Elephant movements in the area since 1997
MOVEMENT OF WILDLIFE IN THE WELIARAWEWA AREA
With regard to the Conservation Program, I would like to state my observations about the destruction of the environment, especially the man-elephant problem in this area.
At present, we have a few herds of elephants that frequent the Weliarawewa area. These herds consist of groups of 19, 9, 7, 4 & 3. We also have 5 single elephants around the area. There are other herds that join them occasionally, but they come and go within a few days. I guess the food supply cannot sustain them all.
These groups of elephants move around these areas on different tracks, starting from around the Block 4 area of Yala National Park. From there, they move on through to the Weliarawewa Tank area where they use the waters of the tank for their requirements, and on either towards Okkampitiya into other farmers lands, or towards the Farm and into civilization.
They also use a couple of tracks that go behind the Farm. These tracks start from the Weliarawewa and lead to the base of
'Arahath Kanda'. They split up from there, either taking the track along the base of these hills, or the track up to the base of the ring of hills. Both these tracks end up at Helagama, which is about 8 kilometers from the Weliarawewa. (The Helagama area is located between 4th and 6th kilometer post on the Buttala - Okkampitiya Road)
Once they cross the Helagama area, they cross into the area between Buttala and Monaragala. The land between these two towns is mostly farmland and has quite a population living in the area.
They start their rampaging around the month of June onwards with the smaller herds of 3 & 4 coming in first. Other herds join them in their frolics as the days go by.
The five loners are always around, mostly between the Farm and Yala and are always on the rampage.
Of the five loners, three of them are always around in the area. The other two travel to other places as well, but wherever they go they are always back in a week or two.
In 1999 (last year) around August, I got confirmed reports of sightings of a total of 69 elephants in the area. During this period, I counted a herd of about 20 'midget' elephants, also known as the 'kuru aliya'. (I couldn't get a precise count as I was perched on a tree, and we were quite far away) These elephants are a little larger than a big buffalo, very fast and energetic. They need little provocation to attack. This lovely and rare breed is fast becoming extinct.
The dry season starts around the month of May going on through to about September to October. They come in for water and food. The terrain between Block 4 of Yala and the Farm is lush with foliage and thick jungle. There are a few watering holes that do not run dry in dry season. The foliage around the area is quite dry during this season, so dry that a small flame could destroy a large area of jungle.
In addition to the elephant population, the range of hills behind the Farm and the terrain around us is home to a variety of species of wildlife and bird life. On the Farm, hunting of any kind of game is not allowed. Even the wild boar are safe from poachers within the Farm premises.
The jungle around the Farm is home to sambur, deer, mouse deer, sand deer, bear, leopard, the armored armadillo (ant eater), wild boar (most common), a variety of reptiles, land crocodiles, monitor lizards, monkey, rock squirrels, etc. A variety of bird life, migratory and native varieties to the area are also found in abundance.
I have come across instances where hunters have shot a big, beautiful eagle on their hunts. When questioned, they say that the falcon makes a super bite. What a waste of a rare bird - to end up on a plate!
With the rampant hunting and destruction of the environment happening, we could consider ourselves lucky to spot an ant in the future. We may have to visit the zoo to see one.
This program, 'Conservation of the Environment and Wildlife Protection' is 'The Main Aim' of Tree Tops Farm. The other 'Programs' (Large Scale Agriculture and Eco tourism) are aimed at creating a source of employment for the village folk of the area, as these people are idle most of the time and are prime targets of the people who control the timber and poaching trades.
A note on the eating habits of the elephant:
* These animals are destructive eaters. With regard to their sources of food in the wilderness, man is blame for the destruction of their food therefore forcing the animals to venture out further into civilization looking for food. Upon doing so, the elephants come into contact with the villagers' crops and that becomes a delicacy to them. Like caviar to some people.
* My reason for blaming man is because man is responsible for the destruction of the jungle coverage and the environment by cutting whatever trees they can lay their hands on, or setting the jungle on fire so they could see the elephants before the elephants see them. Most times, those who are into hunting set the jungle on fire - so they can spot animals more easily.
* A Forest fire in the drought is the mode of most damage to the environment and nature. With every fire, all the up and coming plant life whose seedlings that were sown by Nature during the rainy season, perish due to the flames. These young plants do not get a chance to grow to become strong trees, and in the end the terrain could become barren - due to the excessive evaporation of water. The other adverse effect on nature and the fertility of the soil is that every time there's a fire, many millions of insects and rodents that are essential for a balanced Eco-system, are destroyed. The burnt foliage - ash - is blown away by the gusty winds of that area.
