Friday, July 11, 2014

Indian elephant in Sri Lanka - The Good and the Bad.

 In 2010 my wife, her sister and I visited Sri Lanka as tourists and soon found ourselves going to many temples and Stupas around the country. Inevitably we also ended up at places where we saw animals. In some ways the most interesting was the elephant orphanage at Pinnawala where we saw many rescued elephants and their offspring.

I learned a few interesting facts from the Wikipedia document about the sanctuary. The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage was first established by the Sri Lankan Department of Wildlife Conservation in 1975 for feeding and providing care and sanctuary to orphaned baby elephants that were found in the wild. The orphanage was first located at the Wilpattu National Park, then shifted to the tourist complex at Bentota and then to the Dehiwala Zoo. From the Zoo it was shifted to Pinnawala village on a 25-acre (10 ha) coconut plantation adjacent to the Maha Oya River.

We were intrigued and impressed by some of the things they were doing. Perhaps the most impressive of all was the care and attention devoted to the big blind bull named Raja.
A  nice spray in the heat of the day
another trunk rest
Here he is being sprayed down. Note the way he is resting his trunk on one of his large tusks.He later switched sides for another rest.

Traffic hold up
The elephants are taken for a daily bath to the Maha Oya river that lies a couple of hundred metres from the front gate of the sanctuary. To reach the river they have to cross a main road and while the procession marches the traffic is held up.
An individual bath. ? Heaven?
 There are a few interesting YouTube videos of the bathing. Here is one such 7 minute version posted by “Jonsy Boy.

Some the elephants at the sanctuary arrived as a consequence of the long war that finally resulted in the subjugation of the Tamil minority who mostly live in the north of the country.  

Sama and her problems

One such victim was a female, named Sama, who lost her front right leg to a land mine. She can still walk but inevitably her gait is slow and she has a huge upward curve to her spine and twisted left front leg, presumably to shift the weight to her hind legs and thatc one forelimb.

Sama is last to cross, but she makes it!
However she joins the river-bound group for her daily bath.         

Breeding sucess
The program at the orphanage inevitably involves breeding (there are several males younger that Raja, so biology 101 kicks in. This general scene show the results of such activity and is back grounded by the coconut plantation where the herd was finally located.  

  More from the wiki site. The first birth at Pinnawala was in 1984, Sukumalee, a female was born to Vijaya and Kumar who were aged 21 and 20 years respectively at the time. The males Vijaya and Neela and females Kumari, Anusha, Mathalie and Komali have since then parented several baby elephants. More than twenty-three elephants were born from 1984 to 1991. In 1998 there were fourteen births at Pinnawala, eight males and six females, with one second generation birth in early 1998. Since then till early 2012, 84 more were born at Pinnawala.

            What we did not know at the time of our visit, and was of course not told us was the ugly story of what happens to the results of all that successful breeding over the years. Again a quote from the Wiki site. Quality of care of elephants who are donated or sold away from Pinnawala has been a big public issue. In 2012 The Sri Lanka Environment Trust spoke out against authorities who continue to 'donate' tamed elephants to people who had 'poor' past records of taking care of animals. "There are enough cases to show that the authorities are releasing elephants from Pinnawala to the same group of people who don't take care of the animals." Though officials boast that the animals are under close surveillance, they don't do any monitoring once an elephant is released to a private owner.

Those interested in the conservation of elephants are well aware the most of the Facebook posts and attention are devoted to the African elephant which is undergoing massive destruction across the continent as the price of ivory spirals almost of control mainly going to China. Paula Kahumbu of Kenya has been a very active in the anti-poaching campaign and you can easily find her many posts on Facebook. I have a few posts in this blog series about the ivory trade.

There have been a few posts about the Chinese end of the marketing chain, but I have a suspicion that the authorities in that country have no concern about this issue and with so many ivory carving factories there they may even be actively encouraging it.

Will Raja and his huge tusks fall victim to that greed?  Nasty thought, but it will come as no surprise if he does. The price of ivory has risen four-fold in four years. Tempting.

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