Despite spending years reporting from war zones, nothing affected the writer quite so much as watching an elephant being killed in India

I spent the best part of 10 years living in America, Africa, and Asia. This all stemmed from my refusal to go to university. My horrified dad cut a deal with me stating that if, after fours years, I had not established myself in some sort of career, I would come home and get qualifications. So I went off and did the world on my own, and got lucky. Within the deadline I had secured a job as a news journalist.

Since then I've worked in a lot of war zones and seen some really awful things. I've seen refugees dying in Sudan and Somalia, violence in Afghanistan. But I have to say India has had the most effect on me. It makes you stop and think at every turn. You never get used to the shocks of India which at least serves to bring out the philosopher in you.

Of all the things I've seen in India, watching an elephant being tracked and shot in Assam while researching my latest book was the most incredible. The government of Assam had sanctioned the hunting and shooting of this elephant because it was reportedly killing people. Now, I'm a cynical journalist and yet when I actually saw the elephant killed, for nights - even weeks - afterwards, I had the most incredible nightmares. Elephants are huge animals and have an amazing amount of dignity and intelligence, but they are not humans. I couldn't understand why I was so traumatised. I had surely seen worse.

Maybe it was because I got to know and love India so much that I felt so strongly. It really bought home the harsh realities that face both animal and human communities now that their new reality is living side by side in the jungle.

Before this journey I would never have placed the life of an animal above that of a human being. But by the time I was researching the book I'd lived in India for three years. I felt part of the country, no longer a peripheral visitor. In India I was in the thick of it, not only among the people but among the elephants, the giant gentle animals whose experience has moved me more than any other.

Tarquin Hall's latest book, 'The Elephant Graveyard', has just been published in hardback by John Murray (£16.99).

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