. In short, our Environment is gone with the winds.
The 5 single (loners/rouge) elephants hangout in the jungles between the farm and Yala during the daytime, which is about 6 - 7 kilometers distant to the closest human habitation. I have seen them many times in the jungles during the day - fast asleep, and have crept up to about 30 feet away while they are in their sleep to observe them.
They are alert in their sleep and stealth is most important, next to the direction of the wind. If alerted of human presence or any kind of danger, they jump up with a start and will attack at the first instance. Well, it's a matter of survival of the fittest. The #1 "Law of the Jungle".
Of these 5 rouge elephants, 3 of them are a total menace to the folk of the area. These are killer elephants and have taken a couple of lives in the past 3 years. Of course, many more lives would have gone in the past years and is not openly spoken of by the village folk of the area. But they do live in fear. Fear of their houses, crops, and their lives.
Of the 5 lone elephants;
Elephant #1 who I have named 'Raja' goes for people who have harmed him before in some way. For example; if Raja was eating out in somebody's field, and if that villager were to abuse Raja by throwing big rocks at him, or dropping balls of fire on his back from their platforms up in the trees, or shoot at him and abuse him in Singhalese filth, Raja has been known to take revenge. He has succeeded in catching his victim in most cases, very unfortunately.
Raja is a big male wild elephant. His color is closer to the darker shades of Grey. His head and shoulders are much higher than his rear end. Would estimate his shoulder height at about 9 - 9 1/2 feet tall, his rear-end is about 6 - 8 inches shorter. His footprints are quite different from each other. The two front legs are normal size, but one of them is turned in an abnormal position. His rear legs are totally different from each other; one side is skinny, while the other is fat and bloated. His prints show a lop-sided walk with one rear foot pointing away from the other. The area towards his lower spine and his buttocks are infested with many wounds. Many are old wounds that have more or less closed up. Some have mended some have not. There are a few new ones too.
A note on these wounds; these wounds are all man inflicted. Poor village folk who might be safeguarding their scanty houses from an elephant attack, and whose only mode of chasing the elephant away is with a lump of lead, OR a village farmer who is hell bent on protecting his crop, as his survival depends on it, OR hunters!
Hunting takes place in the nights after about 10 PM, and with the elephant around they are very trigger-happy. The aims of the hunters are to teach the elephants a lesson they will never forget, and therefore, load iron balls instead of lead into their homemade weapons. The reason for using iron balls instead of lead is that with iron balls, the wounds never really heals, therefore, eternal pain for the elephant.
On the other hand, my personal contact with Raja has been quite different, and very contrary to his reputation as a killer. Raja visits the Farm for food too, and I have spoken to him kindly, letting him know that I'm there, watching him. I talk to him all the time. His reactions have been amazing.
Sometimes he would just stand there flapping his ears and look at me. We would be about 40 - 50 feet apart. We would be like this for about 1/2 to 1 hour, and he would be constantly eating from the jungle. Both of us very aware of each other, but quite at ease with each other as well. And the night is alive with his deep 'rumbling' sounds.
Raja has also come into the Farm premises, and with me watching and talking to him, he eats the 'illuk' grass and other shrub foliage on the Farm, leaving the crops alone. Incidentally, I had a field of banana, corn and pumpkin plants at the time as my main crop, and it was amazing to see Raja eat anything else, other than my crops.
I have been rampaged too, where all of my crops have been eaten. That happened when there was no one on the Farm, and I cannot say for certain which elephant did the destruction, but they came for their food.
My thesis on Raja is that he is an intelligent but dangerous elephant, and responds to kindness and otherwise, too.
A part of my research on elephants was to get as much information about Raja as possible from the village folk of the area, and they all say the same thing about Raja - that he is a confirmed killer, but goes particularly for people who have harmed him before.
The last confirmed attack on a man happened in August 1998, and the killer was confirmed as "passa pahata eka", the villagers' nickname for Raja.
How it happened was as follows - there were two boys coming back home on their bicycle and the time was around 8.30 PM. The boy who was known as Chandi was riding the bicycle, and has been known to have harassed and hurt Raja on many occasions from his tree platform on his chena in the past.
Raja has chased after Chandi on many occasions, but Chandi had been lucky and had managed to escape. On the day in question, Chandis' pillion rider confirms that Raja was in the jungle and came after them because of Chandis' voice. The elephant could have easily grabbed them both, the pillion rider was thrown against the elephants' stomach, but the elephant went only for and straight for Chandi, giving the pillion rider a chance to run away.
