Mangoes for Elephants

On the road…again!

Afghanistan to Zambia

Chronicles of a Footloose Forester

By Dick Pellek

No, this is not a footnote about the 2011 Fox movie production of the same genre. The movie “Water for Elephants” was about a circus elephant that was abused and usually chained down. This one is about an elephant that was free to roam around the village, when he was not working in the forest hauling logs.

This short story is about a glimpse into the past, based on a few comments made by the Bengal Tiger wife of the Footloose Forester.

While watching a TV commercial that featured an Indian elephant used as a living prop for an insurance company, the Bengal Tiger mentioned that, as a young girl, she sometimes served up water to the neighborhood logging elephant in the village where she lived in Cambodia. The young logging elephant was trained by a man in the village of Stung Treng to help him move heavy logs. Known to be a docile creature, the elephant was not securely confined and she saw him roaming around freely, about once a week.

He was smart enough to wander in little Thu’s direction when he was thirsty, or hankering for a snack. In addition to getting a drink from a bucket that Thu filled for him, he probably knew that he could score some mangoes from her grandpa’s land. Grandpa had lots of mango trees…and other fruits.

Quite naturally, the ever loving Bengal Tiger picked some mangoes for him and thrust them toward the waiting trunk that was poking through a gap in the fence alongside the road. She watched as he munched on a mango, and then spit out the seed. Another mango, another seed spit out on the ground. Another mango, another seed. What is not clear is whether she responded with the mango snacks before or after the clever young elephant stuck his trunk through the gap in the fence to get her attention. Bengal Tiger really can’t say. After all, she was only eleven years old. But she does remember saving mangoes in a bucket, just to be ready if the young elephant showed up.

After Thu moved across the border into Viet Nam the following year, she kept in touch with her beloved Grandpa by occasionally hitching rides on cargo trucks that regularly crossed the border. She didn’t have the proper documentation, but since the border guards knew the truckers and the tuckers knew Thu by name, the guards didn’t make a fuss about papers. One time when she visited her Grandpa’s farm, she planted some watermelon seeds for him. Later on, in a letter to her he remarked that although only one vine survived, that single vine produced more watermelons than he could eat. He said that he had to give many melons away. One wonders if the mango-eating elephant was one of the lucky ones to be gifted with Thu’s watermelons.

More than three years after this little story was written, the Bengal Tiger offered a delightful addition to her story about the young elephant. On a couple of occasions when her Grandpa was not around, she would open the gate and let the elephant come inside the fence to feast under the mango tree on his own. There were plenty of mangoes lying on the ground and she thought that the elephant would appreciate eating as much as he wanted. She never told her Grandpa that she opened the gate for the elephant because she thought that he would get mad at her. But the little extra in her story filled the Footloose Forester with a burst of love that he was not expecting. After a bit more prodding, she also revealed that the young elephant would give her a loving brush on her cheek with his trunk. Why not? He was a relative baby who appreciated her kindness.

Some stuff you just can’t make up. With the voluminous addition of animal pictures to the Internet, and thanks to digital and cell phone cameras, this story should gain credence merely by providing another example of human-animal interactions in the real world. It is a pleasure to share them with others. We humans can only guess how and when animals are sharing their love with us, but some kisses are unmistakable.

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