The elephant is the largest terrestrial animal on earth and being a herbivore it requires a large area as habitat and a substantial volume of fodder, over 150 kilograms of green matter per day. They are two species; the African elephant [Loxodonta africana] which is restricted to the African continent and the Asian elephant [Elephas maximus] confined to the South and the South-East Asian regions. They both are top species in the IUCN Red List. The African species being listed under the vulnerable category while the Asian species being classified as an endangered species. Both conditions based on human activity towards them. The African species being poached for ivory and the Asian being pushed into extinction as a result of habitat loss.
Sri Lanka is the only island nation in the Indian Ocean with a comparatively large population of elephants in the wild. The country has been trading elephants with the outside world during historical times. This may have been a conservation strategy then; keeping their numbers at bay. However today the situation is different and is not at all in favour of the elephant.
Conflicts between elephants and a growing human population is a major issue in this island nation. Ever since being a colony of the British the elephant population was almost reduced to extinction. A good number killed for sport, and an even larger number eliminated when large tracts of land were opened for tea plantation in the central massif.
Today even though the elephant is a protected animal under the Fauna & Flora Protection Act; the elephant is at the receiving end when they encroach farmlands and cultivations in temptation due to loss of habitat. The result being the young calves and the adolescents being abandoned or separated from the herd.
|The little herd of orphans numbering over 40|
The Government of Sri Lanka established an elephant orphanage in Pinnawela in the year 1975 to care for such abandoned and orphaned elephants and their numbers have grown ever since. Today Pinnawela is home for over 80 captive elephants, and is thought to be largest captive herd in the world.
Caring and feeding such a large number of elephants is but a huge task itself. Alternatively the Government in the year 1995 created the Elephant Transit Home [ETH] in Uda Walawe [Sinhala – Eth Athuru Sevana] with the idea of caring and bringing up baby elephants found abandoned in the wild until they could be released back to the wild devoid of bringing up them in captivity.
|Feeding time at 9' O clock|
The Elephant Transit Home in Uda Walawe is loved by many and is visited by many to see these calves being given milk as feed four times a day; at 9 am, 12 noon, 3 pm and 6 pm. It is only during these times that the general public get a chance to see them. The rest of the time they spend in the confines out of the view of people in a areas adjacent to the reservoir in the thicket.
|Funnel fed for over five years to come|
|Some keep to their instincts drinking through their trunks|
|Getting back to the thicket after the feed|
|His radio collar will locate the herd when out of sight|
Of them numbering over 40 there are but two elephants that are special and would have to spend their entire life even in adulthood with human assistance. They are Namal and Hercules. Both are with severe limb injuries through human cruelty.
Namal is so named for he was found in a critical state in the wilderness of the Namal Oya Reservoir catchment in the Ampara district. His screaming - like trumpeting went on for over two days while being trapped in a snare and was rescued by fishermen on the third day from within the wilderness and ended up at the ETH. Thanks to the attention of the Department of Wild-life Conservation and the veterinary care of the Faculty of Veterinary Science of the Peradeniya University Namal had his left hind leg partly amputated and is now wearing a prosthesis turned out by local expertise.
|Namal is not allowed with the rest though he follows them to the gate|
|Namal seems quite comfortable in this prosthesis which will need modification and replacement as he grows,|
Hercules is much younger to Namal and is also a victim of a snare and has is right hind leg dislocated at the knee but manages to get about himself in a very awkward limp. Them both seem to have caught the compassionate eye of all visitors due to their injuries. One needs to be more thoughtful as to why these creatures are here needing our compassionate hearts to donate for their well being. It is all because of human greed for the material benefits, poaching them for the little bit of ivory or encroaching their territory and finding them at fault.
|Limpy... but seems content in the new environment|
And as the saying goes …… “Orphanages are the only places where one feels an emptiness and a fullness at the same time.”……. These Elephants too may be feeling the same while forgetting the cruelty that came upon them to the kind care they receive over here.
One day they will be roaming the wilds again and let us all pray that no severity would befall on them again or be snatched from the wild to be chained among the saffron robes?............The latest menace to befall the Sri Lankan Elephant!!!!