Archive for the ‘Elephants’ Category

Captive elephants helpless against TB spread

May 28, 2014

Experts fear there could be an outbreak of tuberculosis among captive elephants if quick action is not taken.As elephants in Dehiwala Zoo show signs of TB the zoo authorities have stopped the popular elephant performances.Zoo director Anura de Silva told The Sunday Times that five out of the zoo’s 10 elephants have tested positive in a preliminary TB anti-body test but further tests were needed to confirm a TB diagnosis.“The elephant dance is a public event that is enjoyed by children so we were compelled to stop it as a precautionary measure,” said Mr. De Silva.A group of workers staged a protest on Thursday saying the show should not be stopped. They said the advice of veterinary surgeons had been questionable in the past so the authorities should wait for solid evidence that these elephants were TB positive.

TB is caused by mycobacteria and animals can get infected by the same bacteria that cause TB in humans, so there is a possibility that sick animals or humans could pass the disease to each other through body fluids. TB spreads through the air on infected droplets that are aerosolised when an infected person or animal sneezes, coughs, or in the case of an elephant, sprays. Captive elephants can get TB by inhaling infected droplets from infected humans or other infected elephants.

Elephant-to-elephant transmission may occur when one elephant places its trunk inside another elephant’s mouth – a common practice.Asked if the decision to halt the elephant dance should have been taken earlier, Mr De Silva said, “There is nothing to panic. We have checked all the 12 mahouts who handle the zoo elephants but none of them were positive for TB. Mahouts are the first line of contact with elephants living very close to these captive elephants.”

Elephant activists warn that Sri Lanka’s captive elephants have been at risk of a TB outbreak for some time. The issue became highlighted last year when two elephants from the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage tested positive for TB. Dr. Anoma Siribaddana, Consultant Respiratory Physician, said her unit has been continuously screening mahouts, especially in Pinnawela after reports of a possibility of a TB outbreak.It is suspected that the death in February of the Waweladeniye Raja – a majestic tusker entrusted to carry the casket of the Dalada Maligawa – was caused by TB.

The chief monk of the Weweladeniye Temple did not allow a post-mortem, saying it was cruel to cut up a majestic tusker.“This denied us the chance to prove the exact cause of the tusker’s death,” lamented Dr. Ashoka Dangolla, a senior lecturer attached to the Veterinary Faculty of the University of Peradeniya, who found that the animal could be TB positive based on a blood sample taken a year before its death.

Raja was chained up with other Maligawa elephants during the last Dalada Perahera in Kandy, so there is a high chance that the other elephants could have been infected.The first case of TB in elephants in Sri Lanka was reported by Dr. Dangolla himself about eight years ago, in an elephant named Mata. In humans, the signs of TB include weakness, weight loss, exercise intolerance and coughing. Elephants too can show weight loss and leaking of some nasal fluids but may not show signs until the disease is quite advanced.

There is a need to test all the captive elephants in Sri Lanka but activists fear some elephant owners might hesitate to do so and administer proper medication as the TB treatment for elephants are expensive – the daily drug dose costs Rs. 10,000-15,000. Dr. Dangolla says this is not a situation for panic, and he is trying to organise a meeting with the Association of Captive Elephant Owners to take measures.The Sunday Times recently reported that Sri Lanka is becoming a hub for TB as the number of cases increases.

Trunk wash the surest test
It is not easy to check whether an elephant is TB positive. When infection from TB sets in the body starts creating antibodies to fight the intruder. However, the increase of antibodies can occur due to other factors too, and could also mean the body’s immune system could beat the bacteria and the infection could be defeated.

So vets recommend a test known as Trunk Wash to be 100 per cent sure that an elephant is infected with TB. The trunk of the elephant is filled with saline water, then the trunk is elevated and the elephant is instructed to forcibly exhale into a collection bag. Obtaining an adequate trunk wash sample is not easy according to elephant handlers as some elephants do not permit their trunk to be handled and not all can be trained to forcibly exhale.

The resulting sample may be from the end of the trunk instead of from deeper in the respiratory tract as intended. A research paper published on Journal of Commonwealth Veterinary Association’s 2012 January issue indicate that attempts to collect trunk wash from 60 captive elephants failed.

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/140427/news/captive-elephants-helpless-against-tb-spread-93921.html

Attempt to snatch baby elephant from wild

February 10, 2014
Cries all night from the jungle alerted villagers..!! 
Hearing a baby elephant’s cries from the forest all Tuesday night, villagers called wildlife officials who thwarted an attempt to snatch the baby from the wild and sell it into captivity in private hands. The officers had been expecting to find the elephant injured from an accident but instead found it tightly tied to trees with strong nylon ropes. Two armed men guarding the elephant fled when the officers appeared. 

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Saved in time: The captive baby elephant tied up to surrounding trees with strong nylon ropes 

The incident was reported from Pahalagama in Galgamuwa which is famous for its elephants and tuskers. Wildlife Department sources say that the elephant was a male about two years old. It was well-built for its age and aggressiveness. The tactics used to separate the baby elephant from the herd remain a mystery. It did not appear to have been physically harmed. Officers later released it close to the resident herd of about 30 wild elephants and saw it reunited with its family.

It is believed the baby elephant, found on Wednesday (February 5) had been caught the previous day. This is the first time Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) officials have thwarted a wild elephant kidnap at the scene of the crime. News of a racket of snatching baby elephants from the wild emerged several years ago. It is believed about 60 such baby elephants have been taken. Elephant calves released by the Elephant Transit Home (ETH) have been particular targets of these criminals.

Habarana and Udawalawe are the other major areas in which these racket are in operation, environmentalists say. Last year, the Environmental Conservation Trust (ECT) released the whereabouts of 22 elephants believed to be illegally caught from the wild but no action has so far been taken. The list contains some high-level names. Many of these elephants have ended up in temples and kept on public view and paraded openly in many of the key peraheras in the country.

In Sri Lanka, births of privately owned captive elephants are not known. The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage is the sole source of releasing baby elephants to private owners. A few elephants have been donated from countries such as India and Thailand for religious purposes. Other than these avenues, the existence of any young elephant in private ownership is questionable.

Although all captive elephants in Sri Lanka are supposed to be registered with the DWC it is alleged that these racketeers obtain fake birth certificates that purport to show the elephants are captive-born.

The DWC register was recently found to have been “lost”, and the head of legal affairs of the Department has been interdicted over the affair. An attempt by the DWC to give a deadline for registering illegally-caught elephants enraged environmentalists who pointed out that the announcement gave gangs a window of opportunity to seize baby elephants from the wild and legalise their ownership as captive-born animals. It is feared that this week’s attempt at Galgamuwa is linked with this situation.

Private owners of elephants lament that the number of captive elephants is decreasing and constantly urge the need of new blood, mainly to continue cultural activities that include elephants as an attraction. Many people, however, argue that this is against core Buddhist philosophy.

DWC Director-General H.D. Ratnayake rejected claims that his department is turning a blind eye on illegal elephant captivity even though all the details are given to the authorities. He said an investigation is being carried out to find those involved in attempt to rob the Galgamuwa baby elephant.

Published on SundayTimes on 09.02.2014 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/140209/news/attempt-to-snatch-baby-elephant-from-wild-85117.html

Wildlife Diaries- Memoirs from the wilderness

October 23, 2013

“Rajiv is different to the new crop of wildlife photographers that Sri Lanka is producing. Firstly he doesn’t concentrate only on the national parks. Secondly he is deeply concerned about conservation,” says veteran wildlife photographer Namal Kamalgoda of Rajiv Welikala who is preparing for his maiden wildlife photographic exhibition “Wildlife Diaries: Memoirs from the Sri Lankan Wilderness”.

Back to back - the young tuskers of Kalawewa herd

Back to back – the young tuskers of Kalawewa herd

Armed with his camera, Rajiv has braved wildernesses across the country, been chased by elephants while trying to photograph tuskers in Kalawewa and once had a narrow escape in an encounter with a bear in Lunugamwehera while on foot. But he is undeterred in his passion for bringing out the true beauty of Sri Lanka.