When the pillion rider returned with a team of village folk, Raja was gone and Chandis corpse was covered with fresh plucked branches.
The intelligence of an elephant is amazing, even though it may be wild.
The 2nd loner, Elephant #2: is a very dangerous fellow. He is big, about 91/2 - 10 feet in height and jet black in color. He has got 2 small tusks, about 1-1/2 feet long. His body is big and very muscular and firm. Looking at him one would think that if one were to prick his body with a pin, it would blow up, just like sticking a pin into a balloon.
I have named this elephant "Kasturi", but most people call him "Tapparaya". Everyone knows of his reputation for going after people and is very alert for his presence, as they all know of his destructive nature.
He got the name Tapparaya because of his nature of traveling distances with speed. He would be seen at 'A' and an hour later would be seen at 'B', which is about 4 - 5 kilometers away. An hour later, he would be seen at 'C', and so on. Kasturi or Tapparaya is a great traveler.
Kasturi is a known killer elephant. His specialty is to go for people in their houses at a time when man sleeps the deepest, around 1 - 3 AM. He approaches a house very stealthily, locates human presence, and goes straight for man. If luck is not on mans side, there is disaster. If the man manages to escape, the house will be smashed up and all his belongings will be trampled into the ground.
This male elephant is very strong and has been known to topple big trees. He goes for these trees in his rage against people. Specially, a tree with a farmer residing on it.
Kasturis' favorite food is manioc, and he delights in rampaging any manioc cultivation, which unfortunately, is a popular produce of the people in the area as it is a very good source of cheap nourishment to them.
This elephant is very unpredictable in his travels and is very silent too. Most people see him by a stroke of luck as he is never in one place. He tends to take different tracks, too.
This elephant should be kept at bay for his own safety.
A word about Kasturi or Tapparaya; this elephant is believed to eat the heads of human, as the village folk say it. The story behind this belief is rather far-fetched and difficult to believe, but Kasturi of Tapparaya is definitely a killer elephant.
Kasturi is definitely not an elephant of the South, but of the Polonnaruwa or Anuradhapura region. He is believed to have been a total menace to the village folk of that area, so has been sedated by the Department of Wildlife Conservation and transferred to Block 4 of Yala National Park.
The DWC does capture wild elephants that are a menace to civilians in various parts of the Country, sedate them, and then transport them to Block 4 of Yala. They confirmed this during our many conversations. My opinion of this action is that this is just a temporary solution, as killer elephants are used to killing and wherever one puts them, they should be contained in that area, or else they will wander off into civilization looking for new prey.
This elephant is not afraid of noise, light or human presence and is starting to be a menace to the villagers as well as to other innocent elephants who live in the area. Because of what Kasturi did to the house at the Farm and attacked sleeping people, the villagers don't feel safe until something is done about this matter.
In their eyes, the easiest thing to do is to shoot to kill! And who will know who did it???? It has happened before!!
The boys in the area are very eager to teach all the elephants of the area a bitter lesson, as the village folk will be getting ready to start clearing and ploughing their respective farms, getting ready for the rains which are expected in the months of September/October onwards. This is the time of peak elephant activity in this area.
Lone Elephant #3; This is another dangerous male who is about 91/2 feet tall. This boy is on the gray side and has no tusks and is quite well built. His distinguishing marks are the whitish markings along the front of his face, down his trunk. These markings look like scabs on a wound, but this is his natural coloring.
This elephant loves to rampage agriculture lands and goes mostly for banana crops. I have spotted him a few times in the jungle and even on the Farm. Normally, on face-to-face contact, this elephant tends to move away, but has the tendency to go for lonely or unlit chenas and houses - on occasion.
His attacks are carried out deep in the night and have been known to smash houses and trample all the belongings of man into the ground, smashing them to pieces. If the man happened to be around and cannot escape, then tragedy.
Around February this year, this elephant attacked a villagers' lonely house around 2 AM. This was a lonely wattle and daub house in the middle of his 'chena'. This man was very lucky on this occasion and managed to escape with his life.
What happened was...
The village farmer was asleep on this particular day in his house.
He suddenly woke up from a deep sleep to a major 'thump' near his head, and saw an elephants' foot just inches away from his head, and then he realized that it was an elephant. His immediate reaction was to shout 'ado aliya', but before he could react, the elephant turned and ran. The elephant just took off like he'd been shot.
I went to this farmers' house as soon as I heard of the incident and upon checking around came to a conclusion that the elephant had meant to stomp on this mans' head, but had fortunately missed his mark. His right foot landed just a little over six inches away from the farmers' head. The elephants' footprint was embedded about 5 inches deep into the hard ground, denoting the power of his shot!
