Right now, I’m basking in the productive atmosphere of the Oregon Coast Writers’ Retreat, and I’m getting close to a place in my novel where we first encounter…wait for it… Cossacks riding on bears!
As you might expect, there is not much information out there on how to train a war bear. However, I did find a wonderful little handy instruction for training your own personal war elephant. No, they are not that similar, but in a fantasy setting, you’re allowed some leeway. So here’s how to train your war elephant, and you can mentally substitute “war bear” at the appropriate places if you will. Enjoy!
How to Train Your War Elephant
A short instruction on how to capture, train, and use an elephant in war, translated from the Russian
- Catch the elephant
Indian elephants are easily trained at any age, so it’s better to capture those who can immediately be used in wars and for labor. African elephants take much slower to train (most likely this is because the Asian elephants have better muscular coordination). You should never capture an infant elephant, an elephant with no tusks, a sick or underdeveloped elephant, or a pregnant or breastfeeding female.
To catch an elephant, you need to attract it into a pit-trap or a trap built of poles. To bring a captured elephant into your camp, you must use already trained elephants as beasts of burden.
- Before you can train it in the art of war, an elephant needs to be trained in the basics
An elephant needs time to get used to such things as saddle-girths, reins, and chains. It needs to become comfortable with people. It also needs to become used to training together with other elephants. Grown Indian elephants are tamed by both withholding food and beatings, but after the elephant becomes tame, nothing is needed except the simple command of a trainer. African elephants go through the same training, but it takes longer—from a month to a year, depending on circumstances.
In general, training an elephant is not that different from training a dog or another household animal.
- Learn how to guide the elephant yourself
The ways used to direct the movement of elephants have not changed for millennia. Today, they are the same as in ancient times—sharp sticks with a hook-like end or other such sharp implements.
If an elephant is well trained, this stick in only used when the animal becomes stubborn. The driver then smacks it on the rump or the neck, until it calms down. Most of the time, a verbal command is enough. Other ways of guiding elephants include the driver using the large toe of his feet to push against the ears of the elephant. Again, these methods are not that different from using reins on a horse.
- Train an elephant to stop, grab, pierce, and trample
A war elephant has different uses in war—charging, trampling, or overwhelming the enemy ranks, battling other war elephants, sieges, and open-field warfare. In ancient times, an elephant was trained to stomp on foot soldiers, to cut them open with tusks, to grab soldiers or horses with the trunk. Some elephants could even be trained to throw spears with their trunk!
The truth is, elephants are not natural-born killers. They need to brought to a berserker state, usually with a mixture of wine, pepper, and narcotics. Ancient Indians, and the Greeks after them, knew that elephants like alcohol. So, war elephants are given daily rations of alcohol, not wine, but a strong fermented drink made from rice and sugar. In Ceylon, elephants were given opium. In ancient times, war elephants’ trunks were painted red with berry juice. It was believed that the elephant confused it with blood, and the sight of it made it aggressive. Sometimes they also hung bells around its neck to annoy it with the constant noise. All of this was supposed to bring the elephant into a temporary berserker state.
- Always keep a chisel and hammer on your person
If the elephant loses control to such a degree that it begins to attack its own ranks, you have to put it down quickly. The death should be quick, so that the animal doesn’t suffer. Put the chisel at the base of the skull and hit hard.
- Make sure to use the elephants for non-military tasks as well
As strange as this may sound, elephants move fairly well in mountains. The English in India used them as beasts of burned to move heavy artillery. They are especially useful in swamps where horses or oxen have great difficulty. They can also use their trunks to pull out swamped artillery.
- Decorate the elephant and protect its body
The elephant must frighten the enemy by its appearance alone. Thus, the Indians, Greeks, Carthaginians decorated them with gold or silver, to make them look even more impressive. Their ears and trunks were painted red, blue, or white, and their bodies were covered with ornate fabric.
It is also useful to put mail on an elephant that covers the body as much as possible. The tusks should be covered with metal, or have spears tied to them. Attaching sharp stakes to their chests is also useful in case of a charge to the enemy lines.
- Feed your elephant well
An elephant’s digestive system is 35 meters long. It’s also not a very efficient system—the beast needs no less than a day to digest what it has eaten. If the ration is not nourishing enough, the elephant will quickly lose strength. Grown wild elephants need to eat nearly 20 hours of any given day. Tame elephants who don’t need to look for food only need 8-10 hours a day to eat. They will need over ninety kilograms of grass and roots.
But this is only enough food to keep the elephant from weakening. To increase its strength and power, add rice, sugar, bread, fruits, and some restorative agent such as pepper, wine, or water.
- Take care of your elephant’s health
Elephants are extremely sensitive to their surroundings and circumstances. Changes in temperature are especially dangerous. They can become sick when it warms up quickly or when it cools down quickly. They can even suffer from sunburn.
They also need a great deal of water. A daily bath is absolutely necessary. Before midday, the elephant can be used for work, but the rest of the day, it should eat and drink water. If they do not wash or drink, they can go blind. Therefore, if the majority of your military power is dependent on elephants, you must invade with a steady supply of water. The monsoon season is especially preferable for your invasion.
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