Rajiv has a passion for photographing tuskers. He believes documenting them is the first step towards protecting these gentle giants before they all vanish. The majestic tusker known as ‘Medha’ (weather god in Sinhala) hidden in a jungle patch in Wilpattu is his favourite tusker photo. “We had to wait over 15 minutes as many vehicles passed the spot even without noticing the majestic tusker taking shelter in the jungle. Slowly but surely the tusker started coming out. I captured this image at the right moment, when a beam of sunlight hit the side of his face, giving this amazing picture,” he recalls. The photograph captures the sense of mystery and awe the tusker inspires, and the landscape Wilpattu is famous for, he adds.

Photos of several tuskers showing different characteristics will be part of the exhibition. “I like to focus on locations outside national parks to search for tuskers especially in the North Central and Wayamba Provinces. The best time of day is evening, roughly between 4.30-5.30 p.m. which I like to call “Magic Hour” where the light is golden and optimum for photography,” Rajiv revealed. Rajiv Welikala

But Rajiv’s love for nature goes beyond tuskers as the over 70 such photographs exhibited will reveal- birds, mammals and reptiles among

his subjects.

While he loves to spend time in the wild, he points out that wildlife is all around us and one does not necessarily need to look to far-off jungles to photograph wild animals. Even closer to Colombo, there are many locations which are a haven for a multitude of species. Home gardens provide opportunities to capture photos of birds and other creatures, says Rajiv showing us a photo of a Brown-headed Barbet he had taken at his grandparents’ garden in Bambalapitiya.

Nature is so diverse and full of surprises there is never a boring day if you learn to open your eyes and broaden your horizons, he says, pointing out that many wildlife enthusiasts looking only for leopards in sanctuaries such as Yala, totally ignore the other species found in plenty there.

Rajiv started wildlife photography at the age of 13 while at S. Thomas’ College, Mount Lavinia. He did his higher studies at the University of Wales and now aged 28 is currently reading for an MBA from the Cardiff Metropolitan University, while working at MAS Intimates as a merchandiser.

‘Wildlife Diaries – Memoirs from the Sri Lankan Wilderness’ will be held from October 26-27 from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the Lionel Wendt Gallery, Colombo 7.  http://www.sundaytimes.lk/131020/plus/the-true-beauty-of-sri-lanka-66097.html

The whisper - sambur family

The whisper – sambur family

Ulama - the Devil Bird or Forest Eagle Owl from Wilpattu

Ulama – the Devil Bird or Forest Eagle Owl from Wilpattu

Megha - An elusive Wilpattu Tusker - Rajiv's favorite Tusker photo

Megha – An elusive Wilpattu Tusker – Rajiv’s favorite Tusker photo

Environmentalists: Grace period a cover to register newly captured jumbo calves

September 18, 2013

The grace period given for registering illegally caught wild elephants is being made use of by certain dishonest people to register baby elephants newly captured by them, environmentalists charge. Several environmental groups raised a concerted voice at a news conference, against this move to give a grace period for registering illegally kept wild elephant calves.

The existence of a racket of capturing wild baby elephants for domestication came to light about a decade ago and it is believed that more than 30 baby elephants have been snatched during the past few years. It is mandatory to register all domesticated elephants; however, these people who having high level connections evade the law.

Elephant calves that are believed to have been snatched from the wild. Pix courtesy Environmental Conservation Trust 

Based on some ground information, Sajeewa Chamikara of Environment Conservation Trust (ECT) says his organisation came to know that teams have already been dispatched to the jungles in Habarana and Udawalawe to snatch new jumbo calves to register them during the grace period.

He says the grace period given by the Department of Wildlife to register unregistered baby elephants is also an attempt to legitimise a large number of baby elephants captured from the wilds. Mr.Chamikara calls this is a clear violation of the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance (FFPO).

“The culprits should be punished according to the law, but the grace period will only encourage capturing of more baby elephants from the wilds,” he states. ECT has also released a list containing information on owners who are keeping the illegally captured elephants. If the authorities really want they could act on it, he said.

Recently, there were stories that the Elephant Registration book had gone missing leading to the sacking of the DWC’s legal division head. The legal division of the DWC had also been sealed off by police, but the DWC Director General H.D.Ratnayake later confirmed the Elephant Registration book was found.

This drama has taken a different twist with Wildife Minister Vijith Wijayamuni Soyza saying the DWC will offer a grace period for registering illegally held baby elephants by paying a million rupees. “I just want to finish off this unlawful act. But first I must clean the mess, so I offered a grace period with paying a fine” said the Wildlife Minister.

But environmental lawyer Jagath Gunawardane said that if there was a need to get the mess cleared, it could be arranged for the offenders to present the elephant to courts, pay a fine, after which the elephant could be handed over to the government.
A news release from ECT states that there are 359 domesticated elephants registered with the DWC. Of these, 94 elephants are in the Dehiwala Zoo and the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage while 60 had died.

There should, therefore, be about 205 elephants in the possession of private owners. However, the elephant owners claim they need more elephants for traditional purposes such as for parading in peraheras as the present elephants are getting older.

In the past, the DWC’s Flying Squad had detected illegally kept baby elephants, but the subsequent legal battles failed to trace the real offenders.

Meanwhile, Thailand Police have recently busted a similar racket of snatching wild baby elephants. Fourteen unregistered or illegally registered elephants were taken in by police on simultaneous raids at tourist destinations.

Published on Print edition of the SundayTimes on 15.09.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130915/news/environmentalists-grace-period-a-cover-to-register-newly-captured-jumbo-calves-62280.html

Environmentalists concerned over increase in illegal abduction of elephant calves

September 12, 2013

Caption: An elephant calf believed to be snatched from the wild. Pic courtesy Environmental Conservation Trust

Environmentalists have raised fresh concerns over the possible increase in the illegal abduction of elephant calves, following the Wildlife Conservation Ministry granting an amnesty period for the registration of wild elephant calves. Environmentalist, Sanjeewa Chamikara, Director of the Environment Conservation Trust (ECT) said in a statement that teams have already been dispatched to the wilds in Habarana and Udawalawe on ground information received by the trust. According to the statement it is believed that more than 30 elephant calves have been illegally snatched from the wild during the last decade.

This turn of events were reported after the registry used to enter Elephant registrations had gone missing from the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) eventually leading to the dismissal of the head of the legal division. Reports also claim that the legal division of the DWC has been sealed off by the Police. Subsequently, Director General of DWC, H.D.Ratnayake revealed that the book had been recovered, following which came the grace period to register elephant calves. The Report of the inquiry into the matter of the missing registry is to be handed over to the Minister on September 29.
Environmentalists believe that racketeers and unscrupulous businessmen are using this grace period to illegally capture wild elephant calves and also using this period to register a large number of elephants calves stolen from the wild. Mr. Chamikara calling this a clear violation of the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance (FFPO) aid “the culprits should be punished according to the law, but the grace period will only encourage catching of more elephant calves from the wild.”
According to a press release by ECT, there are total of 359 domestic elephants registered with the DWC. Out of these, 94 elephants are in the Dehiwala zoo and Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage and 60 have died. The statement claims that it is estimated that 205 elephants are the possession of private owners.
The government has decided to charge a Rs. 1 million fee for the registration of an elephant calf. Minister of Wildlife Vijith Vijayamuni Soysa was quoted by media as saying that the elephant calves that are not registered during this period would be taken into custody and the holders would be penalized in court.
Environmental Conservation Trust (ECT) alleges that 22 baby elephants have been abducted from wild during past few years. Sajeewa Chamikara of ECT shares the following list.
list-of-abducted-elephants-as-provided-by-environmental-conservation-trust
Click below to read the complete Press Release issued by Environmental Conservation Trust (ECT).
Threat to Elephant Calf – press release by ECT
See related stories 
  • Abductions go to the wilds (24.08.2008)

http://www.sundaytimes.lk/080824/Plus/sundaytimesplus_00.html

  • Balangoda calf linked to baby elephant racket (09.08.2009)

www.sundaytimes.lk/090809/News/nws22.html

  • Baby elephant abduction: Vet. granted bail (22.11.2009)

www.sundaytimes.lk/091122/News/nws_17.html

Published on TimesONLINE on WEDNESDAY, 11 SEPTEMBER 2013 11:11 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/latest/37475-environmentalists-concerned-over-illegal-abduction-of-elephant-calves-during-registration-grace-period.html

