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6 Times Elephants Taught Humans Lessons in Compassion

6 Times Elephants Taught Humans Lessons in Compassion

Despite what we do to them, elephants have rescued and protected us time and time again. Here's a reminder that we should learn some lessons from them!

Yet another elephant died a horrible death in Kerala on 27 May after eating pineapple stuffed with firecrackers. She was pregnant and died in agony, drowning from exhaustion after wading into a river to soothe the pain.

(Farmers use these pineapples to scare boars away from their fields. But cruelly, they inflicted this violence on an animal merely passing through a village.)

Mohan Krishnan, a Section Forest Officer who was part of the Rapid Response Team that hoped to rescue the elephant shared a post about this incident. Soon enough, it caught the attention of animal lovers, the media, and compassionate people everywhere – who categorically condemned the act.

I couldn’t help but think of my adventures in Jim Corbett National Park when the only warning given to us by the locals was not to provoke an elephant if we see one.

Widely stressed advice was that “they are usually kind and compassionate and won’t harm you. An elephant is dangerous only in two situations- if a male is experiencing musth (aggressive behaviour due to a rise in reproductive hormones) or when they feel threatened. Otherwise, they are gentle creatures.”

Elephant rescue
Image Source: Mohan Krishnan/ Facebook

About half of the world’s Asian Elephant population has declined in just 75 years. Today, an estimated 20,000-40,000 remain in the wild. They are, without a doubt, an integral part of our shared ecosystem. Elephants are known for their intellect, their amazing memory, and their gentleness.

Yet, we continue to be unkind to them- bulldozing their homes, confining them to congested cages, killing them for ivory, and riding them for parades and shows.

Yet, in a lesson to us all, elephants are well known to be intuitive and proactive when humans are in distress. They have caught on camera multiple times rescuing, protecting, or helping people. Here are six such incidents – to remind us how cruel we are to a being that has seemingly infinite kindness – even for its oppressors.

1. Baby elephant rushed to rescue a ‘drowning’ man

A herd of elephants was walking along a river when a young one spotted a man in it. Watch the video till the end, and you will notice that the man does know how to swim. However, the elephant, perhaps thinking the man was in danger, stepped into the river and swam towards the human to protect him. The elephant, a child himself, was determined to safeguard the human. So adorable!

2. An elephant protects a young girl who met with an accident

Representative image of an elephant
Representative image.

In this incident from West Bengal in 2019, an elephant shielded a 4-year-old girl from the rest of the herd. The girl was travelling with her parents on a two-wheeler ridden by her father. When a herd of elephants suddenly appeared from a forested patch on to the road, he lost balance, crashing the vehicle.

One of the elephants from the group walked towards the toddler and stood still, keeping the girl between its legs till the others from the herd crossed the road. As IFS officer Parveen Kaswan put it to The Better India (TBI), “Elephants are social animals, who live in families. They are capable of showing many emotions, one important of which is compassion.”

3. Musth-affected jumbo tears down a house in a rage; still rescues 10-month-old baby

elephant rescue
Image Courtesy: Parveen Kaswan

Musth can increase testosterone levels in a tusker by almost 60 per cent and makes them highly aggressive. In such cases, elephants attack other animals without provocation, female elephants (who may or may not be in heat), and even trees and human establishments.

In 2014, a tusker possibly experiencing Musth, attacked a village home in West Bengal. It smashed the walls and destroyed the property. Unfortunately, a 10-month-old baby was inside the house at that time. Naturally, she started crying.

Dipak Mahato, the child’s father, later narrated to the Times of India, “We ran over. We were shocked to see the wall in pieces and a tusker standing over our baby. She was crying, and there were huge chunks of the wall lying around and on the cot. The tusker started moving away, but when our child started crying again, it returned and used its trunk to remove the debris.”

Unbelievable, but true.

4. An instinctive jumbo saves an 8-year-old from a Tsunami

Representative image of an elephant
Representative image.

Amber was a young British girl on holiday in Phuket back in 2004. She would go for elephant rides every morning and had grown especially fond of one young jumbo, Ning-Nong. On that fateful day, she was with her favourite elephant on the beach. Only this time, Ning-Nong was visibly anxious about stepping into the sea.

Amber and the Mahaut were both confused about this peculiar behaviour of Ning-Nong. But when a tall wave hit the elephant’s shoulder, they became alarmed. At this point, Ning-Nong stopped taking commands and ran inland, with Amber on her shoulder. She ran and ran till she found a wall over which Amber could jump to safety. The waves soon across swept the entire area.

Speaking to The Guardian, Amber, now in her twenties, says she did not know what happened to the elephant, who could not climb over the wall. But the being’s instincts definitely saved her life.

5. Elephants who help humans catch rogue jumbos

elephant rescue
Image Source: Mohan Krishnan/ Facebook

Man-animal conflict is no doubt on a rise in many forests in India. About 100 humans are killed by pachyderm issues every year in the country. And many of incidents are by agitated tuskers threatened by human presence. To tackle rogue tuskers, many times, domesticated elephants come to our aid.

Just ask Parbati Barua, a female Mahout from Assam who takes her three ‘daughters’, all elephants, on such missions. The risk is high for these female elephants because the tuskers may attack them as well.

Such actions may not seem like something they do by free choice. But ultimately, if they wanted to, they could run away or refuse the commands. But across India, they stay and help – for which we should be grateful.

6. For Jake Dorothy, elephants became therapy

Representative image of an elephant
Representative image.

Jake had experienced abuse as a child would often contemplate hurting himself. After years of battling with trauma, he decided to do something life-changing and flew to Thailand to work with rescued elephants.

One of his closest aides became Kabu, a rescued 26-year-old jumbo who had also experienced trauma in earlier years. Kabu, used as a log transporting jumbo, had met with an accident where a log rolled over her, breaking her leg.

At the rescue center, Kabu became a composed, affectionate animal who put aside her trauma to be kind to others. Together, Jake and Kabu would go on a unique therapy journey, helping each other through ups and downs.

These are but a few examples. Apart from helping humans, there are many incidents when elephants have helped other animals and jumbos from other herds.

We can close with IFS officer Vipul Pandey’s words to TBI –

“All these elephants want is love and compassion. They are very protective of their and others’ children. They form close bonds, friendships, and much like humans, prioritise these companions over others. They celebrate births and mourn deaths. Elephants don’t want conflicts. They want to live their own lives.”

Let’s try to remember that always.

(Edited by Vinayak Hegde)

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