Kalawewa, 8 January 1893

In great excitement, the preparations for the elephant hunt were undertaken, the various rifles tested and also an elephant skull sawn in two to show the spot that kills an elephant without fail and the projects for a successful hunt were extensively studied.

I had just tried a shot with the eight-bore-rifle and having returned to the bungalow, stood on the veranda with the gentlemen when one of the English gentlemen handled one of the large caliber guns without care. The gun went off amidst us. The projectile plunged through the ceiling so that one could see through the light from the blue sky. We fortunately escaped with only a rain of small brick pieces.

Finally after long discussions, we were ready to go and our expedition consisting of Captain Pirie who assumed the lead in our elephant hunt, multiple native hunters called shikaris, departed in a boat across the pond. Mr. Murray, Wurmbrand and Kinsky followed at a certain distance as spectators.

The sun was burning hot on the surface of the lake on whose edge trees sat snakebirds, large and small cormorants, various herons as well as beautiful kingfishers. They let our boat approach them closely without interference. After we had crossed the pond, we debarked out into the jungle and soon found the mighty tracks of the elephants. The animals had sought the watering hole during the night and had then returned into the boundless thicket. Two shikaris, an old guy and a younger man, were sent out and soon returned with the message that the elephants were in the thickest jungle but one could seek them out there. With a prayer to Saint Hubertus we entered the jungle, first the shikaris then I, Pirie and at the end another shikari who carried a spare rifle.

Someone who has never entered such an elephant jungle will be unable to understand the thickness of thorns as well as the difficulty of moving in it as one can advance only in a crouching position or on all fours. I might compare such a jungle with our thickest areas in the Danube wetlands with the notable difference that in the tropical heat, the mosquitoes and the terrible thorns made the situation much harder. At any moment thorns and bushes held back the cap or dress, with bloody hands and face, with torn clothes, scratched and excited one emerged finally into the open space again.

Assiduously we crawled on until half an hour later we heard a tiny cracking of twigs made by eating elephants. Although I am normally not prone to hunting fever, I must admit that I was gripped by it when listening out for the elephants and stalking them.

Like Red Indians we sneaked forward in a row towards where we had heard noises when suddenly a shikari crouched and gestured toward a bush. I could not see anything clearly but only heard the loud noise which I first assumed was made by the grinding of the elephant teeth but later learned that it was made by the flapping of the elephant ears. The wind was not from a favourable direction and thus we had to stalk them from another direction as these colossal animals neither possess good eyes nor good hearing but are excellent in catching a scent. We approached to about 25 yards from the elephants. I saw through the thick bushes only a huge mass laying on the ground which looked like a termite mound or a haystack but could not, despite all efforts,  for the longest time not distinguish the form of an elephant.

Finally, there was some commotion among the bulky animals so that I could see a huge black elephant with his back towards me whose legs were pushed to all sides. From time to time its trunk aptly caught a few leaves while its ears fought against the mosquitoes. In a similar posture was an even bigger elephant, apparently a happy mother as at her feet a kid was sleeping while in the background a half grown elephant was standing. An image of the truest peace of these quiet beasts in the deepest jungle.

I hoped to sneak closer upon them but it seems the wind had already changed as the black elephant stood up, turned in our direction and then fled into the thicket. All his companions then also stood up and tried to escape. Although all hunters had told me only to shoot at a distance of 6 to 8 m and only to target the place between the eye and the ear or the grove above the trunk, I decided to try my luck with a shot at the middle of the head of one of the animals. After the smoke had cleared, we went to the location and found blood tracks but unfortunately no elephant. We unsuccessfully pursued the tracks for some time. Captain Pirie believed that the distance of 20 m had been to great and the bullet was unlikely to have pierced the inch-thick elephant hide. In a pretty bad mood I worked my way back out of the jungle to the gentlemen who had stayed behind.

It is astonishing how little noise an animal the size of an elephant is making. Even a whole herd of these colossal animals in the thicket sneaks about like foxes and only very close by does one hear the snapping noise of breaking branches.

Finally at 4 o’clock in the afternoon we traced some elephants again which was confirmed by two of our shikaris who had been sent out earlier.

Again I started sneaking up but unfortunately I let myself be diverted from the one I originally intended. Thus I approached up to 10 m of a unworried browsing elephant standing in thick bushes together with a comrade but unfortunately from the backside of the elephant so I couldn’t shoot. At that moment, one of the shikaris must have stepped on a twig as the elephant became uneasy, turned and tried to escape. Now I could see his head and fired into the light – with a dull crash the monster fell. Quickly two further shots rang out by my companions so that due to the thick smoke on the ground I could distinguish nothing. Suddenly did out of the smoke and above our own heads appear an elephant’s head. The elephant charged towards us and seemed to have identified us as targets. Quickly we jump to the side while, stomping on trees and bushes, the large herd runs by – for all of us, a very exciting and thrilling moment. As Pirie assured me healthy elephants rarely pursue humans as this was the case here. If we had not retreated into the bushes, the elephant would have crushed us as the distance between the angry animal and us was less than two meters.

While this scene was taking place, the elephant that had stumbled rose again and escaped. Following the copious blood tracks Pirie and I pursued it for more than an hour paying no attention to the branches and thorns until we had to stop due to our exhaustion from the hunt and because it started getting dark and we feared of forcing the very sick elephant to disappear entirely.

Returning tot he bungalow not exactly with the sunniest disposition I bagged some sandpipers, red-wattled lapwings (Lobivanellus indicus) and kingfishers close by that had ventured out along the pond. The evening saw us reunited for supper where everybody told his day’s events as best as he could. The other gentlemen had hunted various small game in the vicinity and brought back monkeys, striped squirrels and various birds home, giving Hodek plenty of work to do.

Links

  • Location: Kalawewa, Ceylon
  • ANNO – on 08.01.1893 in Austria’s newspapers. The Neue Freie Presse uses the slow news day to comment about the construction project going on at the Hofburg in Vienna and give an update about the Bosnia.
  • The Wiener Salonblatt which had promised to publish a weekly update about Franz Ferdinand’s journey fails to do so in its second number of the year. Its pages are filled with aristocratic wedding announcements and reports instead.
  • The k.u.k. Hof-Operntheater is playing Shakespeare’s „Romeo und Julie“ (today usually translated as „Romeo und Julia“, they are Italian not French); the k.u.k. Hof-Burgtheater offers Emilia Galotti in the afternoon and the comedy „Die Biedermänner“ in the evening.

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