The print was about 11/2 feet across, which meant that he was a real big fellow.
On further investigation, we found that a rafter that had been sticking out had saved these two people. The end of the rafter had quite a sharp point at the end, and the tip of this point had somehow pierced some sensitive part of the elephant, thereby giving the elephant the impression that the man had somehow wounded him. That would have been a serious shock for the elephant, but that is what made the elephant turn and take off.
The tip of the rafter, although still on the roof, had a layer of about 1 1/2 inches of mud on it, and the tip was red with blood. A real freak shot but that's what saved them.
A word about this particular villager; this man used to be a serious hunter and would prefer living in the jungle, than in his house in civilization. .
After this incident, I had a problem and that was some of these people were out for blood. Elephants' blood! And also a few rumbles like: Aku mahattaya ta danne ne, etc. What they were basically telling me in a round about way was, that if I was talking about conservation, then I should do something about their safety as well.
Incidents like this could turn the tables against all the elephants of Sri Lanka!
Note: this elephant has started to chase after people more than any other elephant in the area. Village folk go into the jungle looking for herbs, firewood, honey, and other jungle produce have been chased by this elephant many times. The boys on the Farm are complaining about this elephant too.
This elephant is a menace, and should be kept at bay at the earliest possible opportunity, for every bodies safety, mans' and elephants, alike.
Another incident that happened on the 28th June 2000, as related by my boys .........
This incident happened on the Farm. I was in Colombo and as scheduled, left for the Farm on the 29th.
The time was about 1.30 AM and the boys had gone to sleep about an hour before. On this day, they did not sleep on their usual beds in their room; instead they slept in the open area. This too, because they felt uneasy. They couldn't light up any lanterns because of a tremendous wind. Luckily, one of them was not really asleep but was just nodding off.
My foreman woke up to sounds of soft blowing in the room where they normally sleep, and upon flashing his torch he realized that there was an elephants trunk through the window of the room they normally sleep in.
The trunk was jabbing the ground and the surroundings, probably trying to locate human presence. At this point, all three of my boys were wide-awake, and made a noise and flashed their torches hoping the elephant would run off; but the elephant came straight for their torchlight and them.
On this occasion too, my boys were lucky and they jumped over the further wall and ran towards my bungalow in the jungle where there are many trees, and climbed a tree. They had to stay up there till daylight because the elephant was around till then.
After the boys ran away, the elephant went into the house and blew my sitting area roof away. He went into the kitchen and the storeroom as well and there was a stock of food in there, like a big bag of rice, salt and other things that elephants like to eat, but he did not touch any of the food. He would have definitely got the scent of his favorite food for sure, but he left them all alone.
When the elephant realized that there was no one around, he went towards my house in the jungle and sniffed the area out. My boys were up on two trees and they just kept silent. The elephant too was just standing there, silently, till daylight.
This elephant did not attack for food as he was not hungry, but definitely came for the scent of man. He came looking for man, looking for a kill.
This was a severely terrifying experience for the boys, and one of them left me because of this incident. He got really scared, and cannot be blamed. Thank The Lord that nothing really happened to them. They were very lucky too, to have survived this attack!
I reached the Farm on the 29th as scheduled. Upon reaching the Farm realized what had happened.
There was a posse of four villagers at the Farm, and all of them were armed. Their anger towards the elephant was serious, and they were all quite high on alcohol as well, and they were all very eager to go and teach the elephant a bitter lesson. That means that they would shoot at the first elephant that came into sight. I could feel their anger towards me too, as they all knew that I wouldn't let them shoot!
I didn't let them go on their mission alone, but went with them and fought against their decision all the way.
Their argument; I was attacked as a Nature Lover, as a person who doesn't harm animals, they argued further that they had women and children in their houses and there was no hope of them climbing any trees in a crisis like this. They went further by stating that they wouldn't climb trees because there were dependents in the house that couldn't.
So, in their minds it was the thing to do, go and shoot any elephant that came to sight!
I just kept on arguing with them about their actions. My argument was that the elephant should have been shot at that time, at the time he was on the rampage. Maybe that would have made the message clear to the elephant that he was getting shot because of his actions. But if we were to shoot an elephant the next day there will be no purpose served. And if an innocent elephant was shot that would make the fellow mad at any human he saw, contrary to running away.
We actually tracked down a loner in the bush, and there were people on a big tree, armed, but the mood changed and there were no shots fired on that day towards the elephant.
