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Kohl-lined elephant eyes and the malaria taxi

by Philip Montgomery, archivist

I was flipping through our collection of Medical World News photos looking for vaccination shots when I ran across this photo from March of 1965.

I found this photo in a folder titled “Immunization [small pox] Tonga.” I opened the folder expecting to see images of healthcare workers vaccinating inhabitants of the Pacific island nation of Tonga. I did not expect to see this cosmetically enhanced elephant hauling men and portable sprayers through a wetland. Click on the image to see a larger view.

This photo contains elements of humor, beauty, and a touch of eco-horror. The guy on the rear of the elephant provides the humor for me. It looks like a dreadful place to ride, but he seems content. I wonder if he called the rear seat?  I love the landscape because it reminds of the fantastic green wetlands south of Houston.  Without a doubt the elephant is the center of the picture. My eyes keep straying back to those kohl-lined eyes and the cosmetics on the forehead. The motion of the powerful legs, the white of the water cresting around the legs gives this picture momentum.

The caption for this photo says this elephant and the crew are part of an anti-malaria campaign started in India in 1958 and continuing to the time this picture was captured in March 1965. According to the caption malaria spray teams often used elephants to reach remote areas.

The eco-horror is that bucket in the photo. It could be lunch, but my money is on a bucket full of pesticide. Just a hunch.