wealth or ruin. He is an "Ameer" or " Fiigeer," i. e. a " prince 
or a beggar ;" so proverbially uncertain are his gains, and his trade 
so full of risks. 

The proportion of adult females caught is probably as eight to 
one. This arises from two causes. They are less violent and more 
easily subdued ; and it is rare to find more than one male with a 
whole herd of females, and he is always an immense one and rarely 
to be mastered. 

The catchers and dealers give numerous divisions or varieties of 
the Elephant, such as Muringi, Kumulia, Kooji, &c. They also 
notice the peculiarities of arched and straight backs ; but^it is suffi- 
cient to attend to the following for practical purposes. The males 
are tusked or tuskless, i.e. "Dantal" or " Mukuna ;" one-tusked 
ones are prized by Hindoos. One with the left tusk is a " Gauess," 
God of Wisdom ; with the right a " Manik dunta." The females 
are maiden or mothers, the terms being "Sareen" and "Dohi;" a 
barren one is also a " Sareen," and the Dohi is not reckoned of 
equal value. The Sareen is distinguished from the Dohi by the 
small teats and undeveloped mammas. A male is 20 per cent., at 
least, more prized than a female, on account of his greater strength 
and powers of endurance. It seems difficult to ascertain the period 
required for the full growth of the Elephant. After comparing 
many opinions and statements, I make it twenty-five years, and the 
knovvn age eighty-five in the same manner. The female goes eighteen 
months with young, and gives suck for two years. In addition to 
the smaller size, youth is indicated by a general smoothness and 
roundness of the" face and trunk, with an almost unmistakable 
expression of simplicity and innocence as you examine the face 
standing right in front. The central depression on the top of the 
head is but faintly developed in youth, while in an aged animal the 
coronal protuberances stand up prominently. The ears in youth 
and middle age are thin, light, and unbroken along the outer margin ; 
in age they are large, flapping, thick, and jagged. 

There is no particular breeding-season. "Elephants, like cows 
in India, have young all the year round." The mother shows great 
affection for her young, and even when chased by the catchers will 
not leave it, if it gets into trouble or is too young to follow. The 
mothers frequently fall an easy prey on this account, allowing them- 
selves to be noosed while they are helping on the young one. A 
young one of six months will fly off when the mother is taken ; 
under that age it will stick to the captive mother. Twins are 

The catching-season is from November to July; June is the 
month in which the greatest number are taken. The fresh grass 
and reeds, after the annual burning, is then greatly relished by 
these animals, who come far out of the forest to seek it. The 
Elephant is gregarious in the highest degree : herds of more than a 
hundred are sometimes seen ; fifty, thirty, and twenty are common. 
Sullen males, which have been driven out of the herd by hard fight- 


ing, are the only solitary ones to be met with. Large males with a 
herd are rarely ventured on by the catchers ; they are bold and 
ferociuu'5. The females and young males take instant alarm at the 
approach cf the koonkis ; and sometimes a whole herd becomes 
bewildered with fright on seeing them, and breaks up in all directions. 
This is the harvest of the catchers, and a bold and expert " phanait" 
will somethnes noose three wild ones out of one herd. So soon as 
he can get his "phan" off the neck of a prostrate one, he sets 
upon another, and similarly on a third. This prowess and luck are 
rare, but they happen occasionally. Mr. P. had a phanait who did 
this two seasons. He was a " Koch," and the quietest, most un- 
pretending fellow in the world out of the keda. In the field he was 
a perfect Nimnxl, full of energy and life, and for six or seven years 
he brought eight to twelve Elephants home annually of his own 
noosing. His pay was 10 rs. per mensem at home, 12 when in the 
field, and an annual present of a pair of silver bangles weighing 
20 rupees, and a pair of gold earrings worth 20 rs. more. These 
"honorary distiuclicns " gained, he used to take a short leave to his 
liome, when he bestowed them on his wife, and again took to the 
forest in search of fresh laurels. 

"How many Elephants have you caught in your time?" I one 
day asked Mr. P. " I cannot tell you how many," he replied ; 
" but I was seven years engaged in the business ; one year I caught 
180, some years 1 got 100, some 80, some GO." We may safely 
])ut down 1000 to his name, I think ; and this gives a pretty good 
idea of the supply and demand in this business. Mr. P."s "keda" 
was always a strong one, ranging from ten to twenty koonkis. 

Altho\igh I have set down eighteen months as the most generally 
adopted period of the Elephant's going with young, I must state 
that it is not universal in this part of the country. Rambullub Sah 
of Clioora Bundur, on the Bootan frontier, who has been an Ele- 
phant-catcher for many years, says the period of gestation is twenty- 
two lunar mouths ; and this is supported by a case of gestation 
which originated in his own stables, and in which the union of the 
sexes was known and recorded — a very rare case in the tame state ; 
but this one is q\ute authentic, t. e. the conception, gestation, and 
birtii. The record of the period of gestation I have not seen, but 
all the people of Choora Bundur are familiar with the facts, and 
many of them corroborate the twenty-two months' period. 

In 1849 I saw an infant Elephant that had been born in the Octo- 
ber of 1848. He was with his mother. She had been caught in 
June 184/ ; and although then pregnant, there were no signs of un- 
usual size until the January following. This case does not help to 
fix the limit of gestation ; but it proves that sixteen months is mider 
that period. This female had immensely large breasts ; and I tried 
to procure some of the milk to taste, but in vain. She lay down on 
her side at the command of the Mohout, but swung her trunk about 
and roared when we commenced pulling her teats. The young one 
applied himself to the breasts every five minutes, and for a minute 
or so only. The trunk appears quite in the wav of a sucking Ele- 


phant ; but it is dexterously turned upwards and to one side when 
he is at the breast ; and the usual position is standing at right angles 
with the mother, Tlie young one generally sleeps under the 
mother's belly, lying on his side, his legs stretched out straight. 
He not unfrequently lies down under other Elephants, and is quite 
fearless among them, they always treating him kindly, never hurt- 
ing him, "The smallest Bucha may go up to the* largest male, 
even when he is Musth*, and he will be kindly treated." The large 
one will welcome him with his trunk, laying it over him and smell- 
ing him, 

* The tame males, and males driven out of a herd, are subject to fits of tem- 
porary fury, or madness. lu this state they are said to be " Musth." 

[_From the Proceedings of the Zoological Society of London, 
February 25, 1869.]