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Elephant Crackers

Omar Chowdhury
19 April, 2005

According to AP report there is a drug problem of an unusual kind in Thailand these days. I quote.

Elephants hooked on amphetamine by exploitative owners will soon be able to kick the habit at government expense.
The Forest Industry Organisation. A State enterprise, will open up a veterinary hospital to treat drug addicted elephants, as well as those injured in logging work, the Bangkok Post reported Saturday.
The darker side of pachydermal existence has only recently been disclosed in the national press. With reports that a number of elephants have become drug addicted after their handlers fed them with fistfuls of amphetamine pills to force them to work longer hours.
The forestry organisation’s managing director was quoted as saying the veterinary hospital will be established at the Elephants Training Centre in Lampang provinee, north of Bangkok.

Thailand has become quite famous for the kindness and consideration shown to animals. Crocodiles are encouraged to marry, and weddings are arranged by the government, and sometimes celebrated almost on a national scale! And now look at the commendable way in which the government is tackling the problem of elephants hooked on drugs!

According to the AP report it seems clear that the elephants have not acquired the habit by themselves. After all it’s not easy to imagine an elephant entering a drug store and demanding amphetamine, with or without a prescription. No, the stuff is being given to them in order to get more profitable work thours out of the poor animals, keeping the lumber industry going at full tilt. All this could lead to ugly consequences. Subversive elements may seize the opportunity to organize strikes among the elephant work force. Claims could be made in their behalf for overtime rates, not to mention higher wages! The government could be plunged into a whole series of distur bances and crises. The World Socity For The Prevention Of Cruelty To Elephants may be inspired to take the question right up to the United Nations Organisation. Where, of course, the matter would solemnly be laid to eternal rest.

What sort of drug is amphetamine? And what are its precise effects ? it cannot produce euphoria, else the elephants would sit around in languorous indolence. It appears instead to galvanise them into slogging away for their masters, forsaking all thought of lazing around chewing sugarcane, or swallowing bunches of banana fingers.

It must therefore be an “action drug”. What effect would it have on humans? And sub-humans? By the latter I have in mind teenagers of all ages, shapes, sizes, and nationalities, drifting down their various pathways to despair and death. Could it possibly give them more zing than sniffing glue, paint, or using soft dung? Can it be more potent and brain destroying than pieces of plastic stewed in petrol, to take them on a more soaring lethal flight? Perhaps it is really some kind of chemical compound, originally developed to scare the hair off grizzly bears? Who knows? But, leaving the morons to their madness, let us return to the elephants.

Going over to the medical shelf, I take down a volume entitle The Elephant At Bay, by professor Anne Trample, an authoritative tome. This indefatigable naturalist has closely studied this mammal in different climes, and paid great attention to all aspects of its life style, with penetrating observation and deep sympathy. In a chapter about how these ruminative creatures speculate sometimes on the possibility of obtaining temporary escape from the boredom of wild life in the velds and forests of their native habitat, and tame life in slavery, Professor Trample considers the large-eared elephants of Tanzania.

There grows a tree in Tanzania, that seasonally brings forth a bright red berry, which attracts the eyes of roving elephants. The berries are consumed with relish and passion. After which the elephants become inebriated, eventually reaching a state of sodden irresponsibility. They wander along the highways, gurgling with mirth and rare high spirits, induced by the intoxicating berry. In extreme bursts of playfulness, they hoot and trumpet passing trucks to stop, and while terrified drivers run for their lives, the vulnerable vehicles are gently overturned, and left lying helplessly on their sides!

In Thailand this fruit has not yet been discovered by the local mammals. They are at mercy of man administered drugs like amphetamine. What can the after effects be like? What nightmarish hangovers can result? Hospitals for these addicts are all very well, but is the manner of treatment in really capable hands? Are the doctors and nurses properly trained, and, apart from common or garden vets, have elephant psychiatrist been consulted? And, above all has Professor Trample been informed?
The scene now shifts to the State of Assam, in India.

Elephants develop a taste for alcohol! is the headline of an AP report.
In recent weeks, several villagers in tea gardens of Assam say that they have seen elephants smashing vats of homebrewed rice beer, and guzzling it down.
“They usually come in herds, mostly at night, and drink up the brew, fermented in the courtyard of homes, State mented in the courtyard of homes, State Wildlife Minister,” Shamsul Huda, told reporters Monday.
Villagers also claimed they have seen an elephant that has turned out to be a man eater.
“Villagers told me that the elephant caught hold of the person with its trunk tore apart his limbs, and ate parts of the dead man,” Huda said.
The incident was reported from a village near the Kaziranga wild life sanctuary.
What is one to make of all this? Elephants on drugs in Thailand, and now alcoholism overtaking elephants in India?

What gave the mammals of Assam the idea that they could invade the villages in search of booze? Instinct will not suffice as an explanation. Perhaps it was the result of shrewd observation, seeing tea-pickers getting stewed on their own brew! The thirsty mammals choose their times cleverly late at night, when they assume the humans must be sleeping.

The alarming aspect of this alcoholic tendency on the part of the elephants of Assam is that one of them has attacked and killed a man. Not only killed him, which can happen when an infuriated beast goes berserk and singles someone out as a dangerous enemy.

But actually to eat parts of him, is something one would never imagine an elephant capable of doing, confirmed vegetarians as they are.

Unless something is done about this, the authorities will have homicidal elephants wandering around the wildlife preserves of Assam, drunk on rice beer, thrashing their way through the tea gardens spoiling for a fight.

Animals seem to have begun acquiring some of the bad habits of Man. Perhaps things might be better if Man started acquiring some of the good habits of animals!


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