Elephants may have a word for human, which instills fear, but it seems they have a soft spot for our young ones. Despite being known to have killed three people on previous encounters, an adult male stopped while charging through a Bengal village to rescue a crying child caught in the debris he had created.
Dipak and Lalita Mahato were having dinner when they heard a crash from the bedroom. "We ran over and were shocked to see the wall in pieces and a tusker [elephant with tusks] standing over our baby," Mr Mahato told the Times of India. "She was crying and there were huge chunks of the wall lying all around and on the cot. The tusker started moving away but when our child started crying again, it returned and used its trunk to remove the debris."
Once it had removed the stones and wood covering the 10 month-old child the elephant headed for the safety of the forest. The baby was taken to hospital but is expected to make a complete recovery.
Rising human populations and diminishing forests are bringing people and elephants into increasing conflict in the Purulia district of West Bengal, and elephants whose migration routes are blocked are increasingly going straight through villages.
Lalita Mahato said, “We worship the Lord Ganesh [the elephant god] in our village.” However, a more scientific explanation for the behavior may lie in the recent discovery that elephants are capable of distinguishing threatening humans from those whose age, gender or ethnicity makes them less likely to attack, including young children. While this study, like the one indicating elephants have a word they use to communicate the presence of humans, was done on African elephants it seems likely that Asian elephants have the same capacity.
A similar incident of another elephant rescuing a young girl was made six months ago.