I had to give them a promise that I would inform the Department of Wildlife Conservation the next day and request the Ranger for the area, Mr. Karunaratne to please come over and help us chase the elephant away - with crackers. Mr. Karunaratne was unfortunately, on leave on that day..........
Lone Elephant #4; this elephant is black in color and is very shy. I have not seen him, but the folk say that he is about 8 feet tall and is not at all menacing. He takes off at the sound of humans and is built on the skinny side.
There is very little to be known about this elephant.
Lone Elephant #5; this elephant is a rare variety - the ' dwarf' elephant, also known as the 'kuru aliya'. This rare breed of elephant has been around in the Weliarawewa area for a few years, as the folk of the area say it. They don't like encounters with this elephant as they say that this breed is of a ferocious nature.
Very little is known about this elephants' eating habits and the paths he takes, etc.
I sighted this elephant on Saturday the 15th of July 2000, the time was 2.30 PM, quite by chance at the Weliarawewa, and he was a beautiful specimen.
Note; The wewa is supposed to hold about 80 acres of water when full. At present, the water level in the wewa is quite low as we are at the peak of the drought season. This tank never runs dry and was built by King Sadhdha Tissa for the main purpose of irrigation around 1100 B.C.
I was on the Northern bund of the tank, which is about 40 feet high on the side of the water. On the other side of this bund is jungle, but used to be ancient paddy land. I sighted this elephant in this patch of jungle. The gradient on the side of the jungle is quite steep, and the drop is more than 40 feet.
He was in a patch of 'illuk' grass and scrub - jungle about 50 - 60 feet away from me, under me.
In appearance, he was a lighter shade of black and about 61/2 feet tall. He seemed to have a kind of longish hair on his body which was sort of brown - like the color of mud, but I cannot be 100% sure of this. On his head though, he had long hair hanging down his forehead to his eyes. Sort of tuft of hair.
This elephant is my next target, I have to find out more 'hard facts' about him, which will mean finding him again, tracking him and watching him.
I have heard about this variety of elephant, but have never had the opportunity of ever seen, one till now.
Weapons of the Area.
There are about 30 poor farmer families living in this area, and could safely say that about 75% are armed.
Of the 75% who are armed, about 60% are armed with shotguns issued by the Government. These guns are supposed to be used for the protection of their farmlands and also as a precaution against the LTTE terrorists.
The other 40% are armed with homemade, musket style shotguns (galkatas). These weapons are illegal, obviously. These are very dangerous weapons, and could blow ones face or hand away instead of actually shooting.
On the other hand, since the 'charge' in this weapon can be regulated with the quantity of gunpowder in the chamber. That combined with the shape and size of the lead discharge makes this a very dangerous weapon.
Of all the weapon owners in the area, legal and illegal totaling about 20 - 25 weapons, about 15 of these weapons are used for hunting. The rest of the weapons are in the hands of more responsible people, although these responsible people have to lend their weapons to a friend sometimes,...................
With respect to the current elephant situation in the Weliarawewa Area, I returned from the Farm to Colombo on 2nd July, Sunday 2000, and the future situation looks rather bleak with regard to the man - elephant problem.
On the 29th June 2000, the day after the elephant attack on the Farm, on this brief visit for those three days, I saw footprints of the triple herd. I have seen this herd before.
This little herd consists of a male who is about 8 1/2 feet tall, and is grayish in color, no tusks. And does not look very old.
The female is also a lighter shade of gray and is about 8 feet tall. The young male is about 41/2 feet high. This group has been using this area for a long time.
They have been around for the past 3 months, and since there was no cultivation happening at this time of the year due to the rain cycle, there is no real problem between man and elephant as yet. Well, except for those loners!
This herd of 3 is in the habit of going into cultivation and eating their heart out, but amazingly, they are rather silent eaters. Would run away upon seeing a torchlight, or if someone were to shout. They are a docile group.
The next herd is a group of 4 elephants; this group comes into this area around the month of June/July and hangs about the area till about January/February. The specialty of this herd is rampaging agriculture produce, paying special attention to manioc crops. This herd seems to also use this area as their base, where they come, eat, and if the 'heat' is on, they move onto other pastures many kilometers away. They do their thing there and return to this area in a week or two. This is a continuous cycle until they decide to go far away.
This herd consists of a big male elephant that is about 9 - 91/2 feet tall, and is a dark gray, more on the lines of black in color. His body is well built and on the 'big made' side. He also has two tusks that are about 11/2 - 2 feet long. This male is on the aggressive side and quite noisy fellow too. For example; if human presence or any other kind of danger is sensed, he would start with deep rumbling sounds and continue to trumpeting at intervals. He protects his family well.