Microsoft Word - Elephant

Another elephant calf believed to be snatched from wild (c) Environmental Conservation Trust

Gemunu & the Soldier: Comments on Yala shooting

August 21, 2013

“This is what we call ‘Donkey doing dog’s job’… Both dog’s inaction and donkey’s action is questionable - Roshan Wevita

Since the news spread that Yala’s tusker Gemunu is shot; lots of concerned wildlife enthusiasts have been commented on the issue through Social Media Channels. “Sri Lankan Wildlife” Facebook group has been a center of discussion, but these comments will soon be buried among other latest posts. So thought of archiving some of the interesting posts on my blog. But please note that these are my personal selection  extracted around 11.00 pm on 20th.Aug (done in a bit of hurry), so I could be missing some other interesting messages…  Please be free to “Leave a comment” on this blog post, so your thoughts too will be heard…!!

Mentioned above is the best comment illustrating on what happened in Yala. Pls note that those comments marked with a ‘*’ contains more text, but shortened for giving more prominence for the main message.

Sri-Lankan-Wildlife-page-on-FB

Roshan Wevita This is what we call ‘Donkey doing dog’s job’… Both dog’s inaction and donkey’s action are questionable *

Chandima Gunadasa Poor Gamunu.. this must be the most terrifying moment in his life. They say elephants never forget … I only hope he does !!!

Madhubhashini Jayawardena So it was Gamunu who paid the price! not the people. So Sad!!

Namal Kamalgoda This was inevitable

Hamid R Haniffa Everyone knew that this was coming, but from the Army? Hell no! *

Dilshad Jemzeed Can someone tel us the purpose of having an Army camp inside Yala after May 2009?

Chullante’ Jayasuriya Exactly! What is the reason for the Army’s presence in the park????

Chandini Rajaratnam to kill or not to kill is not the point. they cannot shoot inside the park

Naren Gunasekera The Army’s presence in the park is the same as why they have expanded their bases elsewhere, why the navy holds land in the east, why they build resorts in Yala and Trinco. It is a land grab, pure and simple by the powers that be.

Manori Gunawardena Crux of the matter is tourism industry it’s regulatory agencies and wildlife authorities have to Reign in the mess they have created. That shot was fired because sometime in the past some one after a quick buck fed an elephant.

Kulendra Janaka Here’s the punchline though; according to the minister “U harima ahinsaka aliyek” (It is a very harmless/gentle elephant). *

Kusum Kumar Fernando This is wonder of Asia! !!!!!!!

Hamid R Haniffa This is not Gamunu fault. But the fault of the DWC

Caryll Tozer And now, we have a scared but annoyed Gemunu, an even more dangerous situation

Chandini Rajaratnam elephants never forget

Elephant-rahula GunaseKera We need to use the opportunity to get people to listen, and take positive action.

Pravin Mendis There are only a very few trackers who can handle a situation like this now….most are so and so’s henchmen…

Elephant-rahula GunaseKera In Arizona they have special forces trackers on the border inside national parks, but they all are also wildlife officers. So if Sri Lanka wants to.keep.army personel inside parks at least request that they go through some type of training as to how to interact with wildlife.

Elephant-rahula GunaseKera This the.problem in Sri Lanka due to fear or pride no one learns from mistakes *

Manori Gunawardena Interesting take…..ultimately who should be held accountable for the “Gemunu incident”? Merely passing the buck to the Department of Wildlife is insufficient. This has to be tackled at Economic Development level vis a vis the Tourism Industry and its regulators.

In my experience the past couple of years the industry has been less than forthcoming in engaging in sustainable solutions to manage a visitor issue which at the end of the day benefits their industry, printing a few posters and leaflets as CSR and other token gestures will only serve to gloss over the underlying issue, that yala is over visited and there are too many rooms servicing the park with more under way.

Dilshad Jemzeed

This is all about being OPPORTUNISTIC! We as nature lovers waited for the right moment to get the permanent campers out from Yala and this is right time to get the army camp out from Yala. Lets everyone strive together in achieving this goal….

Naren Gunasekera What about the irresponsible jeep drivers?

Kpl Perera Shooting to air just to fear the animal is not a crime!! If any unfortunate thing happened if Gemunu was not chased away, what would have been your comments?

Manori Gunawardena The sign at the entrance to the National Park says enter at your OWN RISK……

Imran Jabeer So what do you suppose “Rambo” here would have done if Gemunu turned and charged him instead of fleeing in horror; I’m sure he would’ve unloaded his magazine on him

Manori Gunawardena Share widely people, this mayhem in the parks has to stop the tourism industry that touts wildlife tourism created this mess and the authorities stood idle and let it happen.

Renton de Alwis I agree Manori… we need to better manage the visits by tourists (both foreign and local) to our parks. Yala, Minnariya (The gathering is a shameful free for all of vehicles too) and other …. Too many vehicles intruding on the lives of these treasures. Tourism should make it its business to join in on establishing lines of control for it may mean killing the goose that lays the golden eggs.

Hisham Shums I think the problem here is not tourism but strict enforcement of the park rules and control of the number of jeeps that are in the park at one time. Yes, tourists may have fed Gemunu. The question is, why was it allowed?

The main issue is that safari jeeps are allowed to go into the parks without a guide from the Dept of Wildlife. Even when a guide is present, you don’t see them enforcing the rules because they know that the jeep owners / drivers have a lot of political influence. So what needs to be addressed is:

1. How do we educate, control and monitor the jeep drivers?
2. How do we educate our politicians and make it clear that this nonsense has to stop? When politicians interfere unnecessarily just to ensure they win the next election, things like this are bound to happen.

Blaming tourists and / or tour companies that promote wildlife in Sri Lanka is not going to help the cause.

The tourists need to be made aware of the rules and regulations and the park office has to monitor and ensure that the rules and regulations are followed. This is the bottom line.

Manori Gunawardena Actually tour companies are the first point of contact in educating tourists on park etiquette, but how many for example brief guests on arrival or pre safari on park rules as they do in many reputed tourism facilities internationally.

1. For small facilities like yours Hisham Shums , pick train a few drivers to work with. 2 provide a briefing on park rules to your guests on arrival at your accommodation a pre safari brief .

While authorities have been lethargic enforcing rules the operators and accommodation providers have a huge role to play in how the park is serviced. These types of initiatives can be expedited.

Set a good example….

Manori Gunawardena Hisham Shums your a minority, will inbox some good guys. The primary function of the DWC is conservation now with increased visitation they have to evolve a parallel cardre to serve as guides enforce rules.

DWC does not have a tourism services mandate the economic development authorities have to create one and the resources.

Dyan Amodha Kannangara Imran Jabeer I was thinking the same thing, idiot would have most certainly unloaded the magazine. That f#$#%^&# jeep driver should never have stopped and at least should have driven off when Gemunu picked his vehicle. We Sri Lankans are so short sighted we bite the hand that feeds us.

Hamid R Haniffa This is not Gamunu fault. But the fault of the DWC

If the DWC can adapt similar guidelines as which to what is being followed at world’s end, then there is hope. And the DWC got to take more control of the Parks. And not count on others(ect.. Army, RDA). The up keeping of the park should be done by DWC, with trackers given supreme control once entered in to national parks.

