Today we’re serving up an elephant double-feature. Click on over to Buzz Hoot Roar to get your second helping of pachyderms.
Last week, I woke up in the middle of the night and couldn’t get back to sleep. After several unsuccessful attempts to rouse every animal and human in my house for company, I stared out the back window into my moonlit yard. There, creeping through the branches of our sycamore tree was a fat, wiry raccoon.
I caught my breath. He was beautiful. His fur silvery in the moonlight, he humped his bandit’s body from limb to trunk to limb, his person paws testing, touching, scratching and turning over. He was somehow graceful, slick and scrappy all at once. And he was other than I, separate from me out there, on the other side of the pane, moving from moonlight to the darkness and shadows I wouldn’t explore in my bare feet from my kitchen floor.
Last week, Ganesh and Rahul also woke up in the middle of the night, just like me. They saw something wild and beautiful moving in the yard, just like I did. But what they saw was not other, could not be separated from them by panes of glass and sturdy walls. What they saw was terrifying. They knew the chilling potential of a five ton Asian elephant bull creeping almost noiselessly on padded feet through their backyard. They knew that bull might let himself inside the house, smash the walls, steal their food, trample their possessions, or worse, crush them or their family members.
Ganesh and Rahul live in Udalguri District of Assam, India, at the very edge of the country of Bhutan, where Indian plain abruptly meets the Himalayan mountains, somewhere between Bangladesh and Tibet. Asian elephants here migrate with the seasons, following a path of crops and rains. This time of year they make their way down to India, then make their way back to Bhutan each December. A few lone bulls remain amongst the villages of Assam year-round, perhaps tempted to raid homes of their stored harvests instead of expending energy following the herds.
Years ago, when roads and cities didn’t spread out quite so far in their amoeba-like fashion, Asian elephants journeyed through the forests and plains relatively undisturbed, revered by their human cohabitants, doing their elephant job for the environment, distributing seeds, bringing sunlight into forests by pruning and helping regenerate trees. But today, with an increased human population driving a need for larger cities and more agricultural fields, people and elephants find themselves on opposite sides of a conflict that can turn deadly.