The lady of the herd is small made, and is about 8 feet tall. She is about two shades lighter in color than her mate and seems to have only one worry in life, and that is to look after the youngest of the family because she is never far from this little fellow.
The next in line is the young man in the herd. He is about 6 - 61/2 feet tall and goes after his father in color, though a little lighter in color. He is an aggressive fellow and doesn't hesitate to alert the others at the slightest hint of danger. He seems to be well built and has two tusks that are about 6-inches long.
Finally, we have a cute little baby that must be about 3 - 4 feet tall. This baby is full of energy and is always trying to explore new terrain. Mother has her hands full looking after this baby.
The current elephant situation in the area, I must repeat, looks very bleak, for man and the elephants! I got a call from one of my boys at the Farm on the 8th July 2000, with a report on the elephant situation, and he stated that there were more elephants filtering into the area. He also said that the loners were now starting to chase people, which is a negative point towards the elephants. This could also possibly mean drastic action might be taken by some of the village folk of the area.
The situation, as I see it...
The village farmers took a severe beating, financially, in their personal agriculture programs they did during the period of September 1999 - February 2000. This is the time of the rains and agriculture is done on large scale in the region.
The village folk took a financial beating because of the lateness in the rains. The period before the month of September is the dry season, and the earth is dry and extremely hard, so the moment it starts to rain the folk start to plough their fields, getting ready to sow their seeds. Which they did, and then the rains did not rain like it should have.
The rains got delayed by almost 11/2 months in the last season, and most of the farmers left their already sown fields to the animals and went back to their respective houses in the village. There was nothing more they could do, and they were in debt for no fault of theirs, making their moods - bad!
The animals had a great season where they could rampage cultivated, and then abandoned fields to their desire, with no human presence around to keep them at bay. They got used to easy access to agriculture produce in freedom, except from the hunters.
Sadly, there was a lot of hunting happening to compensate for the loss of agriculture produce and meat was rampant!
During the last season, I got confirmed reports on the count of elephants from various reliable sources of the area, which totaled to 69 inclusive of all the herds and loners. Some of the village folk got together and went after the bigger herds of elephants, chasing them away with lead. That means they shot at any elephant they would spot. This happened so they could walk about on their hunts, without fear of an elephant attack.
This season will be different could mean the lives of a few elephants!
This season, the village farmers are rather upset about the status of their crops last year. And with escalating prices this year, which means less aid from the various agriculture based Organizations. This year, they have become more aggressive towards everything in general, and more weapons (licensed shotguns) are supposed to be issued to more people in the near future. This is with regard to the LTTE terrorist problem.
I started this Farm in 1997 with a view of having a place in the jungle, and this would realize my dream of enabling me to live amongst Nature. The agriculture was an excuse for me to be there. During these past years, I have explored and studied the jungles around me, and am quite familiar with the different tracks and of the many myths, stories and legends. I have been a witness to much animal and environmental destruction in the area. It is a shame, but it's the powerful and influential that actually control this trade.
Unfortunately, the main people behind this destruction are the 'white collar man', the rich and influential, the money boys. They do all this just to get richer, or as just a kick - to boast that they go camping and hunting. I have also seen the garbage that these so called campers litter the area with. I have also seen corpses of animals riddled with bullet holes.
The money boys don't do the dirty work of cutting beautiful and valuable trees themselves, they are too lazy for that nor do they want to dirty their hands. They get the services of the local villager to do their dirty work for them. All of these people live in total poverty, they don't know where or when their next meal will come from. They'll do anything to survive. These are the kind of people the 'money boys' use, and they are paid almost nothing for making the 'money boys' richer.
Bottom line behind all the destruction is greed by some, and survival for others!!
Another kick of some of these 'money boys' is to go through jungle in their fancy 4 wheel drives, which is absolutely fine as it is the safest way to observe nature.
But what happens when some 4-wheel drive maniacs use this jungle, which is already suffering from destruction by the timber merchants and poachers, as a racetrack?? Churning up the soil, adding impure gases into the moisture, disturbing the peace with their noise, pollution, etc?? And when they see elephants, they tend to be heroic and go bump into the elephants, which is very bad for the animals.
Unfortunately, these so-called nature lovers add to the destruction of the environment. These 'nature lovers' are backed by money and influence, so the Law means nothing to them.
The villagers' are opening their eyes to the fact that they are destroying Nature to make another man rich, which is exactly what is happening and they are willing to change this.
They are becoming more aware of the importance of Nature, the valuable plant life and animal life. They know the value of the environment they are destroying, but they have more or less, given up due to poverty and are concentrating on their survival...
