I used this picture for my class activity. As usual the kids had 15 minutes to observe the picture and write down their observations based on the three guiding questions as mentioned in the earlier class.
Within minutes, they took turns to give me their observations. They all observed the mayhem caused by the elephant gone rogue angrily trampling vehicles while people ran in panic. They saw the fear and confusion in the elephant’s eyes and concluded that the elephant either escaped from the zoo or was a wild pachyderm that wandered into town. They noticed the panicked people running to safety from the elephant while those on the top floors of the shopping complex were amused at the whole drama taking pictures and informing the authorities or others over mobile phones, no doubt. They concurred it’s a market place based on the numerous shops, tricycle with sacks to be transported, traffic and parked vehicles.
Looking at the attire, a vest and a checkered towel for a turban, of the man pulling the tricycle they concluded that it has to be India as the signboards also had Hindi on it. One of them mentioned that it is an Asiatic elephant and not African based on the physical features. The shopping complex name City Plaza also gave them clues that this could be Chennai which has similar shopping complexes. Some thought it was Kerala as the language on the signboards was not Tamil and their assumption that Kerala had more elephants than Chennai.
Only one student noticed something sticking near the elephant’s tail and she deduced that in all likelihood the elephant was shot at or hurt which made it angry that led to the pandemonium.
As I ran out of my class time, I gave them the caption and details promising to wrap up the conversation in the next class.
During my next class, we summarized our observations and I showed them the caption which read that a wild elephant wandered out of a forest into a town in North Bengal and after 3 tranquilizer shots was calmed and later returned to the forest.
I asked them what did they see to have inferred the elephant was not domesticated but escaped from a zoo or a wild elephant as some mentioned during their observations. They supported their claim with the fact that there was no mahout to control the elephant nor were there any signs of decorate like those that adorn a temple elephant especially one from Kerala. On a little more nudging, they noticed a lot of mud on the back of the elephant, a possible indication of a wild elephant, as they often cover themselves with dust. Moreover, the tamed ones would be regularly cleaned by the caretaker. Besides, there was no saddle, signs of hard labor (I am surprised if they even know how to spot them) or shackles around its legs.
My next question to them was what did they think was the reason the elephant wandered into the town. They thought for a while and told me that either it was searching for food or in search of its calf taken by hunters or poachers. We went onto discuss a little about the man-animal conflict caused by deforestation leading to the loss of habitat and food which caused distress and even loss of life for the wild animals.
I further extended the discussion to what would be their reaction if they found a tiger or cheetah wander into town or for that matter spotted a snake in their backyard. They all echoed they would run away, close all the doors and windows and inform adults to safely remove the animal/snake and inform the relevant wildlife authorities.
When adults outnumbered the snake or the cheetah what happened was my next question? They realized two possibilities – one was that the people gather to entrap the animal or if there is fear among the mob, the animal was killed. They were all very sad at the prospect of the snake or cheetah being killed. They strongly voiced their dissent at such an end for the animal for no fault of its own. It was humans who encroached upon forests, caused deforestation, and in addition killed wildlife out of fear if the animal wandered into town in search of food.
The class ended on a note of awareness of the needs of wildlife and causes which led to such conflicts. Awareness is the first step when we realize what we are doing. As we move forward to improve the situation, we start to bring about a change. All in all, it was an interesting and insightful environmental conservation and ecology session in my English class. Or was it really an English class?!
Note : Student chosen aliases have been used instead of real names. Due to copyright restrictions, the actual picture cannot be reproduced. Instead a student drawn illustration has been used and a link to the actual picture has been provided in the article as well as below: