Posts Tagged ‘Hakka Patas’

Horrifying rise in ‘jaw bombs’ brings agonising death to jumbos

February 29, 2020
Playful baby elephants were half of casualties ..!! 

The female elephant calf was thirsty. Standing in the shallows of a water hole at dusk, it hurriedly sucked water into its trunk. It then curled its little trunk toward its mouth in an attempt to quench its thirst but there wasn’t a proper mouth to take in the trunk: the calf had lost his tongue; the small, fleshy base of what used be his tongue made a futile effort to guide the water down his throat.

The three-year-old elephant’s upper mouth palate had been totally smashed, creating a large wound that was infected. Its jaw and teeth were all blasted and the torn lower lip was rotting, attracting swarms of flies.

This has been the sad plight of victims of the little jaw bombs – illegal improvised explosive devices often hidden in food to explode in mouth when an unwary animal munches them. The bombs are commonly called hakka patas – hakka meaning jaw and patas denoting the sound of a blast.

The veterinary surgeon and team of the Department of Wildlife Conservation’s (DWC) Central Wildlife Region rushed to Nildandahinna area in Walapane after villagers told them about the injured calf.

They found it standing on the bank of the Uma Oya, sedated it, cleaned its mouth and provided saline as the suffering animal was weak: it was unable to eat or drink.

The vet, Dr. Akalanka Pinidiya, also injected strong antibiotics against infection in the injuries but he clearly knew the elephant would not survive its wounds.

“It is actually nearly impossible to successfully treat a hakka patas victim,” Dr. Tharaka Prasad, who heads the DWC’s veterinary unit said. “Our veterinary surgeons are helpless in most cases and can just employ painkillers until certain death ends the victim’s agony.”

The Anuradhapura wildlife range is one of the worst hotspots for hakka patas. The veterinary surgeon in charge of the range, Dr. Chandana Jayasinghe, said he had encountered hundreds of hakka patas victims during his 15 years of service.

“We saved the lives of only a handful of hakka patas victims, those that had minor injuries,” Dr. Jayasinghe said.

Hakka patas are a relatively new threat to Sri Lanka’s dwindling elephant population, with the first victims recorded around 2008.

The improvised device is made by mixing gunpowder with tightly-packed small stones or other hard materials. A chewing motion makes the hard bits grind against each other and set off sparks that ignite the gunpowder.  

Because the device is tightly packed the pressure makes an explosion. This explosion is usually powerful enough to kill its main target, wild boar, but larger animals such as elephants do not die instantly.

Hakka patas became the main cause of elephant deaths in 2017 and 2018, overtaking the deaths by gunshot wounds. In 2019, out of a total of 395 elephants killed, hakka patas deaths were high as 67, only four fatalities short of the 71 gunshot deaths.

Data from the wildlife department shows a sharp decrease in elephants dying from gunshots in 2010-2013 and a sharp increase of hakka patas mortalities during the same period. These deaths have kept increasing.

Last year, 67 elephants fell victims to hakka patas and, tragically, half – 35 – were less than 10 years old.

Hakka patas deaths are the main cause of deaths for elephants less than five years of age: 14 baby elephants less than five years were victims of hakka patas last year, 13 of them being male. Elephant experts point out that male elephant babies are more playful and curious about their surroundings.

In 2016, a 10-year-old boy in Hambegamuwa died when a hakka patas exploded in his mouth. On several other occasions, children playing with hakka patas laid for animals suffered injuries when the devices exploded.

It is not easy to apprehend the culprits who set these explosive devices, DWC Director-General Chandana Sooriyabandara said.

“When an animal is killed using a gun or poison, poachers leave some traces but in case of these explosive devices, it is extremely difficult to trace culprits as the victims are often found in a different area from where the devices were placed,” Mr. Sooriyabandara said.

Also, unlike when using a gun, it is easier for offenders to hide or throw away these little devices when they encounter law enforcement officers, he added.

Elephant researcher Dr. Prithviraj Fernando stressed that the issue must be addressed both from elephant conservation and anti-poaching angles since these devices are mainly set up for wild boar.  

“The only way to address the issue is to use peer pressure to try to stop poachers from using this inhumane killing method,” Dr. Fernando said.

The Centre for Environmental Justice conducts a number of awareness campaigns in hakka patas hotspots for schoolchildren, using temples as venues, to raise awareness of the agony of deaths caused by these disguised explosives.

Experts say the problem could be alleviated by using intelligence networks in villages. Hakka patas cannot be made by everybody: there is a technique to making them and only a few people in a village would have the skills; most often, other villagers know who is responsible.

It is suggested that police or the Civil Defence Force to be authorised to set up such intelligence networks.

Another hakkapatas victim (C) Dr. Vijitha Perera

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