I wonder which is the most important, Man or The Environment or Animal life or Plant life!!
The Name of the Game is : SURVIVAL!!!
To go one step further, I have formulated a plan of action that could merge all of the above, as my belief is that with unity, we (the village folk and I) could conserve the environment, control the elephant problem, be an added hindrance to the people involved in the timber/hunting trades and to those 4 wheel drive maniacs. The folk of the area will also have the opportunity of earning for themselves all year round, thereby living a better lifestyle.
For more information on The Future Activities of the Farm, please refer the appropriate documents - "The Profile of Tree Tops Farm", and the corresponding programs, Program for Large Scale Agriculture _ 'Unity Cultivation' and the Program for the Conservation of the Environment and Wildlife Protection -'The Elephant Watch Program'.
I very firmly believe that should this program be supported, we, that is - you, the village folk and I, together could help to conserve the environment and its animals very effectively. After all, they are going to be looking after a part of their own back gardens.
A Note; an elephant was found shot dead around the 17th of August 2000. The carcass was discovered due to the smell of the rotting flesh hidden in a clump of shrub, in the vicinity of the villagers' residents and farms. The DWC, Monaragala was informed of this sad incident and they came to inspect the dead elephant.
Towards the end of August 2000, there was talk amongst the people of an elephant that was wounded in the leg at the Weliarawewa tank. I could not check on this story for sure.
There have also been reports of a new herd in the area. The 'kuru aliya', or the Dwarf elephant. A small herd of 4 who are apparently very shy. They run away upon human contact. I have not seen these elephants as yet but they are supposed to be beautiful specimens.
Most of the elephants are now rampaging for food deeper into populated area.
September 2000, the area around the Farm experienced a few hard showers, enough to saturate the ground a little. There is a lot of wildlife movement in the area like deer, sambur, etc, and a lot of hunting happening, too. I have got confirmed reports of trap guns being set for game that some people say is aimed for wild boar, but any animal that uses these tracks could get severely injured.
There is a new herd of the dwarf variety of elephants hanging out in the area. The herd consists of three animals, male, female and a grown up youngster. Fortunately, this herd is very shy of human contact, and they run away upon hearing the smallest noise made by man.
Update - 28th January 2001.
At present, there are about 15 elephants in the area. These animals had come in from Yala during the month of December 2000, and have been rampaging the area for food since that time.
Their main venue is a few cultivated and abandoned lands left by the village farmers due to the lack of rain, and a few currently cultivated lands. The village folk have their hands full trying to chase these elephants away, and many gunshots have been heard from this area in their attempt to chase them.
Along with this herd of 15 elephants, there are also 4 loners and a herd of 4 in the area. The herd of 4 had 5 members in their group about 3 months back.
More herds are expected to come into the area during the months of March and April.
With the rains just started, early January instead of late August, there is a severe movement of wildlife in the area, and a lot of hunting happening too. Sambur, deer, wild boar, and anything that comes in the way.
During the nights, we hear the sounds or the bears as they come down from the mountains. We have encountered them on a few occasions in the night outside the Farm.
On my treks into the jungle, especially in the hills behind the Farm, I have seen the paw marks of 3 different leopards in the area. These animals are very evasive of humans and tend to hide at the slightest warning of human presence in their terrain.
One of these leopards came to the Farm premises on the 5th January 2001. On this day, there was nobody around except for my favorite dog, Sheba, who was at the Farm as usual. Sheba was asleep on the wall of the Farmhouse, heavy with pups in her stomach on this particular night. The leopard took Sheba away.
On inspecting the paw marks of the leopard, I can safely estimate the animal to have been very big, at least 8 or 9 feet in length, from nose to the tip of his tail. A big fellow.
Update 14th March 2001.
At present, there are about 20 elephants in the area inclusive of the loners.
I was informed of an elephant that had been wounded by a trap gun, which had been set up by somebody in the area, probably a farmer trying to protect his crop.
The injured elephant is one of the herd of three and is a male about 7 feet tall. This elephant can hardly walk as he is injured in the front and rear legs on his left side. I tried to track him down to get a closer look, but did not have enough time for this.
According to the tracks that I followed, this elephant moved around by dragging one of his feet through the earth, causing a rather deep furrow every time he moved. The adults of the pack seem to have deserted him, probably because he was slowing them down.
According to some of the village folk who have seem this injured elephant, they say that he is in great pain as he sometimes just stands there without trying to move away. He trumpets loudly when man tries to approach him, but does not, or cannot move away. This elephant is obviously in great pain from his injuries, although he travels distances. I followed his tracks for about 11/2 kilometers through the jungle, going in the general direction of Yala, Block 4.
