The Indian elephant, in spite of its name, has a wide distribution outside India, in neighbouring countries such as Ceylon, Burma and Siam. Incidentally it is quite district from the African elephant, and not merely a different species as most people seem to think, the Indian and African elephants belong to different genera altogether, there is only one species of the genus **Elephas, E maximus**, which is the Indian (or Asiatic) elephant, there are two species of the genus Loxodonta, the African elephant, of which only one is larger than ours.

Usually, when an animal is distributed over several countries, territorial races of it are distinguishable. The tiger has a few such races, the Manchurian and the Indian, for instance ~ within India, the white tigers of Rewa are a distinct kind, if not a race, but I am afraid there is no such animal as the Royal Bengal Tiger. Though **Elephas maximus** has such a wide distribution in SE Asia, it is impossible to distinguish territorial races of it.

No less an authority than GP Sanderson says that seeing two tamed elephants, one wild ~ caught in Burma and the other in South India, no one can say which came from where without prior knowledge. For a somewhat different reason, I too think this true. Although I have no personal acquaintance with elephants from Burma, as Sanderson had, I have seen elephants from the foot-hills of the Himalayas to the farthest South, and though I have noticed pronounced differences between individuals in their tusks, bodily shape and relative proportions (particularly in large herds) these differences have no territorial basis.

However, certain tendencies are more pronounced or more usual, in some areas than in others, Ceylonese elephants, for example, are tusk less. Tusk less bulls or mucknas are found all over India and everywhere they are generally endowed with much thicker trunks than the tuskers and often more powerfully built. But Assam has the greatest number of mucknas of any region, and Kerala probably the least ~ the commonness of mucknas in Assam is reflected in their elephant control rules which make it compulsory for a licensee shooting a tusker to shoot a muckna as well.

In South India, Karwar, and elsewhere I had seen several mucknas, but none that was outstandingly big. So when a kind friend went miles out of his way to inform me that a singularly impressive muckna was visiting the shallow water at Bokam. I set off at once for this rather remote interior area of the Kaziranga sanctuary.

When I arrived there in the afternoon, after a long ride on elephant-back, he was there, on the other side of a bheel. There was no cover and the wind was not favourable but I made my way slowly on foot to the edge of the water for a better look at him Seldom have I seen as superbly proportioned a bull elephant and I have seen some.

His trunk seemed almost as massive as his thick-muscled limbs and was generously flecked with pink, the tip being entirely pink ~ there were pink flecks on the face and ears too. The tail was so long that the brush at the tip almost touched the ground, and his build was not only massive and powerful but also beautifully balanced. He was in musth, and his cheeks stained black. He did not mind me silting on the water’s edge across the bheel but the people behind me moved into view and he made of.

An hour later he was at the long stretch of water directly in front of our camp Luckly, this water was thickly fringed with tall grass and I could approach unseen. However, when I got near enough the light was dead wrong against me, and I got only a rim-lit silhouette.

By moving 60 feet to one side and getting into the grass and partly into the water a good picture could be taken, but four grass stems were in the way I asked the willing young man who had accompanied me and was now lurking behind to remove them, gesturing with my hands to indicate a sawing with the knife and saying ‘cut’ I should not have spoken but only gestured. He hacked at the stems and hearing him the great beast moved off.

He didn’t go far He stood behing a tree facing me, and I stayed put on the slippery wet bank, half hidden by the grass, I was confident he could not see me unless I moved and perhaps he too felt he could not be seen, standing behind a thick hole that did not hide his great bulk. For fully half an hour he stood there watching, as immobile as an elephant can be. Then, with a loud sigh he turned and disappeared into the forest and we did not see him again.

Subsequently, by two careful measurements of the impress of his forefeet on the clay, making due allowance for the slight spread I found his height at the shoulder was 9 feet 2 inches I have seen taller elephants and a superbly-built tusker just an inch or so under 10 feet in height ~ but this muckna impressed me tremendously.


This was published on 8 July 1968