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1870, Fateful Day When French Ate Elephant Meat

MG is an air warrior and a global traveler who loves to visit and explore new places

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The Beginning

I have been to France a number of times. Basically it was connected with work as the IAF has purchased the Mirage and we had to convert to this aircraft. I will say that France is a wonderful place and two things stand out their cuisine and their women. You can't get a better combination anywhere else in the world. But on the flip side, I am unable to see whether the French won any war on their own after the famous battle of Austerlitz of 1805 when Napoleon routed the grand alliance.

The saga of French defeats continued in the 19th century and led to the Franco- Prussian war of 1870. Otto Von Bismarck was the German leader and the French were led by Emperor Napoleon III. Napoleon III had been elected president of France from 1848 to 52 but then he appropriated the crown and became emperor. He started the war and after the defeat of the French, he had to abdicate.

The Prussian army moved to France and laid siege to the city of Paris. Nearly 400,000 Prussian soldiers surrounded Paris.

The war was the handiwork of Napoleon III. He had an exaggerated notion of the military strength of France. He felt that Bismarck and the Germans had insulted and threatened the French. The long and short of the story is the French were defeated and two regions of Alsace and Lorraine had to be ceded to the winning Germans.

In September 1870 the Prussian army attacked Paris. The city was well defended and ready for war.. Bismarck decided against a frontal attack on the city as his intelligence was faulty. He decided to lay siege to the city with the idea of starving the city until no food was left in the stores, and no supplies could reach the citizens. This was the scenario in Paris in 1870 with the Prussian army surrounding Paris.

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Effect of the Siege

Traumatic events now began to take place with the Prussian army bottling up the French inside Paris. With no incoming supplies, there was a food shortage. and whatever stock the Parisians had was seriously dwindling. What would the Parisians do? They started to kill available horses for their meat. There is a limit to that as after a few days the supply of horses was over and no horses were left. The Parisians hooked up on a diet of meat now turned to the zoo for meat supply. The first animals to be slaughtered were deer and antelopes, and some large birds.

Now let's face it deers and birds certainly cannot supply enough meat to feed an entire city. After a week the only animals left were the big cats and the 2 elephants named Castor and Pollux

The Traumatic Event.

Castor and Pollux were two elephants who were not only docile but much loved. They were the favorites of children, who used to ride on their backs. Now almost 150 years later I can only hang my head in shame as to what happened. I feel this was the saddest day in the history of the French and something for which they must atone. It was decided that both the elephants would be shot and killed. Castor was shot first with a steel bullet on December 29, 1870. The next day, Pollux was killed. Can anything be sadder than this? So when the French talk of culture they better look inwards.

The two dead elephants were purchased by the Boucherie Anglaise for a sum of 27,000 francs and their meat was bought by several eateries. I think many of the guests eating in the restaurant were perhaps not aware that the meat being served was that of the elephant because all they were interested was to get some meat.

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Elephant meat

Some of the prominent restaurants published their menus which are available today and they make very sad reading. They advertise the sale of stuffed donkey head, elephant meat soup, kangaroo roast, wolf leg with fox sauce, and cats and rats delicatessen. I have my doubts on some of the items which are displayed on the menu but the elephant meat is the sad truth. Luckily we have an eyewitness account of that period.

Henry Labouchère (1831-1912) a wealthy English politician, writer, publisher, and theatre owner visited Paris during the siege. He has recorded his impressions on the eating of elephants. He writes that he had a slice of Pollux for dinner. He goes on to write that — Pollux and his brother Castor are two elephants, which have been killed. He further adds that the meat was tough, coarse, and oily. , He does not recommend English families to eat elephant meat at all.

With the Prussians carrying on the bombardment of the city the attention of good samaritans was taken away from the killings. The ongoing war distracted the ordinary Parisians from the killings. After a week or so ˜Bismarck decided that an assault on Paris should be made and surprisingly the city was occupied inside just two days. This just about shows that the Prussian intelligence was faulty and if they had entered the city a little earlier the two elephants would have been saved.

Last word

The killing and eating of the elephants is a sad story that dams French culture. I cannot fathom how simple and docile elephants could be killed. I have a question why is it necessary for the French to eat meat and they could have very well gone vegetarian during those days. I remember asking a French officer about the killing of the elephants and the eating of their meat. He was shocked and said he didn't know anything about it.

Comments

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 25, 2020:

Nice to read your thoughts Anupam. Yes, one mans meat could be poison for the other. its all perception. I remember while attending the Ashram of Swami Shraddhanand at Vasai Road when he told me that nothing is bad or good and only thinking makes it so.

Anupam Mitu from MUMBAI on September 25, 2020:

Disgusting! Oh God! Really, can men go to such standards?

I read a book by Victor Frankl "Men search of Meaning" in which he has shown how a man becomes so selfish at the end when every of his possession is snatched and he is not left with any of the basic human rights. I read one story later where it was shown that a lady can even drown her own kid to come out safely. Somehow, I believed in that.

But then I watched a documentary on Taj Hotel on which many psychologists have done the research. At the time of 26/11 terrorist attack in 2008, there were 600 employees working in the hotel, none of them left to save their lives but they stayed to save the 1600 guests they had with them.

Then I realised, it's just perception. We all have our thought process, and none of the other behaviour can decide our behaviour or attitude. The basic requirement is our personal integrity. We need to decide what's good or bad for us, it cannot bed decided on the basis of what majority thinks. Ironically, our current world is moving on the same theory, here majority wins in all the cases.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 21, 2020:

Pamela, I agree with you. Thanks for commenting

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on September 21, 2020:

Vegetarian would have been a much better solution for their problem. This is an awful story! I don't even like them eating the other animals from the zoo, let alone the elephants. This is a shameful part of French history.

MG Singh emge (author) from Singapore on September 20, 2020:

Flourish, thank you for your comment. Yes, it's pretty disgusting. I wonder why the French could not be vegetarians!

FlourishAnyway from USA on September 20, 2020:

How awful. Even though they were in a desperate situation I still find it deplorable and disgusting.