Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Mad dogs and elephants

I have just started adding metadata for each volume of the Veterinary medicine material (from the India Papers), which forms Phase 3 of the Medical History of British India project. These 146 volumes will be online in late 2009. The first batch is about veterinary diseases and includes books on elephants. Elephants were used in India in the timber trade and also for transporting goods. It was vital that these animals, like many others employed by the government or army, were kept in good health, and these books give much detail about care and handling of elephants as well as how to treat elephant diseases. I wasn't aware until recently that elephants could contract rabies. Here is an account of a rare incident from A treatise on elephants by G.H. Evans (1901):"A mad dog, about five years ago, appeared in the elephant lines at Hyderabad. During the night it attacked an elephant when asleep and bit it on the trunk. The bite marks having been distinctly observed the next day, a little oil was applied, but nothing more was done and nothing particular occured till a month after the bite. During the first three days the [elephant] took food, ratib, and water, but afterwards took nothing. It did not appear to be afraid of water, as it drew it into its trunk and squirted it about, but did not drink any. It continued furious for two days, not allowing even the mahout to approach, after which it fell down and died suddenly."
The picture above shows "probably one of the finest workers in the Province [Burma]" and comes from the same volume. It appears as though this elephant was nearing the end of his life, which could have spanned eighty years or more.

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