The gunshot echoed through the forest as Savitri and her little son, Nanda, hurried across the thick brush bordering the outskirts of the jungle. The sun was just rising in the eastern sky, as the golden rays shone on their grey coats. It was nearly ten minutes before Savitri decided to slow down, so that Nanda could catch his breath. Nanda was panting heavily.
“Ma,” panted Nanda. “Wait. Wh-Why are we… Where are we?”
“Hurry up, Nanda. We have to get to the other side of the forest. And quickly,” said Savitri.
Though Nanda’s three-month-old legs were reluctant to cooperate, he managed to keep close to his mother, turning to cast a frightened look at the fast-disappearing darkness of the jungle. He huddled closer.
“Ma, what was that terrible noise?”
“All in good time, son. Now, hurry!”
Soon, Savitri and her son reached the lake, now glittering under the morning sun. They both walked up to it and quenched their thirst. Little Nanda’s heart seemed to calm down after that drink.
“What was that terrible noise, Ma?” he asked again, and fear slowly crept into him again. “Is it the lion hunting? But no, it was even more frightening. Was it the lightning? Did it land in the forest, Ma?”
Savitri laughed a little, apparently proud of her son’s imagination, but her smile did not last long. It was soon replaced by fear. “It was neither the lion nor the lightning, Nanda,” said she.
Nanda’s beady little eyes widened. “What was it then, Ma?” he asked.
“Poachers,” pronounced Savitri, and looked away into the depths of the jungle.
“Poachers! Sounds awesome!” whispered little Nanda to himself. “But… who are they?”
“They are not good people, Nanda, “said Savitri, shaking her big head. “They kill us.”
“They kill us, Ma?” exclaimed he, running to her for refuge. “But why?”
Savitri looked down at him with a worried look. She then gently poked him towards the water and said, “Go and look at yourself.”
Little Nanda hurried up to the water and looked at his reflection in the water. He then compared his with the huge reflection of his mother who stood nearby. He noticed that they looked more or less the same except for one major difference – the well-developed tusks of his majestic mother.
“Do you see our reflections, Nanda? Yes, we are elephants. And, we are hunted down by humans for their greedy purposes.”
Nanda slowly turned to look at his reflection again. “But, why do they kill us, Ma? They won’t eat us, will they?”
“No, son. They won’t. Now, tell me what is it that you find different in me excepting the fact that I’m times bigger than you?”
“Umm… Well, you have really beautiful long teeth and I don’t,” said Nanda, admiring his mother’s tusks.
“Precisely. They are made of ivory. You’ll one day grow up to be a handsome young man with equally handsome tusks,” said Savitri, stroking his little head softly with her trunk. “And that is exactly why you should be very cautious, Nanda.”
She suddenly broke into tears, as emotions welled within her. Her voice cracked as she spoke. “They killed your father, dear Nanda! They killed him five months ago. That’s why you never got to see him.” Her words came in gasps. “They killed him right before my eyes. They have weapons stronger than our tusks, mind you. Those things they have are killing machines. They kill us to break away our tusks. The ivory is very expensive among them and they use it to make objects. They also strip off our skins to make leather. They’re selling our lives out there, son. That’s what they’re doing.”
This was too much for Nanda to take in. He grew sadder with every second. “Won’t papa ever come back again?” he asked, snuggling close to her warm body. He felt tears rising without knowing what they were.
“He won’t. He died protecting me. Your father was a hero,” she said, wiping away her tears. “He is the reason you and I are alive. You should be proud of him. You should be proud of our many friends and relatives who have died. Promise me, Nanda, that you will take care of yourself always.”
“Yes, Ma,” Nanda whimpered.
“The world is a dangerous place. They are cutting down trees, chasing us away from farms. Where will we go for food? We still have the forest to give us shelter. We still have hope. We have our friends here. One day, the world will change.”
“Yes, Ma. I hope so too,” said little Nanda. “But I’m scared.”
“Yes. You ought to be,” said Savitri. “Now, let’s go find our herd. Come.”