National Geographic : 1969 Mar
FROM MY SMALL PLATFORM in a mango tree I could look far down the Kabbani River of India's Mysore State. I had been waiting for hours. Now I heard the first distant cries of the beaters. The din of bamboo clappers, the shouts and howls of men, the blasts of shotguns, and the trumpeting of wild elephants shattered the air. Then I saw the great herd moving through the teak in the jungle across the river. Soon the close-packed animals reached the river bend, where a band of kumkies-as tame elephants are called-turned them down a flat sandy beach and out into the river. They drove directly toward my perch as I aimed my camera at the confused scene-a tumbling mass of gray shapes, with scores of trunks waving in the air and an occasional flash of white tusks. Behind the herd, steady and firm, came the lines of kumkies with tiny looking men waving and shouting from their backs. Following them was an astonishing mob-tribesmen and villagers and forest guards, boys and men of all ages in all man ner of clothes from ragged loincloths to shirts and ties, every one banging away furiously with bamboo clappers, howling, whistling, and cheering. This was the climactic moment of Mysore's famous wild elephant drive. Elephants Work as Lumberjacks I had come six weeks before to the State Forest at Kakanakote, near the southern bor der of Mysore (map, right), to watch the For est Department catch wild elephants by the khedda method. In a dramatic roundup, lines of beaters and kumkies drive an entire herd of wild elephants through the forest to a stock ade. From this they are later taken to be tamed and trained-primarily to help in harvesting teak, rosewood, and other valuable timber that can fetch up to $7,000 a tree.* When I arrived at Kakanakote, the area seethed with activity. Under the direction of Conservator C. Jayaram Reddy, superinten dent of kheddas, more than 8,000 teak logs and 20,000 stems of bamboo had been cut to build an 11-acre stockade and subsidiary structures. As work began, rows of diggers, wielding enormous long-handled shovels, scooped out four-foot-deep holes in the hard dark earth, and into these the kumkies tipped The author: British-born Harry Miller has lived in India for 15 years, writing and illustrating arti cles on natural history. He shares his house, "The Frogs," near Madras, with his Indian wife, two children, and a collection of tree frogs, giant squirrels, and snakes-but no elephants. 374 Ba ore ,Madras SITE OF ENLARGEMENT BELOW KERAAA Nagerco "CLON o 500 Colombo* ) STATUTEMILES GEOGRAPHIC ART DIVISION © NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC SOCIETY Trail to captivity begins in the deep jungle where beaters on foot surround a herd of wild elephants. At dawn on the day of the drive, foresters on kum kies pray for the blessing of the goddess Mastiam ma. Then they join the beaters in driving the entire herd into an 11-acre khedda, or stockade. the heavy teak logs, each 18 to 20 feet long. Following the kumkies, teams of villagers tamped down the earth at the bases of the heavy uprights, then lashed horizontal wood en bars between them. At the edge of the stockade others dug V-shaped ditches, eight feet deep and nine feet wide at the top-a precaution against newly captured elephants making a concerted attempt on the fence. Since elephants are unable to achieve even the smallest hop or spring and are extremely fearful of steep places, where their heavy bodies might be injured in a fall, the ditches make effective barriers. "Khedda," incidental ly, means "ditch," but has also come to mean *For a fascinating account of a lifetime with working elephants, see "The Elephant and I," by M. D. Chatur vedi, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC, October 1957.