By vicsolbert | June 20, 2014 | 2 Comment
While I work on writing up some more thoughtful posts on my first extended trip to the field, here is a fun story about how we got held up by an elephant.
Elephants have historically been used extensively across Asia for labor and transportation, even siege engines and mounts of war. Their massive size, dexterous trunk, and remarkable ability to follow instruction made them extremely valuable in these tasks. Today elephants are rarely used for such labor, both because they have been replaced by more modern methods and concerns over poor treatment of such a highly intelligent animal.
Working elephants can still found. I did an “elephant trek” in Northern Thailand riding on the back of an elephant. I also saw an elephant working in a lumber yard outside Srimongol here in Bangladesh. The other day however I encountered a modern and creative use for the elephant’s massive size, dexterous trunk, and remarkable ability to follow instruction – we were essentially mugged by one.
It was more mild extortion than mugging. We were driving along a narrow dirt/mud road in Munchigonj, a small town on the edge of the Sundarbans, on our way back to camp after a day of field interviews. On the road ahead I saw a rider on an elephant approaching followed by a gaggle of children. Excitedly I pulled out my camera, unaware of what was actually about to happen.
The driver knew what was coming though – he rolled down his window and offered up 10 taka. The elephant reached out with her trunk, but upon realizing it was only 10 the rider shook his head. With a smirk he turned his elephant broad side, and she lay down across the road in front of us.
Furious haggling ensued and the driver was quite annoyed. I thought it was hilarious. We eventually negotiated our release with 30 taka (barely 50 cents), so it really was a small bribe to pay. I have been warned however that there is a similar elephant who roams the streets of Gulshan in Dhaka, who will corner pedestrians and demand at least 100 taka. It was pretty funny from a car, but being corned on foot by an elephant sounds a bit more intimidating – if I see an elephant in town, I resolve to hide my camera and head the other way.