Roshan Wevita This Armed soldier must have been worried about Gemunu putting his trunk inside the jeep.. However he had no business there yet; More than him the tracker should have been concerned about the safety of visitors cos it’s his job, not a soldier’s.

This is what we call ‘Donkey doing dog’s job’… Both dog’s inaction and donkey’s action are questionable *

Dilshad Jemzeed This is a golden opportunity to move the army camp out from Yala. As we waited for the right moment and got the permanent campers out, lets persuade the authorities to remove the Army camp from Yala NP……

Peshele Randeni What we should look at is to impose the existing laws and not introduce more.

Kpl Perera DWLC should impose new rules & regulations or laws banning entry of private vehicles to National Parks. DWLC should provide transport facilities by their own mode of transport or contracted services. Specialy designed buses could be utilised for this. By this scheme you can minimise no of vehicles entering parks & also visitors can enjoy safe, convenient, comfortable experience in a National Park.

Ajith Gamage At the end….this elephant “Gemunu” will be blamed. Wildlife Dept. officials who accompany the vehicles must take the responsibility and should not allow the drivers to stop the vehicle near the elephant. This situation has created by the people. Wildlife officials and the DRIVERS OF THE SAFARI VEHICLES must act in a more responsible manner to avoid such incidents and more importantly to protect this animal.

Compiled at midnight, 20th.Aug.2013

Gemunu & the Soldier: Images of Yala Shooting incident

August 20, 2013

The real story behind the shooting incident in Yala is now fully revealed. The images of the incident has been posted on “Sri Lankan Wildlife” group by biologist Manory Gunawardane. She stresses  that the incident should be taken to rethink on issues Yala National Park faces due to over-visitation. I’m re-posting this series of images on my blog for future references..

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A video of Yala Shooting emerges

August 19, 2013

..a video showing soldier on foot firing his automatic rifle aimed at air to scare the jumbo emerge. Luckily, Gemunu ran toward the jungle. But what if he panicked and with the fright, decides to attack the soldier…? Wouldn’t he unleash the bullets in his firearm toward Gemunu..?  ..and it will be the end of another tusker.

Image just before shooting occur

Soldier on foot at Yala seconds before shooting to the air to scare Gemunu

Gemunu and the result of irresponsible tourism

The following is statement by the Federation of Environmental Organizations (http://www.feosl.org/) with regard to the recent incident of firing of an automatic rifle in Yala National Park by a member of the armed forces at an elephant. 

A National Park is an exclusive space set aside for the conservation of wildlife. Therefore the protection, safety and wellbeing of wildlife within the parks are paramount and remain the primary purpose. National Parks are also national assets. Visitation should be considered a privilege. Visitors must respect this privilege Regrettably, with the rapid development and emphasis on wildlife tourism, there is an increasing trend where adherence to rules and regulations that govern visitation are not followed. Indiscipline among visitors and tour service providers is rising. 

Recent incidents in Yala NP that relate to Gemunu, an adult tusker, illustrate the broader and very serious ramifications of unchecked visitation. Gemunu grew up in Yala NP and is habituated to visitors. Recently visitors have begun to feed him, despite this practice being strictly prohibited under park rules. Gemunu has now started to aggressively approach vehicles in search of food, creating a potentially dangerous situation for both visitors and the elephant. 

On this occasion, however, a ranking army officer and entourage, on duty supervising the “Pada Yatra” pilgrimage through the Park, were amidst this melee. Photographs and video taken during this incident clearly show a soldier, disembarked from the vehicle, firing at least one shot, possibly to drive off the elephant. The Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance clearly states that under no circumstances should a service weapon be discharged in a National Park at a wild animal, other than by a member of the Department of Wildlife Conservation. Therefore the incident is a clear violation of national park laws.

The FEO strongly believes that such incidents are the outcomes of unplanned, unregulated and irresponsible tourism that threaten the protected areas of Sri Lanka.

The FEO urges the Minister of Wildlife Conservation to: 
1) expedite measures to curb visitor related infractions in National Parks, 
2) Compel the Department of Wildlife Conservation to enforce the park regulations and rules; and 
3) together with the relevant line ministries and stakeholders develop a sustainable visitor management plan for National Parks. 

Shots fired inside Yala National Park to scare tusker Gemunu

August 19, 2013

It is reported that shots were fired inside Yala national park to scare its iconic tusker Gemunu on saturday. Later reports confirmed that Gemunu is in good health and the shots were fired to the sky by an Army officer as Gemunu put its head to a Safari Jeep trying to grab some food scaring off the visitors in it.

With Yala closure is few weeks ahead, it is interesting to know how Gemunu will response to the closure of the national Park as he will loose his snacks being looted from the safari jeeps. He may go toward Sithulpawwa temple or move toward hotels in the vicinity. There is also change that it might go toward Army Camp set up in Yala which could be dangerous. If Gemunu appear suddenly, then a panicked soldier could fire at the animal getting panicked. Shooting by a Civil Defense (Grama arakshaka) has resulted in death of iconic  Kumana Cross-tusker, so something like that will be tragic. So wildlife enthusiasts warn the need of doing something as it is a ticking ‘time bomb’ or a disaster waiting to happen..!!

Meanwhile few weeks ago, a video emerged that Gemunu puts its head into a safari jeep full of foreign tourists in an attempt to get a snack. Feared that Gemunu might overturn their Jeep, the tourists started getting down from the jeep. One had just jumped out from the wrong side landing only few inches from the Elephant. They had been picked by the Jeep coming from behind. (Click on the link for video video showing panicked visitors getting down from jeep)

from-the-video---tourists-jump-out-from-the-jeep

from the video – tourists jump out from the jeep. One was just few inches away from wild elephant.bmp

Gemunu’s habit of getting food has been reported for a long time and still he is gentle and no violence has been reported. However he is a male elephant and at time of musth; he could anyway be dangerous. It is believed that the visitors had initially offered food to Gemunu; to make him brave now to stop jeeps and even put his trunk and head inside in attempt to loot food, if not given. The best thing you can do is avoid the elephant and If you see him in the distance, turn around and drive off. Also, seal or tie up any boxes or bags containing food; calls experts.

Yala _CLOSE ENCOUNTER December 29, 2012 (c) RIAZ CADER

Gemunu sniffing for food (c) Riaz Cader

Also read this article “Feeding wild elephants is high-risk entertainment”: http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130113/news/feeding-wild-elephants-is-high-risk-entertainment-28494.html

Rare Sri Pada elephant yields valuable evolution clues

July 10, 2013

Last hideout of shy herd that survives by being elusive – Malaka Rodrigo

Scientists are finding evidence of possible changes in evolution among elephants roaming Sri Pada with a chance to examine the body of an elephant found in the area in the first such sighting. The body was found last week (June 26) in the periphery of the Laxapana Tea Estate in Nallathanniya which adjoins the Peak Wilderness Wildlife Reserve, the last hideout of a dozen elephants that survive in the area.

The roaming herd in Siri Pada. Pic by Anil Vithanage

This is the first time the body of an elephant has been found here, and villagers flocked in large number to witness this rare scene.
The veterinary surgeon of the Elephant Transit Home (ETH) which oversees wildlife issues in the Peak Wilderness, Dr Vijitha Perera, said it appeared the elephant had been dead less than 12 hours, and that the death was due to natural causes. Dr. Perera, who performed the post-mortem on the elephant, told The Sunday Times that, interestingly, the elephant had fed solely on the small bamboos that grow in the Peak Wilderness. No grass was present in the gut.

The elephant’s jaw and ears, and overall the body, was smaller than elephants living in other areas. Dr Perera is of the view that these changes are a result of evolving adaptation to life in mountain terrain. The foot was smaller as well as smoother, unlike the cracked soles of an elephant in the Dry Zone.

The elephant also had well developed tushes (tushes are similar to tusks but do not grow more than a few inches). The white pigmentation on its body (known as kabara in Sinhala) made it look fairer. Dr Perera believes the dead elephant was at least 30 years of age.

