The agony of the silent victims of landmines

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Two elephants that fell victim to anti-personnel mines were reported from Silwathura–the first time that two cases

Both the injured tusker and elephant are seen in these two pictures

were reported from the same location. They were spotted by Army men who alerted the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC).

One of them was a tusker and the sole of its left fore limb had been completely smashed by the mine explosion. The elephant’s lower left fore-limb was swollen more than twice its normal size due to the injury. Adding more agony to the gentle giant, the end of its trunk had been ripped off too.

The tip of an elephant trunk contains nerve endings making it very sensitive and the pain would have been intense. Dr.Chandana Jayasinghe – who led the team of veterinary surgeons who treated the elephants, said, the swelling on the trunk made it difficult for it to breathe or even drink water. There is a whistling sound when it inhales and the elephant has to lie in a water hole to drink water. However, the both the elephant and the tusker were not weak, indicating that the explosion probably occurred just a few days before the animals were discovered.

DWC’s veterinary team also risked their lives trying to reach the elephants as the area has still not been cleared of mines. But the team braved the risk to assist the elephants in pain. Silawathura is close to the Wilpattu border and was once a major Sea Tiger base. Armed forces captured Silawathura after a fierce battle during the last phase of the war and the retreating LTTE cadres laid hundreds of anti-personnel mines (Jonny Battas) around their camps. Although armed forces and other organisations are involved in clearing up operations, the efforts are more concentrated around populated areas in the north east. The last phase of the war was fought in the thick jungles that extend for thousands of

hectares making the clearing of mines in this area a daunting task.

When elephants step on anti personnel mines, the soles of their feet are damaged. The sole is cushioned in a manner that helps the animal to walk and doesn’t heal easily. Due to the unbearable pain and to avoid parasites, the elephant usually goes in search of a water hole and keeps pressing its injured sole in the mud, which in turn renew the wound. Hence a majority of elephant landmine victims despite attempts to treat them succumb to their injuries through Septicaemia (blood poisoning) .

During the height of the war many elephants died after suffering a slow death due to mine injuries as veterinary teams found it difficult to reach the main theatres of fighting. However there were instances when they tried to alleviate the animal’s suffering risking their own lives with gunfire within earshot.

After the end of the war those who visited these jungle areas reported seeing elephant skeletons in water holes and they believed those animals could have been victims of mine blasts. On the brighter side  Dr. Jayasinghe said the number of jumbo mine victims had reduced with the end of the war.

The case of this tusker and elephant was reported eight months after the last landmine jumbo victim was found. Ironically the latest land mine victims were discovered, just a few days prior to the International Day of Mine Awareness and Assistance in Mine Action which which falls on April 4. The Veterinary Surgeons from Peradeniya Faculty too had camped at Silwathura for three days to attend to these silent victims of land mines.

Published on SundayTimes on 10.04.2011 http://www.sundaytimes.lk/110410/News/nws_07.html

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