As the hard hide ropes, if left on too long, will cut the animal's legs to the bone, they are taken off as soon as possible. Ropes are slipped on to all its legs ; those on one side are crossed under it and the other two slackened off. It is then induced to charge in a particular direction when the crossed ropes trip it up, causing it to fall on its side. Two or three men at once throw themselves on to its head, holding it down. Even a large bull cannot rise if a couple of men are seated on its head. The fallen animal will try to pull them off with its trunk, but a man stands ready with a stick with which he administers half-a-dozen blows on that sens? £Ôve organ ; treatment which soon makes the beast cease its efforts and coil up its trunk tightly.
A long, strong coir rope is then made fast round its neck and a stout stick lashed to that part of it near its mouth to prevent the animal biting the rope. The hide ropes are taken off its forelegs and a single rope left on each of its hind legs. Next a rough path is cleared and seven or eight men seize the end of the long neck rope and stand ready, while the Pannikkan and another man post themselves behind to attend to the hind leg ropes. At a given signal the men holding the elephant down spring off its head and snatching up spears lying to hand stand on each side of it at a respectful distance.
The moment the anima] rises to its feet the men holding the neck rope give a shout and begin to haul their captive along towards the camp or to some place near water where they intend to tether it. 1f it charges down on them and gets dangerously near them, the two men behind check it by hanging on to the hind leg ropes, being mightily jerked at every stride of the huge beast. The duty of the men on each side is to prevent it turning aside by prods of their spears. If it succeeds in breaking away to right or left the two men behind speedily stop it by making the back ropes fast to trees. When the animal's head has been got round in the right direction, the ropes are loosed, the men in front haul again on the long neck rope and the whole party goes shouting and crashing through the forest.
A newly-caught elephant is thus often taken a considerable distance immediately after capture. It looks extremely dangerous, but is not really so, which is proved by the fact that accidents haidly ever happen. Even a big bull is perfectly helpless and harmless in the hands of these agile and experienced men. It cannot escape, though a powerful animal will sometimes give great trouble by turning right round and bolting, dragging all the men on the neck rope through the forest, who have perforce to let go. But with three ropes trailing from it, it cannot go far before it is again made fast to a tree by the dexterous Pannikkan following at its heels,
Whilst an elephant is being moved its actions are carefully noted by the noosers who attach superstitious importance to any peculiarities it shows, such as lying down obstinately or turning to one side only in its efforts to escape. Sometimes a furious elephant suddenly becomes quiet when the men look blankly at each other, for they know what is going to happen. In a short time it will sink down and roll on to its side dead, having probably ruptured some internal organ in its struggles.
On reaching the place where the animal is to be kept till it is tame, strong but elastic coir ropes are put on its hind legs and it is securely tethered. Fodder is then cut and thrown to it, and a wooden paddy-mortar brought and lashed to the tree in front of it and water poured into it ; but an elephant will not usually either eat or drink for a considerable time, being too exhausted and alarmed.
The jubilant noosers now examine their prize and comment on its points. A high-caste animal has a massive head, with prominent frontal bone, carried high, a back sloping away from head to tail, a big round body on stout legs, the fore ones being bowed in front, a powerful thick trunk, large triangular ears and a well "feathered" tail nearly touching the ground. The back of a low-caste brute is higher than its small head, it has a flat body, thin trunk, long legs and small ears, and it is nearly always more timid and uncertain in temper than a high-caste one. Elephant-catchers also always note the lucky and unlucky marks on animals caught by them. Among the latter are callosities on the neck, peculiarly-shaped white patches on the head, abnormal number of toe-nails and black spots on the tongue.
It is probable that not one elephant in three survives even if it does not die at once from the violence of its struggles after capture. They often live a month or so, become quite tame and then die from the change in their habits forced on them and from the terrible leg sores they get, caused by the ropes. When these become so bad that the toes drop off and the horny sole begins to part from the foot, the animal is useless and is sometimes let loose, only however, to die.
Pannikkans do not attempt, as a rule, to noose elephants over six feet high at the shoulder, but this is only because young animals of that size are most likely to survive capture and are most in demand. They can noose full-grown elephants just as easily, the only difficulty in securing them being that such powerful brutes will break rope after rope before they are made fast. Huge eight-foot bulls have been caught and successfully taken to camp by these men.
Every Pannikkan believes in the existence of, and is ambitious to catch a " muttu-komban " or pearl-tusker, a mythical creature which has hollow tusks with big pearls in them ! They also talk of the " tarasu-komban," a tusker with ringed tusks, specimens of which they say have been caught.
The prices now paid by traders to Pannikkans for elephants are much higher than they used to be. About fifty years ago not more than Rs.100 or Rs. 150 at most was paid for a six-foot animal, twenty-five years ago the price had risen to from Rs. 250 to Rs. 300, and now no Pannikkan will contract to catch and deliver one for less than Rs.500.
The fact that fatal or even severe accidents are extremely rare shews that elephant-noosing on foot is much less dangerous than it would seem. The Pannikans themselves hardly ever get any worse hurts than bad bruises, but their followers, who have, through carelessness or in a spirit of bravado, approached too near to captured elephants, have sometimes paid severely for their recklessness.
Moormen are certainly pluckier than Sinhalese and Tamils but not more so than average Europeans. It is pretty certain that any young Englishman possessed of a quick eye and hand, good running powers and wind, and an acquaintance with the habits of elephants, would be able to noose them just as well as any Pannikkan, after a little experience. It is rather strange that elephant-noosing as a sport has never been attempted in Ceylon. It would be far more exciting than shooting these huge creatures, and probably less expensive as a license, to capture one costs only Rs.10 against Rs.100 for shooting it, and should one be caught its sale would perhaps cover a large part of the expenses of the trip. There would not be much difficulty in engaging the services of an experienced Pannikkan to give practical instruction and provide the necessary ropes, etc.
The writer devised in 1879 a trap by means of which he caught, with the permission of Government, a fine young cow-elephant to carry his baggage when travelling. His brother, the late Mr. W. H. Clark, subsequently trapped nearly fifty elephants of all sizes, including one fine tusker, in the Mannar District, Northern Province. He was engaged in this work for about two years and gave it up on joining the Forest Department. The writer spent three weeks with him in 1881 at the Aruvi-aar river, and can testify that for thrilling excitement elephant-trapping leaves nothing to be desired. The trap is merely a very strong hide noose set in a particular way in the path, by which elephants go to drink in the dry season.