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TO WEAN A BABY ELEPHANT

baby elephant
 


A tragic accident separated a baby elephant from his mother and their herd. He had to survive, without milk, in the wild on his own.  

His father had told him that until he’d grown jungle-smart, the forest was a very dangerous place to be.  

In his spell of ventures, he was nearly killed by a tiger and a vicious bull elephant and twice captured by humans.  

But a young bear, the monkeys and the village children he befriended helped him through…

 

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ISBN:   978-1-921919-69-5
Format: Paperback
Number of pages: 184
Genre: Fiction

Cover - Clive Dalkins
Cover painting by Ung Yong

Author: Ung Yong
Publisher: Zeus Publications
Date Published: 2012
Language: English

Author Bio 

The author is a retired practising lawyer now resident in Singapore. Ung Yong is his pseudonym.  

He was born in 1939 in a town near the Thai border on the east coast of the Malay Peninsula. 

His hobbies include story-writing, gardening, drawing and sculpting. All the illustrations in this book are his own.

1. The Herd  - part sample

 

WHEN THE HERD OF ELEPHANTS WAS FEEDING on the grassland at the verge of a forest, Nuer and his two cousins were running about, chasing one another, amidst the adults.

He was two and a half years’ old. He’d begun eating vegetation but wasn’t completely weaned. After having tried a mouthful of the grass, he preferred playing with the cousins, both a year younger and still on their mother’s milk only.

“Stop running and be quiet for a moment,” Juu, one of the aunties, told the kids and asked Nuer’s mother, “Merba, do you hear someone coming? I think it’s him!”

“You’re right,” she answered. “I can tell he’s bouncy and cheerful.”

“Who’s ‘him’ coming?” Nuer asked.

“Your father,” his mother said. “He’s stomping the ground to let us know. I guess he’s about a mile away.”

“But I can hear nothing.”

“Of course, you can’t hear footsteps so far away with your ears,” Aunty Juu said. “When you grow older you can feel the ground. You’ll sense all sorts of vibrations passing beneath the soles of your feet. You’ll slowly learn how to recognise them.”

“Wow, you can recognise everybody’s footsteps? Can I stamp my feet now to let my daddy know I’m here?”

They laughed and his mother said, “You have to grow much bigger and heavier first before the pounding with your feet can make sounds that travel under the ground.”

“I suppose, like everything else, it has to wait till I’m big and tall,” Nuer muttered, but in the split of a second he cheered up, asking, “Isn’t Daddy going to take us to the waterfall?”

“See, children never forget promises,” the aunty nodded her head. “I remember Kenki did promise so on his last visit. Let’s hold him to it. I haven’t been to that highland waterfall since we migrated here some fifteen years ago.”

“Just that it has become dangerous to go back south. Humans keep encroaching on the forests,” Merba explained. She was in her mid-thirties and was the herd’s leader. It was her prerogative to decide where they should roam about.

The elephants are social animals like human beings but they have a different social system. They live in small groups. Each group, or herd, is matriarchal. That is to say, it consists of and is self-governed by cows (as female elephants are called) with their eldest as its chief. The herd takes care of and raises their calves (as baby elephants are called). Growing up, bulls (as male elephants are called), stay with the herd until the age of six to seven when they leave the herd to be on their own. By then they have attained maturity and grown to the adults’ size (up to 12 feet high at the shoulder and 21 feet long from the tip of the trunk to the end of the tail).

All adult bulls, like Nuer’s father, live a solitary life. Each of them is like a carefree adventurer who wanders from place to place over a large territory. Because they are the largest and most powerful animals in the forest, even ferocious predators such as tigers, leopards and bears would keep away from them. But, from time to time, they visit their families.

 

IT WAS MID-MORNING on a sunny day. The air was still and cool. The heavy rain last night had washed all green grass and leaves clean and fresh. The ground had dried up but was still soft under the surface. It was the sort of hour when many animals are out foraging and feeding, and birds come down for worms and other invertebrates on the ground.

Nuer rushed about, telling everyone that his father was coming. Some young adults in the herd started guessing the direction of his approach. It was no easy feat to pinpoint his position from the ground vibrations of his faraway thumping. This is similar to the situation when you hear an airplane in flight high and far away. The sound often belies its source. You have to see it or its vapour trail to know where it is. Therefore the young elephants’ game is to look for visible signs.

“There!” one of them shouted with his trunk pointing to where a flock of birds suddenly flew up at a distant forest ridge.

“No, that’s too far,” they discounted it.

There were noises of monkeys but too close to matter. The consensus was that Nuer’s father should be about half a mile away by now. At times he seemed to be coming in various directions. When they finally heard the scurrying of some animals deep in the forest behind them, they all took it as conclusive and openly declared their prediction. So the entire herd was expecting Kenki, the bull, to emerge from between the tall trees on the higher ground adjoining the grassland. But, to their surprise, the ground vibrations of his footsteps suddenly stopped.

“What has happened to him?” Juu asked worryingly.

“It’s fine,” Merba said calmly but quite loudly so that everyone could hear her. She knew Kenki was tricking them because he was good at sneaking up on her and that he could move fast and quietly despite his body weight.

After quite a long while of anxiety, suddenly, the bull strode through the shrub terrain from the direction least expected by the herd. He split and overran the bushes in his way, humming a marching tune in tempo with the resumed drumming on the earth with his giant limbs.

“Where is his trunk?” Merba wondered because Kenki used to raise it high to the sky as he trumpeted sounds of jubilation on his arrival.

This time his trunk was lowered and curving inwards around something he was carrying. The herd couldn’t make out what it was (as all elephants have poor eyesight).

“Tada! Here it is,” he declared after laying it on the ground for them to see.

It was a bundle of huge bananas, each of the size none of them had ever seen before.

“These bananas don’t grow in the wild,” he told them proudly. “I had to grab them and run from a farm. The human calls them ‘elephant tusks’. So, it’s educational for us to know how our tusks taste!”

The funny overture was typical of his signing in. Once he was on the scene, he was the show host of the herd’s forum and the centre of everything.

There were enough giant bananas for each one in the herd to try a couple or more. Everybody went for the novelty and was full of praise for its unique aroma and taste, eaten unpeeled with its skin, thick and green. Only Nuer and his two younger cousins showed no interest in sampling the quaint fruit.

“This one is for you,’ his father brought it to him. “I understand your mom is still breastfeeding you. Try it. After this, you may not like your mother’s milk anymore.”

“No,” Nuer rejected. “I won’t eat an elephant tusk!”

His reply caused the herd to burst out laughing, especially as they saw the awkwardness of the tongue-tied Kenki.

His father sought to explain, “My son, it’s not really a tusk. The stupid humans call it so. They should’ve called it a ‘tush’ which is smaller than a tusk…” The more he tried to explain the funnier it became, which kept them laughing.

“Nuer,” Aunty Juu whispered in his ear, “try the banana and ask him about his waterfall promise.”

Nuer obeyed. He ate the banana, which he found agreeable to his taste buds.

“Great, good boy,” his father exclaimed in relief, as if he had regained his paternal dignity in the eyes of the herd.

“Daddy,” Nuer said pleasingly.

“Yes, my son.”

“Remember you promised to take me to the waterfall?”

“What waterfall?”

“Kenki, the last time you were here, you told him and all of us that you would take us to the Punchat Waterfall,” Juu joined in promptly.

The other adults also remembered it, but they kept quiet to await the response. Kenki looked around coolly to gauge the audience. They had the same eager look of expectation. He turned to Merba who merely smiled to him, and he knew she meant, “You’re hooked!”

“Of course, we’re going to the waterfall!” he proclaimed.

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