This story by Rivera Sun is part of a 5-story series on climate solutions commissioned by Metta Center for Nonviolence. Find out more, watch an animated film, and find a lesson plan for students ages 11-18 here.

Each night was war. The elephants invaded in the dark. They came from the forest, crashing and cracking through the underbrush at the edges of the fields. Dev’s father and the other farmers stood guard in the rice paddies, firing guns at the sky, blazing bright headlights from the trucks, hurling explosives and fire crackers at the massive creatures, trying to scare them off.

Without this, the herd of elephants would eat their crop. Dev’s family would starve. Each year, the beasts devoured more than half the rice. The farmers had to clear more forest land for fields. The elephants had less space, so they ate more crops. It was a nightmare.

“Go back to the forest!” Dev shouted from the window of their home. “You can eat all of the trees! Leave our fields alone!”

When the farmers and elephants fought, everyone in the village woke up. They hollered and shouted, banged pans and clanged sticks against the metal walls of sheds. The elephants trumpeted back. The dogs barked ferociously. The babies wailed. The cow that wandered freely through the village bellowed in alarm and swung her curved horns.

It was horrible. Like all wars.

Two nights ago, a baby elephant had been hit by a homemade bomb and died. Dev and his best friend, Samesh, had run out of the house. They saw the baby thrashing. She fell still.

Then, the baby’s mother charged.

Samesh was nearly killed. Now, he lay pale and weak with crushed ribs and a mangled leg on a pallet in their house. His mother prayed all day long that her son would live and walk again. Dev could hear her prayers through the open window of his room. Their two houses stood side-by-side like best friends. He always knew what Samesh would have for dinner. His friend always heard what Dev and his family were talking about. When they were in too much of a hurry to use the front door, Dev and Samesh could climb through the windows, over the gap between the house walls, and into each other’s rooms.

Dev couldn’t sleep. He could hear Samesh moaning. His fever had risen. His leg was infected. The doctor warned Samesh’s parents that he might have to amputate the boy’s leg . . . if he didn’t die of fever first. Dev could hear sobbing.

Samesh’s mother lit the incense on the altar and renewed her prayers. Dev murmured the words along with her, his eyes squeezed tight. He would do anything to save his friend. He would walk a hundred miles or climb the Himalayas if it would help. He did not know what he could do, though. He was sad and worried . . . and so very, very tired.

Drifting into an uneasy sleep, he dreamed that he walked to the edge of the forest and waited. He felt the heavy thud of footsteps. He heard the cracks and crashes of a huge animal coming closer. His heart hammered in his chest. His mouth went dry.

An immense, old elephant stood in front of him. He bore the scars of age and curling tusks.

Do you want to save your friend? he asked Dev in a thundering voice.

More than anything, Dev answered.

Then you must end the war between the humans and the elephants. You must make peace.

How? Dev pleaded. He was just a boy. What could he do?

The old elephant flapped his ears and explained.

When Dev woke, the roosters had not even crowed. The sky was not yet light. He had scarcely slept. He longed to shut his eyes, but there was no time! He had to save Samesh.

“Hang on,” he whispered over the windowsill to his friend. “I know how to set things right.”

Dev told his father what the old elephant had said in the dream. He told Samesh’s mother. He told the neighbors who had built the explosive that killed the baby elephant. He told each person, young and old, because he would need everyone’s help to succeed. He talked to the farmers with the land closest to the forest.

“We need to leave rice fields along the forest’s edge just for the elephants,” he explained. “They will eat there, where they feel safer, and leave the rest of the fields alone.”

Some laughed in his face. Others scoffed. A few argued and called him crazy. But Samesh’s father supported the idea – he had heard of this working in another place. He made a deal with the farmers closest to the forest: if they would give their rice to the elephants, he would give them the same amount of grain from his own fields to make up for their losses. Dev’s father turned to Samesh’s father in alarm.

“You cannot do that! It’s nearly all of your crop. You will have nothing.”

“I believe in Dev’s dream. And, I will do anything to save my son. His life is worth it.”

“Your son will live only to starve,” Dev’s father argued. He glanced at Dev’s anxious face. “But, I will contribute some of our rice to help you.”

One by one, the other farmers agreed to give a percentage of their rice to those who gave their crops to the elephants.

As soon as it was decided, Samesh’s fever broke. That night, the villagers stood, not by the forest’s edge, but on the road between the closest fields to the forest and the rest of the farmland. They lit incense instead of explosives, and sang to the elephants instead of shouting.

The herd came, first one big bull – the one who had come to Dev in his dream – and then the baby’s mother. They curled their trunks and flapped their ears. They took a bite of rice. Then another. All was safe. All was calm.  The war between the elephants and humans had ended.

Samesh recovered slowly. Each day, Dev climbed through the window to tell him how the elephants came to eat, but stayed close to the forest. The rice grew heavy and abundant in the other fields. Without the elephants eating so much of it, the farmers could afford to give up the strips of land by the forest.

Soon, Dev assured Samesh, you will see this with your very own eyes.

Samesh smiled. He did not need to see it. He could hear it. The dogs had stopped barking. The babies slept quietly. The people rested through the night. The wandering cow swished her tail contentedly.

The elephants and humans had made peace.

Behind the Story

This story was inspired by a segment in David Attenborough’s documentary film, The Year Earth Changed. The film explores how the pandemic lockdowns impacted wild life and natural systems. It shows deer ranging through Japanese cities, the Himalayas becoming visible as smog decreased, sea turtles laying record numbers of eggs on empty Florida beaches, and more. One segment tells the story of how a rural Indian farming community took advantage of the economic shutdowns to employ laid-off factory workers to address a longstanding problem with elephants. Farmers and villagers had been in crisis for years. As expanding farmlands encroached on the elephants’ forest habitat, the wild elephants began to devour half the crops. To stop them, the villagers engaged in nightly confrontations. They flashed bright lights, fired guns in the air, and set off homemade explosives. Several people had been trampled by the elephants.

During the lockdown, many of the villagers lost their jobs in factories and returned home to the villages. A conservation group organized five hundred people to plant a several-mile-long swath of rice along the edge of the forest. They hoped this would entice the elephants to stay closer to the shelter of the trees, and not enter the main fields. It worked. The elephants did not enter the farmers’ fields once that year.

This story shows that we can find creative solutions that help both humans and animals. In this fictional adaptation, a young boy has a dream that he must make peace with the elephants in order to save his friend. His friend’s father has heard of this idea working in another area and agrees to try it. We need to share the stories of what’s working. We never know who might need them and whose lives we might save – including both animals and human friends.

This story by Rivera Sun is part of a 5-story series on climate solutions commissioned by Metta Center for Nonviolence. Find out more, watch an animated film, and find a lesson plan for students ages 11-18 here.

Other Stories:
Rosalinda and the Cloud Catchers (Peru)
The Boy Who Hated Fishing (Italy)
Faridah and the Tangled Knot (Yemen)
Nuru and the Little Park (Kenya)