The Incredible Story of an Elephant Who Derailed a Train to Defend His Herd

elephant sign photo
Public Domain. Retronaut

Retronaut/Public Domain

In this time of continued urban expansion into land that once stood wild, there is no shortage of examples to highlight the struggle between the natural world and the one humans strive to craft -- but some of the most harrowing of these have likely been lost to the ages. Thankfully, not this one.

For the last several years, 68-year-old Ky Cheah has maintained a blog on which to record memories from his childhood growing up in Teluk Anson, Malaysia. And while all these personal accounts will no doubt be cherished by his family for generations to come, we are all lucky that one oral history in particular survived under his stewardship.

elephant hit by train

Ipohworld/Public Domain

Cheah writes that, one day as boy searching for nuts near some old railroad tracks on the edge of town, he ran across a mysterious sign in the overgrowth which read: THERE IS BURIED HERE A WILD ELEPHANT WHO IN DEFENSE OF HIS HERD CHARGED AND DERAILED A TRAIN ON THE 17th DAY OF OF SEPT. 1894.

His curiosity undoubtably piqued, young Cheah came to learn of the details surrounding that briefly summarized incident, likely gathered from people who were alive at the time to witness it:

A lot of stories abound about what prompted the sad suicidal episode of the elephant and the train.
Some say it had a score to settle with the 'Iron Beast'. Rumour has it that it was seeking vengeance for a calf killed earlier by the same train. While others claimed that it was merely defending its herd from the ' new enemy' that has encroached into their domain.
Railway connecting Teluk Anson to Tapah , Ipoh was completed in 1893 and its daily rumbling through the jungle had threatened the habitat of the gentle giants. So it was pay back time. Presumably!
The British Engine Driver could not do anything because it had stood defiantly on the railway tracks and refused to budge in spite of the loud whistling and hooting as the train thundered and hurtled towards it. The beast was really huge and taller than the 'Iron Horse' and it collided with it head on at 50 mph (100km). The impact derailed the engine and 3 coaches.

In his blog post, Cheah invites others who might have more to add to the remarkable story of a heroic elephant, but it seems his alone might be bear the burden of posterity. Fortunately, along with this account, a grainy old photograph of the sign survives today to confirm that it did indeed exist.

Cheah suspect that the elephant's humble grave marker has by now been reclaimed by the jungle. No matter though; a jungle thriving there anew is perhaps the greatest monument of all.