When Ceylon belonged to the Dutch, the capture of elephants for sale was one of their principal sources of revenue. The operations were carried out in the south of the island, where elephants then swarmed, over two hundred having been captured in a single drive. The system is still followed, but not by Government, and the old Dutch name is still applied to it. Elephant kraals are now got up only by the Kandian chiefs, in honour of newly-appointed Governors, or of royal visitors to the island.
The system employed is to construct of tree-trunks strong enclosures, called kraals, into which herds of elephants are driven by hundreds of shouting men armed with spears, and provided with tom-toms and other noise-producing instruments. These men are sometimes engaged for weeks in the forest rounding up the elephants till all is ready for the final drive.
Stands are erected near the great gate of the kraal, and here ladies and gentlemen, invited to be present, sit for hours waiting, more or less patiently, while the herd is slowly and carefully brought up. When the great moment arrives, a tremendous uproar from guns, tom-toms, and human throats is raised, and the terrified elephants come crashing out of the forest, pause for one moment at the sight of the stockade, and then rush through the gate, a huddled mass of huge black forms ; the gate-bars are dropped behind them, and the pleasant, leisurely jungle-life is ended for most of them.
As soon as the herd is enclosed, tame elephants, carrying men expert at noosing, enter the kraal, and one by one all the young and saleable animals are secured and dragged out. The aged and infirm elephants remaining are then allowed to escape.
The imprisoned elephants are generally too cowed to give any trouble, but occasionally an old bull, or more often a cow with a young calf, will show fight, and charge the stockade, and has to be shot to prevent it breaking through. It is a curious fact that the men riding the tame elephants inside the kraal during the noosing operations are never molested by the wild ones, though it would be easy for them to pull the men off and to trample them to death.
The training of the captured elephants is a simple matter. They are secured by ropes on fore and hind legs to strong trees, and are left to struggle till they have thoroughly exhausted themselves. Food and water are then offered to them, of which they will partake after a time. Day by day they get accustomed to the sight of human beings and to being fed and handled, and at the end of a few weeks are often tame enough to be untethered and led to water. A forest elephant, caught when full grown and tamed, is always more docile and safer than an elephant which has grown up from calfhood in captivity. Many elephants kill themselves through internal ruptures by the violence of their struggles after capture. They also suffer terribly from leg-sores caused by the chafing of the tether-ropes.
Elephants are also caught for sale by the Pan-nikkans, a class of Moormen living in the northwestern and eastern parts of the great forest. Armed with noosed ropes of raw hide, they commence operations by creeping up to a herd and putting it to flight. Having selected their quarry, generally a half-grown animal, they follow hard after it on foot, and slip nooses on to its hind-legs as it runs, and then make fast the ropes to trees. It is a dangerous pursuit, and the method of capture is very injurious to the elephants caught, many of which die a few days afterwards.
In old days elephants were caught in pitfalls, or by being driven into swampy places from which they could not extricate themselves, but these methods are not now employed.
Not far from where the elephant kraals are held is the little town of Kurunegala, at the foot of a great bare rock. A large tank, or artificial lake, lies to the west of it, which a few years ago burst its embankment and flooded the bazaar, doing great damage.
To the west of Kurunegala, and on the sea-coast, is another small town, called Negombo. It has a small fort, built by the Dutch, also an immense banian-tree, one of the most wide-spreading in the island, growing on the esplanade. Several lagoons, linked together by canals, lie between Negombo and Colombo, on which ply numerous quaint-looking pada boats, conveying produce to and from the many coconut estates in the neighbourhood.
Of the natural beauty of Ceylon as a whole there can be no question. Surrounded by a turquoise sea ; encircled by palm-fringed shores and clothed with perennial foliage, from the white waves beating on its coral strand to the wooded summits of its many-peaked, deep-valleyed mountains; with its undulating emerald hill-downs, thunderous waterfalls and cascades, great plains covered with forest, broad gleaming tanks, silver-shining rivers, and placid lotus-covered lagoons, it presents scenes of loveliness almost justifying the words of the well-known hymn, which describes it as a land "where every prospect pleases".