Taken to tusk: cricketing elephant draws ire of environmentalists

Elephants have been trained to play cricket

Tony Bishop

Personally, I prefer to see whales and dolphins in the wild, leaping over waves not through hoops in safari parks. Likewise, elephants are highly intelligent yet sensitive creatures, with an extraordinarily well-developed sense of community. They should never be in a circus, constrained against their will and performing tricks to entertain a paying public. It insults the dignity of the creature and the intelligence of the public for them to do so.

I'm happy to turn around and see the frowns on the jugglers and clowns when they all do tricks for you. They do so of their own free will. A magnificent elephant does not.

So, you might well gather that an article about performing animals of any kind would be unlikely to attract my attention, be it seal, lion, dolphin, chimp, or even, as I once witnessed in Rotorua, New Zealand, sheep. And certainly not an elephant.

However, a cricket-playing elephant, was, in more ways than one, simply impossible to ignore. Firstly, because it was playing cricket, a sport I associate with intelligence and social sophistication (sandpaper, sledging and spot betting the exceptions that prove that rule). Secondly, because the article in question appeared, not in some populist red top tabloid or as "you won't believe what happened next" internet click bait, but in that fine US organ Newsweek, purveyor of quality investigative journalism since 1933. And thirdly, well, it was an elephant.

The video that prompted the article is extraordinary, showing an elephant in India wielding a bat (a Jumbo?) in its trunk and striking the balls bowled at it. If one was to be harshly critical, the Proboscidean Pujara does seem to have a limited range of shots, favouring exclusively the lofted cover drive and there is also a lack of footwork that makes it the greatest lbw candidate since Shane Watson retired. None the less, it is mightily impressive.

The video was posted on twitter by @Gannuuprem, along with the caption: "Have you seen an elephant playing cricket? Well he is better than many international players."

The 30-second clip has, predictably, gone viral and been viewed over 686,000 times, attracting more than 22,200 likes.

The footage though, has quite rightly sparked heated debate, with many social media users questioning the morals of a performing elephant and how it may have been trained.

"Being trapped and forced, usually with punishment until they follow instructions, to do these ridiculous stunts so people can profit from them," said one.

"And how much abuse was needed to 'train' him to do this," said another

A third pointed out: "Elephants don't naturally do stunts. This is sad, it's not entertaining."

The theme continues to gather comment and opinion with many in support of both the elephant and those who have trained it:

"Looks like the elephant know what he/shes doing and enjoys it. I hope those people take care lovingly," one posted.

Another claimed: "Elephants are highly intelligent animals. I am not surprised it was a skill the pachyderm picked up on its own. Everything doesn't have to be cruelty."

"Actually, elephants in India are very well kept," said another. "They form close bonds with the humans caring for them. They're definitely better off than in the wild."

And, predictably enough I suppose, arch twitter provocateur Michael Vaughan, never one to miss an opportunity for self-publicity, was quick to ask whether the creature had an English passport.

On balance, I still remain firmly of the belief that elephants have better things to do than entertain Michael Vaughan or indeed the rest of us. They should be roaming majestically in their natural habit.

But, if I could genuinely be reassured that no cruelty was involved and that the animal was acting out of enjoyment and not under duress, then cricket is about as good a diversion as it could hope to find. I might also mention it to Gus Fraser or Stuart Law as there seems to be an elephant-sized gap in the Middlesex middle order that badly needs filling at the moment.