Open main menu

Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 21.djvu/503

This page has been proofread, but needs to be validated.

elephant," says Darwin, "is very faithful to his driver or keeper, and probably considers him as the leader of the herd. Dr. Hooker informs me that an elephant which he was riding in India became so deeply bogged that he remained stuck fast until the next day, when he was extricated by men with ropes. Under such circumstances elephants will seize with their trunks any object, dead or alive, to place under their knees to prevent their sinking deeper in the mud; and the driver was dreadfully afraid lest the animal should have seized Dr. Hooker and crushed him to death. But the driver himself, as Dr. Hooker was assured, ran no risk. This forbearance, under an emergency so dreadful for a heavy animal, is a wonderful proof of noble fidelity." Swainson gives a description of the sagacity of an elephant under such circumstances which is worth quoting in the present instance: "The cylindrical form of an elephant's leg—which is nearly of equal thickness—causes the animal to sink very deep in heavy ground, especially in the muddy banks of small rivers. When thus situated, the animal will endeavor to lie on his side, so as to avoid sinking deeper, and, for this purpose, will avail himself of every means to obtain relief. The usual mode of extricating him is much the same as when he is pitted; that is, by supplying him liberally with straw, boughs, grass, etc.; these materials being thrown to the distressed animal, he forces them down with his trunk, till they are lodged under his fore-feet in sufficient quantity to resist his pressure. Having thus formed a sufficient basis for exertion, the sagacious animal next proceeds to thrust other bundles under his belly, and as far back under his flanks as he can reach; when such a basis is formed as may be, in his mind, proper to proceed upon, he throws his whole weight forward, and gets his hind-feet gradually upon the straw, etc. Being once confirmed on a solid footing, he will next place the succeeding bundles before him, pressing them well with his trunk, so as to form a causeway by which to reach the firm ground. . . . He will not bear any weight, definitely, until, by trial both with his trunk and the next foot that is to be planted, he has completely satisfied himself of the firmness of the ground he is to tread upon. . . . The anxiety of the animal when bemired forms a strong contrast with the pleasure he so strongly evinces on arriving at terra firma" Such an account becomes extremely interesting, as convincing us that much, if not all, of the sagacity which is called forth by such circumstances must be inherent and original, as opposed to that gained by experience. It can not be supposed that the accident described can form such a frequent experience of elephant-existence in a wild state as to constitute a certain basis for acquired knowledge of what to do in the exigency. On the contrary, it seems more reasonable to suppose that the inherent and intuitive sagacity of the animal is simply called forth by the threatened danger, and that such an exigency brings into play mental acts analogous to those whereby, through mechanical and similar contrivances to those employed by the