The elephants in Sri Pada are elusive, said Nallathanniya Assistant Wildlife Ranger Anil Vithanage who has been studying this small elephant group for nearly a decade. He has been lucky enough to encounter the herd several times and was able to photograph it at Dharmaraja gala a few years ago. There were three sub-adults and a pregnant female in this herd, he said, allowing The Sunday Times use of the rare photographs.

Mr. Vithanage said the Sri Pada elephants roam a large area of the Peak Wilderness but are shy and keep their distance from humans. This has so far spared them from becoming casualties of human-elephant conflict. Fortunately, he said, the local people hold the animals in respect because the elephant is considered to be the bearer of lord Sumana Saman, the deity watching over Sri Pada (Samanala Kanda) Adaviya. Legend says that the devastating floods of 2002 were triggered by a curse over the killing of a Sri Pada elephant for its tusks.

A rare scene: The body of the elephant. Pic by Dr. Vijitha Perera

The elephants avoid the main areas during Sri Pada Pilgrim season and return to the range during the off-season as the noise of the pilgrims recedes.On the wilder pilgrimage paths through Kuruwita/Eratne and Palabaddala there can be seen signs of elephants that had passed through the area.

Mr. Vithanage said climbers who scale Sri Pada in the off-season for pilgrims were disturbing the silence enjoyed by these animals. Proposals such as setting up a lighting system to the peak as well as a cable car system should be considered with care in this extremely sensitive environment.

The Peak area was “a dense and trackless forest, the home of elephant, leopard, and bears” according to an 1862 missionary account. Huge herds were chased away as the Brititsh established plantations in the mountains. To protect the crops and for sport, thousands of elephants roaming the hill country and Wet Zone were killed.

The Peak Wilderness is now a UNESCO World Heritage site for its Natural Wealth and the remaining few elephants are the jewel of Peak Wilderness’ biodiversity. A conservation plan to protect them for future generation is a clear necessity, say environmentalists.

 And then there were two … 

The Sinharaja is home to just a couple of elephants in the Wet Zone, and they are probably the last of their generation. A few years ago, three elephants were spotted roaming in areas such as Pothupitiya, Ilumbakanda and Rakwana but Runakanda Friends of Biodiversity Association President Amila Chanaka says only two were spotted during the past year.

Unlike the Sri Pada elephants, the Sinharaja elephants are in conflict with villagers. They have claimed the lives of a few people in the area and in return, have been shot. Mr Chanaka worries that the missing jumbo was a casualty. He said all the elephants were males, so they are the last of their generation.

The remaining forest patches in these areas have been encroached on, mainly for tea cultivation, so the elephants have to pass populated areas, risking confrontation with humans. Relocation is virtually unfeasible as there are not sufficiently large Wet Zone habitats for these animals.

An attempt to relocate one of the Sinharaja elephants was blocked by some local villagers who take pride in the presence of the elephants. They say illicit liquor makers and timber fellers want to get rid of the elephants in order to carry out their activities undisturbed deep in the forest.

Published in SundayTimes on 07.07.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130707/news/rare-sri-pada-elephant-yields-valuable-evolution-clues-51896.html

Flood Czech: our jumbos safe in Prague

July 6, 2013

Concerns over the fate of Sri Lankan elephants in inundated Prague Zoo – where an elephant died in severe flooding in 2002 – have been laid to rest by zoo officials who say the animals are safe despite the zoo being flooded again, forcing the evacuation of hundreds of its denizens.

Safe: Tamara with baby Sita. Pic courtesy Tomáš Adamec

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Times, Prague Zoo’s spokesman, Michal Stastny, said the new elephant enclosure, Elephant Valley, has not been affected by this month’s floods in the Czech Republic’s capital because it is located on higher ground, about 70m above the water level.

Established in 1931, the Prague zoo has been one of the largest and popular zoos in the world. It is located on the banks of the Vltava River, making it prone to flooding. In 2002, the zoo experienced the worst flood in 100 years, resulting in the deaths of many animals.

Among the dead was Kadir, an Asian elephant, which had to be euthanased as it faced a worse death by drowning when rescue efforts failed to get it out from its enclosure. Some of the other larger animals that died during the 2002 floods include a gorilla, hippos and some small animals. A group of sea lions escaped to the Vltava River.

Animal activists have been worried about the fate of two Sri Lankan elephants, Janita and Tamara, recently gifted to the zoo but Mr Stastny’s reassurances have been cheering.

He said that earlier this month some 1000 animals had to be evacuated from the lower part of the zoo to temporary accommodation on higher ground to make sure of their safety. These included big cats such as tigers, jaguars, leopards and lions that had to be tranquillised. The only casualty this time was a flamingo, he said. A gorilla too had to be sedated in order to evacuate it to safety.

Eight-year-old Janita and seven-year-old Tamara were donated to the Prague Zoo in October last year and sent to the Czech Republic by a Sri Lankan Air Force cargo plane. The plane did not return empty to Colombo as the zoo gifted a pair of Komodo dragons, a pair of Przewalski horses and a pair of young hippos to the Dehiwela Zoo.

Submerged direction boards at the zoo

Prague Zoo is now home to eight Asian elephants. On March 30, the little herd, including Tamara and Janita, were moved to the Valley of Elephants, which has a heated pavilion of 1400 square metres and three connectable runs with a total area of 8500 square metres. The elephants are not chained.

Animal welfare groups in Sri Lanka are unenthusiastic about elephants such as Janita and Tamara from the Pinnawela elephant orphanage being donated to foreign zoos.

While some international zoos take good care of their elephants, many others do not have proper capabilities to raise elephants, specially in harsh weather, activists say. In many instances, they say, the elephants are left alone, placing these sociable animals under huge stress.

In Prague Zoo, Janita and Tamara also have company of six other companions. In February, the first baby elephant was born in the zoo, and both Janita and Tamara have apparently assumed foster-mother duties to five-month-old Sita, whose mother is also present. Prague Zoo says it is grateful that the two elephants sent by Sri Lanka could enhance its breeding programme.

Published on SundayTimes on 23.06.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130623/news/flood-czech-our-jumbos-safe-in-prague-49773.html

Airport in Elephant Territory opens today

March 18, 2013

Sri Lanka’s second International Airport at Mattala/Hambanthota opens today. The airport has been shifted from Weerawila to Mattala due to protests by farmers and environmentalists. But the new location is further into the heart of Elephant Territory, alleges Environmentalist.

The Researchers has radio-collared elephants from selected herds roaming in the area and the satellite based data shows  the kind of movements of elephants in the area. It proves Mattala has a dense Elephant population with about 200 elephants. So it is clear that unplanned development will create another war front of Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) in Mattala. There are plans to expand the airport and perhaps the elephants that will be displaced will move further toward human habitations intensifying the HEC. So will the innocent villagers in vicinitybecome the unintentional victims of development..?

Elephant Movements in Mattala

The map showing elephant movements in area. The differently colored dots indicate different elephants radio collared from different herds (c) Sapumalie-the-elephant – http://www.facebook.com/#!/groups/30822262835/?fref=ts

It is also reported a worker traveling to airport has been killed by elephants last week. Conservationists worry whether there could be another Elephant Drive which is proven to be disastrous to elephants. Several Elephant drives were conducted earlier in Sri Lanka, but this doesn’t work for elephants as researches highlighted.

But there was a strategic plan for Greater Hambanthota Development Plan drafted in 2011 consulting experts in town development and elephant conservationists. Based on satellite collared data on elephant movements, the areas were demarcated as Managed Elephant Ranges (MER) that should be kept reserved for elephants as those areas are heavily used by the wildlife. The report marks other areas for developments, so this is a Win-Win situation for both humans and elephants. As we also need ‘development’; the best available option would be to implement this ambitious new strategies achieve Human Elephant co-existence in Hambantota points out experts.

