The Nagas

Hill Peoples of Northeast India

Project Introduction The Naga Database

published - Appendices. 'Detailed Report on the Naga Hills Expedition of 1878-80', Capt. P.J. Maitland

caption: transport and supplies
caption: use of elephants
medium: reports
person: Wingate/ Lt.
person: Maitland/ Capt. P.J.
date: 1880
person: India Office Library, London
refnum: IOR L/MIL/17/18/24
text: Elephants.- Of the 350 elephants, 167 were Government animals, 14 were lent by the Nawab of Dacca, and 124 were hired; that is, pressed by the civil authorities from native owners. Fifteen, however, were lent by tea-planters. Eighty of the Government animals came from the Dacca kheddah, and the remainder were those attached to the Assam Brigade, the Police, Forest Department, &c. In fact, the province was completely drained of its elephants. By the end of October, when the expeditionary troops were beginning to march from Golaghat, 140 had been collected , and the number increased constantly until the middle of December, when the first batch of fifty from the Dacca kheddah ( see pages 28, 29) and the Nawab's 14 fine animals arrived.
text: It was principally by means of this very large elephant train that the force in the Naga Hills was kept supplied. But the mortality was enormous. Lieutenant Wingate states it to have been 100 among the Government elephants, and 40 among those hired. He attributes the losses principally to overwork and insufficient feeding.
text: At first necessity compelled the adoption of the convoy or " through " system. The elephants marched right away from Nikriting to Sachima, doing distances of 18 to 20 miles daily, with a load of 8 or 10 maunds in addition to their own grain, and the cooking pots and baggage of their attendants. The road hardly existed but in name, and after entering the hills, the elephants are described by Lieutenant Wingate as literally crawling on their knees for long distances up most difficult slopes. The marches occupied the whole day, and often a part of the night, so that the animals could get no natural fodder, and were even sometimes without grain. To add to all this the cold at the elevated camps in the Naga Hills was severe, and the unfortunate elephants exhausted by their toil and want of sleep, readily contracted lung disease, which carried off many. A large proportion of the casualties is attributed to the overwork, starvation, and exposure, of the early days when the through system was in force.
text: (2) When the stage system became fairly established, about the middle of January, the animals were not so severely worked, and the hill stages were taken by coolies and ponies; but the roads were still very bad, the marches too long, and the food insufficient.
text: The actual causes of death were; (1) lung and heart disease, induced by exhaustion and exposure; (2) enormous suppurating sores produced in the first instance by the friction of the elephant's gear; (3) heat apoplexy in April and May. The elephant gad-fly was a terrible source of annoyance to the elephants, and also to their attendants; for it bites men as readily as animals.
text: Lieutenant Wingate reports that the grain ration was insufficient. During the expedition 6 seers were given daily to an ordinary elephant, 8 seers to a large one. The elephant in his natural state spends perhaps 12 hours out of 24 in browsing, and when the same animals in captivity are doing no work, and their natural food can be procured near at hand, grain may be unnecessary. But the elephant employed in a military transport train work every day and all day long, little natural fodder can be procured for him under any circumstances,however abundant it may be, and a large grain ration appears as necessary to sustain his energies as it is those of the horse. Lieutenant Wingate considers 15 to 20 seers not to much for an elephant under the conditions which prevailed during the Naga Expedition, and he remarks that the Assam planters give 20 seers to an elephant doing hard work. When no grain is given, at least 10 maunds chara ( fodder) should be allowed, but to collect this would often take the whole day.
text: In the hills the steepness of the ascents and descents was so great, that the loads could not be made to ride steadily. Sore backs, galls on the belly, and at the root of the tail, were to be seen on almost every elephant. These soon became huge sores, filled with maggots, and some elephants died from them.
text: The gear of the hired elephants was of the most wretched description. Many hired elephants made but one journey to Piphima or Sachima, and were thenceforward incapacitated for work for the remainder of the expedition. It is absolutely necessary to furnish all hired elephants with Government gear, and this should be provided from the commencement.
text: The Government elephants had good gear, but Lieutenant Wingate thinks a pack saddle would be preferable to the present gadela, and the Superintendent of the Dacca kheddahs agrees with him on this point. Mr. Sanderson has invented a pack saddle for elephants which, it is understood, has been successfully tried. The rope passing under the tail often cuts deep into the flesh, and makes a bad wound. In the Government gear the part of the rope immediately under the tail is covered with leather; but unless this is kept soft by being constantly greased, it is worse than useless. A piece of smooth cane, especially if oiled, was found to be the best arrangement.
text: The condition of the Government elephants was bad from the commencement, and this is attributed in a great measure to their receiving no grain, or at least an insufficient allowance. The 50 elephants first received from the Dacca kheddah, a distance of six weeks' march, appeared to have been slowly starved by their attendants. Two died on the road, two more strayed and were lost, 25 were found to be unfit for working on arrival; so that the 50 elephants were practically reduced to 21. No European accompanied the elephants on their long journey. The second batch of 30 elephants reached Golaghat on 12th May, the weather being then very hot and unfavourable for marching, yet their condition was much better than that of the first batch. This is attributed partly to their receiving grain while en route, but principally to their being inspected at every station through which they passed, and being altogether taken more care of.
text: Lieutenant Wingate considers that the pay of the Jemadars of mahouts is far too low, and that being men of no standing or influence they connive at the rascalities of those under them. The mahouts with the expedition were docked of the "chara" allowance they receive in cantonments, so that their pay was actually much less than when employed in their ordinary and comparatively easy duties. They were naturally discontented, neglected their animals, and it is implied that they even wilfully maimed them to escape work.
text: At first a " pilkhana," or elephant hospital, was established near Golaghat, but it was afterwards found preferable to send bad cases to be treated at the pilkhana of the Assam kheddahs, only 45 miles distant, while elephants temporarily disabled were kept at their depots on the road, and if fit, employed in the light work of bringing in fodder for the others.
text: Not much is known about the diseases of elephants, and quantities of medicine are therefore unnecessary, but carbolic oil and ointment for the treatment of sores are of the greatest value. These were, however, very scantily supplied. The ointment is superior to the oil, as it is not wasted by spilling, and some can be constantly carried by each mahout.
text: The rate of march of the train elephants was rarely more than two miles an hour. Over the abominably bad roads of the Naga Hills District, it was often only one mile an hour. Lieutenant Wingate instances a march of 18 miles in the hills, which it took the elephants 36 hours to accomplish.
text: When working elephants on the stage system, the experience of the Naga Expedition shows that depots should be established at every 6 or 7 miles, as that distance ( there and back) is the most that can be done by fully laden elephants on a bad road. Elephants do not earn their keep, unless they carry 8 maunds and upwards according to size and strength, but all elephants should be allowed to rest about every fourth day.
text: Educated and trustworthy supervision, and plenty of it, are necessary to prevent peculation, and to ensure proper care being taken of the animals. A few hundred rupees additional (3) expenditure on this item would have been repaid, in the late expedition, by the saving of several thousand pounds worth of elephants.
text: Lieutenant Wingate considers that every elephant should have a light waterproof sheet as a protection against the weather, in addition to the tarpaulin used for covering gear and stores. Also that all the attendants should be supplied with good Nepaulese kookries.
text: The elephant train worked from November 1879 to June 1880, and the total cost, including about one lakh paid as compensation to native owners for the death of their animals, is estimated at no less than Rs. 4,03,091.