The Bizarre Truth About Execution By Elephant

Elephants are among the most intelligent of our relatives in the animal kingdom. According to Science Focus, in addition to their legendary memory, they can also use objects as tools, understand pointing (a skill chimps haven't been able to master yet), and even recognize themselves in their reflections. Elephants have even been observed to feel grief at the loss of a family member and some even conduct burial rights like interring their dead or covering them with leaves. And, as your annoying friend who went to Thailand for a couple weeks and came back "changed" will tell you, they can also paint.

We humans are pretty intelligent ourselves, but we can also unfortunately be extremely cruel. And when we combine our intellect with our cruelty to manipulate the brainpower of another animal to get it to join in on our barbarity, we get some rather peculiar results. According to All That Is Interesting, one such result was the vicious practice of Gunga Rao, an execution method practiced in Southeast Asia beginning in the Middle Ages. Gunga Rao involved training elephants to carry out capital punishment for enemy soldiers, which, while still bizarrely cruel, isn't too surprising. Meeting one's end is always a possibility in combat. But elephants were also used to execute people accused of such petty crimes as theft and tax evasion. Let's take a look into the how and why of such a monstrous form of punishment.

Execution by elephant was a show of imperial power

As you might imagine, one sure-fire method of execution by elephant was simple crushing. The doomed person was made to lay his head upon a pedestal and wait for the pachyderm to step on it with all its weight. But that wasn't the only method used. Elephants were also trained to drag the process out, torturing the condemned before killing them. Moroccan scholar and traveler Ibn Battuta published an eyewitness account of an elephant execution that involved the animals cutting the condemned with knives attached to their feet before finally finishing them off and throwing the pieces at the spectators. He also saw elephants toss men around like rag dolls. Some men were left to die slowly and in pain to the delight of the emperor, their flesh fed to theĀ dogs and their flayed skin stuffed with hay.

The emperor in charge of the proceedings described by Battuta was reported to have taken pleasure in such shows of brutality. As Weird Asia News notes, execution by elephant was an excellent way for the emperor to show off his dominion over everything, even the beasts of nature. Gunga Rao was an effective tool of control for hundreds of years, but ultimately died out during the British colonization of India in the 19th century.