Sri Lanka needs development – no doubt about that. Let’s all hope atleast the future developments will not be done in haphazard way.

Read more about this Strategic Plan done for Greater Hambanthota development plan here : ‘Don’t stump the ‘Stumpies’ of Hambantota ‘: http://sundaytimes.lk/110227/Plus/plus_06.html

Blood ivory a topic at International Forum on Wildlife Crime

March 17, 2013

Suspect traffickers arrested, stock seized in Lanka vital as probe continues� Malaka Rodrigo reporting from Bangkok

The poaching of elephants for tusks was another issue discussed at the many side events held parallel to the 16th Conference of Parties (COP16) at the Convention of International Trade on Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora (CITES).

The 16th Conference of Parties (COP16) in progress

The fate of the haul of ivory seized recently by Sri Lankan Customs was a hot topic at CITES and the Asian Development Bank side event ‘Symposium on Combating Wildlife Crime’. The senior representatives of Sri Lanka participating at the event said the ivory will not be distributed to the temples.

Kenya Wildlife Service (KWS representative Halke Elme confirmed Kenya has received a letter from Sri Lanka saying the ivory will not be released. KWS is the state agency of Kenya protecting its wildlife and based on the recent reports that the ivory is to be released, KWS has sent a letter querying Sri Lanka. Mr.Elme said KWS received the reply from the Sri Lanka Government a few days ago.

The representative from the Lusaka Agreement Task Force who was present at the CITES-ADB symposium praised Sri Lanka for the seizure of the ivory. Lusaka Agreement Task Force is a law enforcement institution which is also the Secretariat of the Lusaka Agreement on Cooperative Enforcement Operations Directed at Illegal Trade in Wild Fauna and Flora. The representative said its officials had arrested suspects believed to be linked to the haul of ivory seized in Sri Lanka and added it is vital that the stock be kept as a criminal investigation is still ongoing.

A monk at Wat That Thong temple in Bangkok During a Buddhist merit-making ceremony to pray for the tens of thousands of elephants poached annually (c) WWF Thailand

A monk at Wat That Thong temple in Bangkok During a Buddhist merit-making ceremony to pray for the tens of thousands of elephants poached annually (c) WWF Thailand

Talking exclusively to the Sunday Times, CITES Secretary General John Scanlon said the convention also recognizes the role of transit countries to curb wildlife crime adding it is difficult to set up general rules for all the transit countries as the situation differs from one country to another. He said the CITES secretariat is aware of the seizure of the haul of the ivory by Sri Lanka Customs and subsequent attempt to release it to temples. Many of the Customs officers and other law enforcement officers present at the symposium shared the challenges they faced and their success stories at the CITES-ADB symposium on Wildlife Crime. It was also mentioned that over 1000 law enforcement officers were killed in trying to protect wildlife during the past decade.

Many of them were killed in Africa by well-armed elephant and rhino poachers, so it was not just the animal population that suffered, but also humans.
The level of interest seen in CITES about the haul of the ivory seized in Sri Lanka along showed that internationally Sri Lanka would get a black mark if we release the ivory for some other purpose. Sri Lanka Custom’s Samantha Gunasekera confirmed the stock of ivory is still in the Customs’ stores.
Thai Buddhist leaders prayed for poached elephants and called for the end to ivory use.

Published on SundayTimes on 17.03.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130317/news/blood-ivory-a-topic-at-international-forum-on-wildlife-crime-37357.html

Opposition questions fate of contraband ivory

February 24, 2013

The haul of African Elephant tusks seized by Sri Lanka customs last year are still locked inside the customs stores securely, assured the Leader of the House minister Nimal Siripala de Silva. He made these comments in the parliament on 22nd Friday answering a special statement made by opposition leader Ranil Wickremasinghe about an attempt to release this stock of ivory.

What will be done for the stock of ivory is yet to be decided after consulting relevant authorities minister further added. Sri Lanka is a signatory of Convention on International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) that has black listed ivory as an item that should not be traded internationally. Minister Nimal Siripala stated that the international follow up actions has been conveyed to the relevant international authorities such as Asia Pacific Regional Intelligence Liaisons Office who had tipped Sri Lanka customs to seize the haul of ivory.

Tragedy: The 359 African elephant tusks concealed in a container on a ship sailing from Kenya to Dubai. Pic by Indika Handuwala

Tragedy: The 359 African elephant tusks concealed in a container on a ship sailing from Kenya to Dubai. Pic by Indika Handuwala

The full text of the opposition leader’s statement published in media questions whether this consignment of ivory has been listed with the Wildlife Department. As per the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance, when such ivory is taken into custody, it should be listed in the Wildlife Department prior to release from the Customs. However, according to our reliable sources of information, this consignment of ivory had been taken out of the Customs without such a listing, on an order issued by the President’s Office, pointed out the Opposition Leader.

Ranil Wickremasingha also alleged that ivory has been undervalued. According to the market rates, at a glance, they can be valued at a sum over Rs.4,000 million while ivory has been valued at a sum of Rs.450 million, he alleged pointing out that this incident raises a serious concerns as to whether those who are responsible will be up to a racket in the pretext of offering the ivory for the use of temples.

There were 359 tusks in this haul of ivory that was shipped from Kenya, en-route to Dubai. Under the Customs’ Ordinance, the tusks were confiscated. Environmentalists staged their protest to release the tusks claiming that even the international investigation on the ivory is not over. They call either to return this ivory stock to the authorities of country of origin or publicly destroy them since distributing them will add value for the ivory which will create demand.

What is reflected through that offering of blood-smeared ivory to the temples is that our temples agree to any type of inhuman act. Equally, it also brings up a view that it is justifiable to kill tuskers for the purpose of providing ivory to the temples. It also has a direct impact on the population of tuskers in Sri Lanka, states opposition leader’s statement.

Why was the decision to offer this consignment of ivory to the temples taken? Who has taken that decision? Can the list of names of the temples, to which such ivory was decided to be sent, be tabled? Were the Chief Prelates or other priests consulted prior to taking this decision? If so, who are those priests? Is the Ministry of Buddhist Affairs connected with this decision? If so, at what level?; questions the opposition.

Blood ivory is not for showcasing

February 19, 2013

Conservationists and Buddhist monks are against the release of confiscated elephant tusks or their display in temples, writes Malaka Rodrigo

Releasing a cargo of confiscated ivory would only create a demand for more ivory, and this would trigger a surge in the poaching of Sri Lankan tuskers, warn animal lovers.
Environmentalists and conservationists protested on hearing that a consignment of 359 African Elephant tusks seized by the Sri Lanka Customs was to be released last week. Last month, the Presidential Secretariat ordered the Customs to release the ivory for distribution among Buddhist temples.

A majestic sight: Just four days before this African elephant was killed for its tusks. Pic courtesy Ike Leonard

Buddhist groups say the ivory was bought with blood money paid to kill African Elephants for profit, and that the tainted ivory has no place in Buddhist temples or places of veneration. �Prominent Buddhist monk and activist, Ven. Athuraliye Rathana Thera of the Jathika Hela Urumaya, says displaying the ivory in temples would go against the principles of Buddhism, which preached compassion for all living things. The Thera recalled the way tuskers were decimated in colonial times.

“To give the confiscated ivory to temples would be the same as giving any other confiscated goods. This blood ivory is ‘hora badu’ [stolen goods],” said the Ven. Galagodatthe Gnanasara Thera, secretary to the Bodu Bala Sena, a Buddhist activist organisation.

Releasing the stock of contraband ivory would only raise the demand for ivory, said Professor Devake Weerakoon, speaking at a press conference organised by the Federation of Environmental Organizations (FEO) and other environment groups. The African Elephant is being targeted by poachers and the best way to reduce the killing is to prevent the demand from going up, said the professor, who is a member of the International Species Survival Commission for Asian Elephants. The commission comes under the International Union for Conservation of Nature.

