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Native Californian, biologist, wildlife conservation consultant, retired Smithsonian scientist, father of two daughters, grandfather of 4 small primates. INTJ. Believes nature is infinitely more interesting than shopping malls. Born 100 years too late.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

The Yesin observed

Sketch of a yesin balanced on a tumbler

[Continued from "The elusive Yesin"]

"Is there such a thing as a 'Yesin' or not? "

That was how Colonel Hla Aung, Director of the Rangoon Zoo  launched his dissertation on the cryptic mini-beast in the Sunday Working People's Daily of Rangoon on August 30, 1970.

A lot had happened since Hopwood sent the fake yesin to Bombay for indentification.

The Japanese invaded Burma weeks after Pearl Harbor, thousands fled through the Naga Hills to safety in India and thousands died along the way.

Claire Chennault, the Flying Tigers, General Slim, Vinegar Joe Stilwell -- they all came and went, and 4 years after the war ended Burma won independence.

Rumors of the yesin hadn't gone away, and Hla Aung did a service to crytozoologists by summarizing reports in obscure periodicals (though I should note that you won't find the Working People's Daily on the internet).

The yesin apparently was not an uncommon subject in the news at the time, but the reports and photos were usually about the talismanic dried remains in the possession of elephant oozies or mahouts.

Burmese dacoits and mahouts shared in their belief in the power of protective talismans.

Dacoits trusted that carved talismans in the image of spiritual nats conferred invincibility against bullets.

Like so many cloves of garlic the talismans were inserted into cuts in the skin and bolstered the bandits' confidence to undertake remarkable feats of daring.

Once captured by the colonial police however, the dacoits' truculence was easily undone when the talismans were extracted with razor blade.

Similarly, mahouts believed that a dried yesin or its tusk was a magical goad capable of making a bad elephant good or spurring a lazy timber elephant to obedience.

When U Ba Myaing published his yezin investigations Hla Aung summarized the results.

U Ba Myaing was a retired Veterinary Inspector of the colonial government stationed in Sandoway, now Rakhine State.

He started interviewing coastal fishermen in 1925, but ten years passed before he managed to lay hands on male and female specimens caught by fishermen.

The female yesin was captured in Ngamaukchaung, an estuarine creek on Padin Kyun (kyun = island)
He gave a meticulous description.

The skin was gray and smooth (no mention of hair), and the stomach, which was apparently single chambered and the size of a gooseberry, contained plant matter and algae.

There were 4 toes on the front and hind feet, the tusks were 1.5 inches long, and the reproductive organs were elephant-like. The male had a quarter inch long penis.

The inspector was well aware of the elephant's alleged fear of the yesin and the belief of elephant men that a dried yesin, mini-tusk, or even a scrap of skin could be used to control even the most recalcitrant man killer.

He reported his experiment of hiding a yesin tusk in a stream -- it struck such fear into several working elephants that their mahouts were unable to drive them into the water.

In another instance, the prxomity of the yesin caused a cow to abort its fetus.

Then there is the report of Thakin Khin Maung Oo (aka Bo Taya) of Thirty Comrades fame, who saw a pair of yesin disporting themselves in a rocky pool in the Pegu Range near the Shan Plateau.

He organized the mahouts to trap one using a bamboo fish trap, and kept the captive in a kerosene can filled with water.

When it died three days later he measured and dissected it.

It was 6 inches long, and the tusks in this animal grew from the upper jaw (unlike the faked yesin jaws made from rodent mandibles).

Col Hla Aung also wrote of his own experiment to test the alleged fear of yesin shown by zoo elephants.

The elephants showed no reaction to sniffing a box containing a dried yesin.

He concluded his article,

"Although only faked specimens of the 'Yesin' had come to light so far, there is every reason to believe from the evidence collected by field observers, that a real 'Yesin' belonging to a separate genus of mammal does exist, and when fresh specimens of a "Yesin' are obtained in the future, it will be possible to verify the true nature of the animal."

The question is this: is the yesin an undescribed species of water rat?

[N.B.: coming soon -- a modern yesin hunter].


Evans, G.H. 1910. Elephants and their diseases. A treatise on elephants. Rangoon, Superintendent, Government Printing, Burma.

Hla Aung, Col. 1970. The water elephant or Yesin.  The Sunday Working People's Daily, August 30, 1970.

U Ba Myaing. 1970. 'Yesin'. Loketha Pyithu Nezin, August 13, 1970 (not seen, reference mentioned in Hla Aung's article.)

1 comment:

Trailblazer said...

Can't wait to hear the end of the story, Codger!