Saturday, 7 July 2012

Elephant No. 279: Watermelon Carving

It's been stinking hot here for so long that a juicy watermelon seemed like just the thing to play with for today's elephant. This is not to say that I have any kind of skill in fruit and vegetable carving. I just liked the pictures I saw online.

Most watermelon carving seems to involve elaborate and delicate floral designs. Sometimes the green outer rind is part of the design, and sometimes the carver concentrates on the white inner rind and the pink flesh. The video below shows a rather pretty design being created by a master carver.

I hadn't the least clue what I was doing. I looked at numerous videos online, and they all made it look quite easy. I'm guessing, however, that this may be an acquired skill.

From what I could tell, you need a special vegetable carving knife. It looked to me like an elongated scalpel, but I had no idea where I would find such a thing. I tried the cookware shops in nearby Chinatown, but no luck. So I pulled out my craft knives, paring knives and pumpkin-carving tools. In the end, all I needed was the red-handled craft knife on the left.

This is the watermelon I bought. I don't actually like watermelon—or any kind of melon, for that matter. I find them bland and uninspiring. But it's still so hot here that I may manage to choke down a few slices when I'm done.

Given that my food-carving skills are limited to jack-o-lanterns and radish roses, the whole idea of carving an elephant design into a watermelon was extremely daunting. I had no idea where to start, or even what kind of elephant I'd want to carve. And it's not really practical to produce a template. So I just dove in, and decided to make the best of it. I hadn't bought a back-up watermelon, so what I got was what I got.

I laid the watermelon horizontally, and started by lightly scribing an elephant into the outer rind with the tip of my knife. I did this because I wanted to use some of the dark outer rind for leaves. My original idea was somehow to excavate down into the white/pink area of the watermelon for the elephant.

Next, I carved out some lines for leaves.

Using the side of my blade, I then scraped around the elephant shape I had scribed.

It was still my intention to make the elephant pink and white, so I sliced around the elephant into the white inner rind. At the same time, I created some pale green leaves.

I was beginning to like the various shades of green, and wondered if I really needed to carve down to the white/pink level. Just in case, however, I decided to at least scrape the dark green off the elephant. I left a few bits of darker green, and also scraped in the direction of painting or drawing lines, in case I decided that this was it.

I found this bland, however, so I began again to carve bits away. I started by gouging out the tusks to the white level. Next, I ran my knife inside the rim of the ear so that I ended up with a fine outline. I also scraped most of the ear down to the white rind, then sliced deep into the watermelon to create pink veins.

I had decided by now that I wasn't going to scrape off the elephant to make it pink and white. I liked the counterpoint of the bits of pink against the white and various shades of green. I also, if I'm honest, knew my skills were not up to gouging out the elephant cleanly to the white level. If I'd really wanted to make a white and pink elephant, I should have sliced off a flat canvas of white, as they did in the video above.

I did, however, want to have a bit more modelling on the elephant itself, so I took the edge of my blade and scraped off much of the green, while leaving some shading around the eye and down the trunk. Interestingly, the inner rind quickly dries to a leathery finish, making it not as easy to scrape as I had expected.

Because the pink veins in the ear looked a bit lost on their own, I also carved out some abstract flowers above and below the elephant, and poked a few holes into the pink heart of the watermelon.

This took me about two hours, not counting the time it took to shop for a watermelon and a vegetable-carving knife, and it wasn't particularly difficult or tedious. It's a bit messy, but not near as messy as I expected it to be.

Although I didn't get a pink and white watermelon masterpiece, I'm actually very happy with my first attempt at watermelon carving. The many subtle shades of green, pink, white and cream make it quite lovely in real life. It was also a very pleasant-smelling activity.

I'm not big on this kind of project, so I doubt I'll carve a watermelon again anytime soon, but now that I know how it's done, it's not near as daunting anymore.

Elephant Lore of the Day
Elephants absolutely love watermelons. Sadly, however, poachers have turned this tasty treat into a deadly delicacy.

In June 2012, four suspected poachers were arrested by rangers in Tanzania's Ngorongoro Conservation Area for plotting to kill elephants using poisoned pumpkins and watermelons. It takes only a short time for an elephant to die after consuming the poisonous chemicals injected into the fruit, and it is a miserable death.

Tempted by high demand in East Asia for ivory, poachers are beginning to turn from shooting elephants to poisoning them. It is much more difficult for rangers to find and arrest poisoners than noisy gangs of shooters, making it a more attractive, if less sure, option for poachers. Unfortunately, the poisoned melons are a temptation for other animals as well, making it also a less specific form of killing.

Although poaching by poison seems to be a very recent phenomenon, it has already resulted in some sad incidents. In late May 2012, for example, an elephant came to the gates of the Ngorongoro Conservation Area, where it suddenly collapsed and died, a suspected victim of poisoned food. Since the elephant was known to staff, it was almost as though the elephant had come seeking help.

On a happier note, zoos often provide watermelons as sweet treats for elephants. A watermelon is not much more than a mouthful for an elephant, however, as you can see in the video below.

To Support Elephant Welfare
Elephant sanctuaries (this Wikipedia list allows you to click through to information
on a number of sanctuaries around the world)
Wildlife Trust of India

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