Trading in ivory was banned internationally in 1989.�Prof. Weerakoon feared the showcasing of African Elephant ivory would put Sri Lankas few remaining tuskers in the wild at risk.

The display of valuable ivory in temples would only encourage looters who were plundering the country for Buddhist artifacts and treasures, said Thilak Kariyawasam of the Environmental Conservation Trust, while Sajeewa Chamikara, also of the trust, said giving ivory to temples was as unacceptable as giving elephant flesh to temples.

Conservationist Rukshan Jayawardane said publicly destroying the stock of ivory would send a strong international message to those who promoted wildlife crime.

2012 peak year for ivory smuggling

While the human-elephant conflict is the main threat to the Asian Elephant, poaching for ivory is the main threat to the African Elephant. Both the male and female African Elephant are blessed – or cursed – with tusks.

Killing elephants for ivory is on the rise, says Dr. Richard Thomas, communications co-ordinator for TRAFFIC, the international conservation organisation. Last year, 2012, was among the five worst years on record for ivory smuggling worldwide, Dr. Thomas said.

In an exclusive interview with the Sunday Times, Dr. Thomas said TRAFFIC would not be in favour of releasing the ivory seized by Sri Lanka Customs. The ivory could “leak” back into the international illegal ivory trade and stimulate further trafficking and concomitant poaching of elephants.

TRAFFIC recommends that any seized ivory be audited and held in secure, government-owned and managed ivory stockpiles to ensure the ivory would not re-enter the illegal trade.

Save-the-Elephants (STE), a Kenya-based conservation organisation, says the number of elephants illegally killed has doubled in the last three years.

Leading African Elephant conservationist Dr. Douglas Hamilton said, “We faced this threat 30 years ago and we know that the situation can be controlled and reversed if the appetite for ivory is reduced. There needs to be united action from concerned individuals, NGOs and governments to reduce the demand for ivory.”

Published on SundayTimes on 17.02.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130217/news/blood-ivory-is-not-for-showcasing-33499.html

Hakka pataas set to become Elephant Killer No. 1

February 6, 2013

The improvised explosive device put out to kill wild boar killed 35 jumbos last year, reports Malaka Rodrigo

A six-month baby elephant is the latest victim of a “hakka patas” – an explosive device designed to fatally wound an animal when it picks it up in its mouth. The wounded animal was found by Army personnel posted in Nedunkerny, Mullaitivu.

The baby jumbo suffering from hakka patas injuries (c) Dr.Vijitha Perera

One side of the animal’s mouth was split open, and its teeth cracked, but its tongue was not severed, said veterinary surgeon Dr. Chandana Jayasinghe, who is treating the baby jumbo. The elephant is responding to the treatment, and the doctor is hopeful it will survive.

Last year, 35 elephants were killed by hakka patas, making the killer device the second biggest cause of elephant deaths. Ninety per cent of “hakka patas” victims do not survive.

“When a hakka patas explodes, the elephant’s mouth is destroyed and the animal, which cannot use its mouth any more to eat, dies of dehydration or starves to death,” Dr. Jayasinghe explained. Very often, the hakka patas victims is found long after it has suffered injury, by which time the elephant’s wounds are in an advanced state of infection and hard to treat.

In 2012, hakka patas killed 35 elephants, while 44 elephants died of gunshot wounds. Experts fear the hakka patas will become the No. 1 elephant killer in Sri Lanka, unless strict preventive action is taken.

The hakka patas, which is largely used to kill wild boar, is made from gunpowder taken from the “Cheena patas” (Chinese cracker), a firecracker that is readily available in the market. Poachers use the gunpowder of several Cheena patas and sometimes mix in stones. The explosive is tucked inside a food package of dried fish or vegetables and placed in areas frequented by wild boar.

Wildlife Department records show the hakka patas has been in regular use since 2010. The Sunday Times, however, reported use of hakka patas to kill animals in 2008.�The hakka patas is widely prevalent in the East and North Western Provinces, leading to speculation that the knowhow for making the crude explosive has been provided by persons familiar with making explosives.

Young elephants released from the Elephant Transit Home (ETH) in Udawalawe have also fallen victim to hakka patas. The first victim died, but the second, a female named Neela, was located with the help of advanced monitoring equipment, and veterinary surgeons were able to reach the animal before its wounds became infected. “Neela may be the only elephant in this region to survive a hakka patas,” said Dr. Vijitha Perera, who treated the animal at the Elephant Transit Home.

Recently wildlife officers surprised a poacher in the act of making hakka patas. The man, who had nine explosives in his possession, was arrested and is facing trial. �Wildlife Conservation Department director general H. D. Ratnayake told the Sunday Times that steps are under way to try and ban the Cheena patas, which provides the main ingredient for hakka patas. The department is in discussions with the Registrar of Explosives.

Last month a child was killed after biting on a cheena patas. It is believed the toddler had mistaken the explosive for a toffee.

Electrocuted and knocked down by trains

Twenty-one elephants died from electrocution last year. Only last week, a jumbo in Habarana was electrocuted when it became entangled in a exposed power line strung up round a paddy field. Last year a farmer was arrested for illegally setting up exposed electric wiring to keep elephants out of his paddy fields. The wires had killed an elephant.

Another seven elephants died on the railtrack after being knocked down by trains. In December 2012 alone, trains killed three elephants. These are preventable deaths, says veterinarian Dr. Prithviraj Fernando. Railway drivers have been instructed to “go slow” on railroad stretches that pass through elephant country. Wildlife officers are entitled to board trains to ensure speed limits are kept, but unfortunately this precaution has so far not been taken, Dr. Prithviraj.

Published on SundayTimes on 03.02.2013 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130203/news/hakka-pataas-set-to-become-elephant-killer-no-1-31463.html

Abductions go to the wilds

January 29, 2013

Environmental Conservation Trust (ECT) alleges that 22 baby elephants have been abducted from wild during past few years. Sajeewa Chamikara of ECT shares the following list.

List of Abducted elephants as provided by Environmental Conservation Trust

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

…I’m reproducing my 2008 article to refresh the memories that this issue has been continued now for a long time. The original article can be found at http://www.sundaytimes.lk/080824/Plus/sundaytimesplus_00.html

Abductions go to the wilds

jumbo baby-smuggling racket, centred around the wilds in Habarana, has wildlife officials concerned, Malaka Rodrigo reports on 24.08.2008
“Please find my baby. If someone has kidnapped him, please return my baby.” Remember the plea of the mother of baby Gavish who was kidnapped from Kalubowila Hospital last year? Fortunately that story had a happy ending but the mother of the baby elephant discovered recently in captivity may still be lamenting in the wilds of Habarana.

The baby abduction from Kalubowila led to the discovery of a baby smuggling racket that shocked the nation. At present, Sri Lanka’s Wildlife Department officers are investigating trails of baby elephants allegedly being abducted from the wild. The recovery of a baby elephant illegally held without a proper permit in an estate close to Colombo is probably only the tip of this iceberg, they feel. The elephant is now in the Uda Walawe Elephant Transit Home.

The baby elephant that was recently discovered in captivity

Reports of a possible baby elephant abduction racket had been in the air for quite some time. It is believed that baby elephants are isolated from their herds and then stealthily transferred to different locations. The Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWLC)’s Flying Squad had been investigating this for a long time when they received a tip about the elephant held on a private estate.

The owner of the baby elephant claims that it was born to one of their captive female elephants. But the veterinary report proves that the baby elephant had pellets in its body. “How can a baby elephant born in captivity have pellets in its body?” questions Upali Padmasiri, head of the Department of Wildlife Conservation’s Flying Squad. Pellets are the result of gunshots and most Sri Lankan wild elephants unfortunately live with them. This raises fears of mothers being shot to separate the baby from the herd.

