Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 23.djvu/517

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MENTAL CAPACITY OF THE ELEPHANT.


But in our dealings with incontestable facts none of the many sagacity-stories alluded to can be used. We are, therefore, for the reasons just given, compelled to find the most of our evidences of independent reasoning in wild elephants. The writer has frequently seen wild elephants—

1. Reconnoitre dangerous ground by sending a scout or spy.
2. Communicate intelligence by signs.
3. Retreat in orderly silence from a lurking danger.
4. Invariably march in single file, like the jungle tribes of men.

Having on one occasion in hunting elephants approached to within fifty yards of the stragglers of a large herd of about thirty animals, which was scattered over about four acres of very open forest and quietly feeding, certain individuals of the herd on the side nearest us suddenly suspected danger. One of them elevated his trunk with the tip bent forward, and scented the air from various points of the compass, a sure sign of danger suspected. A moment later an old elephant left the herd and started straight for our ambush, scenting the air with upraised trunk as he slowly and noiselessly advanced. We instantly retreated, unobserved and unheard, and the elephant advanced until he reached the identical spot where we had a moment before been concealed. He paused and stood motionless as a statue for about two minutes, then wheeled about and quickly but noiselessly rejoined the herd. In less than half a minute the whole herd was in motion, heading directly away from us, moving very rapidly but without the slightest noise. The huge animals simply vanished like shadows into the forest. The entire herd formed in single file before proceeding a quarter of a mile, and continued strictly in that order, one directly behind another, for several miles. Like the human dwellers in the jungle, the elephants know that the easiest and most expeditious way for a large body of animals to traverse a tangled forest is for the leader to pick the way, while all the rest follow in his footsteps.

In strong contrast with the stealthy and noiseless manner in which elephants steal away from a lurking danger or ambush discovered, from an open attack, accompanied with the noise of fire-arms, they rush away at headlong speed, quite regardless of the noise they make. On one occasion a herd which I was designing to attack, and had approached to within forty yards on one side, as they were feeding in some thick bushes, discovered my presence and retreated so silently that they had been gone five minutes before I discovered what their sudden quietude really meant. In this instance, also, the alarm was communicated by silent signals, or sign-language. Tame elephants are never known to tread on the feet of their attendants or knock them down by accident; or, at least, no instances of the kind have ever come to my knowledge. The elephant's feet are very large, his range of vision is very circumscribed, and his ex-