Habarana is believed to be the centre of this alleged racket. The area has a high elephant density being in the centre of three national parks namely Minneriya, Kawdulla and Hurulu. Transporting elephants used for elephant safaris in and out from Habarana is also common, so it is an ideal ground to execute abductions. But smuggling out an elephant is different from taking out a butterfly cocoon or a spider from the wild. It is a big animal and the herd furiously defends its calf making capture difficult and dangerous. That is why environmentalists believe this is an organized racket.

It is believed some of the baby jumbos have been issued false birth certificates upon recommendation by some veterinary surgeons.

This is not the first case of a baby elephant being allegedly taken from the wild. In 2001 wildlife officers led by M. Faize, former head of the Flying Squad- found another baby elephant, which the owners claimed had been born to one of their captive elephants. The court case dragged over a long period and an order was received to perform a DNA test to verify the truth of the owner’s claim. But the DNA test could not be performed due to failure to take blood samples. The reasons the DNA test could not be done using elephant dung is unclear. Later, a veterinary surgeon claimed that he treated the baby elephant confirming the pregnancy of the captive mother elephant. So the case was dismissed, without completing the DNA verifications.

These claims raise another question. Have any of the elephants in captivity given birth? And if they did, why has it not been publicized in the newspapers? Veterinary surgeon Dr. Ashoka Dangolla who treats domesticated elephants says owners prefer to keep the elephant calves from the public eye during their younger days. Several births to captive elephants have taken place, but they are not publicized, he says.
“We have only 135 captive elephants in the country and the latest lost (?) is ‘Hurathalie’ who participated in the Kandy Perahera a few days ago,” Dr. Dangolla said.

Of this number there can be only about 20 female domesticated elephants who can be bred, but owners usually do not like their female elephants being pregnant due to the long gestation period during which the elephant cannot be used for any other purpose. The elephant calf depends on its mother’s milk for the first three years of its life.

Pinnawala has now become the main source for providing new blood to the captive elephant population in Sri Lanka with a few donations from India and Thailand.

Capturing elephants from the wild was stopped in 1875 with the infamous Panamure Kraal. The Elephant Owners’ Association claims that most of the domesticated elephants are over 50 years of age and stresses the need for young blood. There was a plan for rogue elephants that become a threat to humans and property to be captured from the wild and then auctioned instead of relocating them in protected areas. The idea was put forward considering that our national parks are already overcrowded with elephants and as a strategy to strengthen the captive elephant populations. But many elephant activists are critical of this idea, considering the conduct of the mahouts and some of the owners of the domesticated elephants.

Conservationists believe that there could be 10-12 elephants so far abducted this way. “We will continue the investigations and do our best to bring the culprits to book,” said the Director General of the DWLC, Ananda Wijesuriya. All elephants have to be registered under the DWLC and the Environmental Ministry warns all the owners to register their elephants immediately, if they haven’t done so far.

A recent Reuters report indicated that about 70-80 elephants are abducted (yearly?0 in the Indian province of Assam alone. Thailand has also faced a similar problem where baby elephants are smuggled from neighbouring countries – Vietnam, Laos. It is important therefore that the loop holes in the law are closed without leaving room for the culprits to squeeze through.

There is also a need to protect the officers who stand up to influential people who are purported to be behind the rackets. They have received the fullest support from the Minister of Environment Champika Ranawaka so far and the country does not want this case to end up at another dead-end with high profile interferences. The appeal is to the public: If you see a baby elephant that is less than five years old being kept under suspicious circumstances, inform the Wildlife Flying Squad on 1991.

Should Pinnawala release elephants to private owners?

‘Sinha Raja’ was probably the most unlucky elephant released by Pinnawala. This handpicked healthy calf met a tragic death, when it was hit by lightning when chained to an iron bar in an open area.

A few days after Sinha Raja’s death, another elephant was released from Pinnawala on a political request. During 2002- 2003, 11 elephants were donated to temples. Pinnawala remains the main source from where elephants are given out for captive.

Most of the requests for elephants are through temples on the basis that elephants are needed to continue cultural events like peraheras. Pinnawala came up with a unique solution for this demand under the guidance of former director Brigadier H.A.N.T. Perera. The suggestion included training a squad of Pinnawala elephants for cultural events with the formation of a committee comprising some key elephant owners and temples.

The administrators planned to keep this squad at Wagolla and had made an arena to train elephants for peraheras to get them used to torches at night etc. Having this squad at one place would have enabled better treatment with better standards. If this concept materialized, it would also have ensured a supply of well trained elephants available for a reasonable price for cultural events, together with a group of trained veterinary surgeons. This year there were more incidents at cultural events; one woman in Ragama was killed. Such tragedies could also be avoided.

The proposal of a trained Elephant Squad was submitted to Parliament in 2003, but nothing has happened so far, other than the setting up of a parliament committee.

 

Feeding wild elephants make Yala’s iconic tusker a nuisance

January 19, 2013

Yala’s iconic tusker Gemunu has developed bad habits after being encouraged by visitors who tempt the animal with food and other tidbits. Gemunu comes to the road, stops Safari Jeeps and dips his trunk into the vehicles jeep in search of snacks -  by Malaka Rodrgo�

Disaster waiting to happen: Visitors to Sithulpawwa feed an elephant. Pic courtesy Aruna Seneviratne

Wildlife lover Riaz Cader had a closer encounter with Gemunu on December 29, when the tusker went from jeep to jeep, sticking his trunk into vehicles looking for food and biscuits. It was an exciting up-close encounter, the closest Riaz has ever been to an elephant in the wild. But this is a potentially lethal situation, and an accident is waiting to happen, Riaz warns.

“Gemunu seemed harmless, but many guests and Jeep drivers looked nervous,” Riaz said. “Tourists who pat the tusker on the back as he walks past don’t realise the danger.”�

Gemunu. who is about 20 years old, has moved closely with humans from his adolescent jumbo days. It is claimed that the elephant would frequent a hotel at the edge of Yala to forage for food leftovers. In the early days, visitors and staff would give it snacks. The elephant even broke into the kitchen when the hotel management changed and no one was throwing it snacks.

Gemunu stopped visiting after strict no-feeding rules were laid down. Frequent Yala guests say Gemunu started approaching safari Jeeps about a year ago.

Wildlife biologist Manori Gunawardane, a regular at Yala, also had a close encounter with Gemunu. She was there last Tuesday when the tusker came up to their Jeep and started pushing bags around with his trunk. Empty biscuit cartons might have caught his attention. Manori slapped Gemunu on the trunk while the others shouted to scare the animal away.

Yala : Gemunu snifs at some food in Riaz Cader’s jeep. Pic courtesy Riaz Cader

“The best thing you can do is avoid the elephant,” advised elephant biologist Dr. Prithviraj Fernando. “If you see him in the distance, turn around and drive off. Also, seal or tie up any boxes or bags containing food. The elephant gets interested the moment it gets a whiff of food. Elephants are intelligent. In Udawalawe, you see jumbos lining up along the fence by the road. They are waiting for food, but they don’t invade the Jeeps.”�

Another tusker visits the Sithulpawwa Temple inside the Yala game reserve. Visitor Aruna Seneviratne has taken photographs of pilgrims feeding the tusker, despite warnings not to. The tusker, named Anuradha, has attacked Jeeps.

“The Jeep drivers should be blamed for this,” says Tharindu Jayasinghe, secretary of the Yala Safari Jeep Owners’ Association. “The drivers encourage the elephants by going close so that visitors can feed them,” he told the Sunday Times.�

Feeding wild animals is considered a meritorious act in this country, but there is a risk. At least two Yala elephants were killed last year when they came too close to humans.

Published on SundayTimes on 13.01.13 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/130113/news/feeding-wild-elephants-is-high-risk-entertainment-28494.html  

Yala _CLOSE ENCOUNTER December 29, 2012 (c) RIAZ CADER

Yala _CLOSE ENCOUNTER December 29, 2012 (c) RIAZ CADER

Gemunu searching Safari Jeeps (c) Riaz Cader

Gemunu searching Safari Jeeps (c) Riaz Cader