The climate in the area is now starting to become warmer. During the days, the skies are a brilliant blue, with not a hint of cloud. The evenings are sometimes covered with light clouds, which tend to vanish by about 6.30 - 7.00 pm. The nights are very pleasant, nice and cool after the brilliance of the day. The night sky is something else, covered with stars and seemingly so close, yet so very far away.
The drought seems to have started to set in, with lesser rains than last year. Water levels in the irrigation tanks, that had hardly filled, have already gone down by about 1 foot. Most farmers in the area have been financially hit, some very badly, due to the lack of crops, which did not get sufficient water from the rains.
A Note; Lone elephant - 'Kasturi' or better known as 'Tapparaya' has not been sighted for a very long time in the area, which is very unusual. On asking around, some say that Tapparaya is no more and had been shot somewhere else.
We are on the verge of losing many more elephants in the very near future, if we cannot act now!
Forecast for the future - with the current situation of the climate in the area, and with the drought in full force during the months of April to August, many elephants are expected to come into the area, mostly towards Weliarawewa in search of water. From there, they will find their way to easy sources of food - like abandoned fields. From this point on, they start their rampage in various home gardens and end up destroying houses, thereby causing terror to the village, which in turn may lead to severe repercussions on the part of the wild elephants of the area.
During these months, the watering holes up in the mountain would have dried up. All the animals will then venture down to the open in search of water. This will also be the start of the mating season for he bear, who will also be prowling around looking for water.
16th March 2001, 9.30 a.m.
Conversation by telephone with Mr. Padmatillake, Game Ranger, Department of Wildlife Conservation - Monaragala, just a few minutes back.
Informed Mr. Padmatillake about the wounded elephant, and as to whether they could do something to relieve the pain this poor elephant is enduring. He said that he would look into the matter.
Told him of the wild elephant problem in the area, and as to whether we could get together on the 30th of March, (I am scheduled to leave for the Farm on the 28th night) on the Farm around 4.00 p.m. The gist of our conversation was to plan an elephant drive with the help of Mr. Padmatillake and a group of wildlife officers, and I would organize a group of village folk to join them.
The general plan is that we trek on foot, armed with the special elephant crackers and other necessary equipment for our nightlong excursion. We form into a few groups and work our way into the elephant corridors, chasing the elephants back into the jungle as they come out.
Mr. Padmatillake liked this idea and promised to come and help us in this mission. I sincerely hope it works.
We spoke about the proposed electric fence that was on the cards, but the fence is at a planning stage and work on the fence is expected to begin in about 2 years time, the year 2003. This fence may take about 2 more years to complete.
Update - May 23rd, 2001.
The intended elephant drive with Mr. Padmatillake of the Department of Wildlife Conservation did not happen, as planned. The boys from the Department did not come, and I had left a few messages for Mr. Padmatillake confirming my departure to the Farm. I had even gone to9 the extent of organizing a few of the village boys for this event.
The wild elephant movement in the area is building up at present with the drought setting in.
The climate is quite hot with strong Southern winds coming in from the sea, from the direction of Yala and Hambantota. Sparse rains have been coming in once in about two weeks but the rains have not been enough to even wet the earth properly.
The water levels in the Weliarawewa irrigation tank has come down by about 30% and is expected to down further during the height of the drought season which will be during the months of June/July, peaking off at the end of August to early September, from when the rains start to come..
The elephant movement in the area around the Farm is starting to pick up, with the loners being present more openly towards the early evenings. One of these loners has made it his habit to stroll about on the farm premises, eating the scrub jungle and other fruit plants quite freely. He generally hangs out around the well, though I met him once behind the jam tree, which is on the Farm about 30 feet from the store-room. This elephant was Raja, my old friend.
The present situation on the Farm is a complete 'go-slow'. With the drought and with my current financial situation, I do not have any permanent employees to look after the Farm premises since the end of February 2001. My closest neighbor, Uppasena Weerasinghe and his family help me out on the Farm during the days, by coming over and checking out the houses and the coffee and pepper plantation.
On the 13th May 2001, we could clearly hear the sounds of a big herd of wild elephants at about 8.30 p.m. The sounds came from towards the East of the Farm, from the direction of 'Gambaras' property. 'Gambara' is a herdsman and has a large amount of cattle and buffaloes. He confirmed that there was a herd of about 18 elephants at his place.
The wild elephants are starting their migratory journey from the deep jungles of Yala, where they start to roam about looking for food. Yala National Park is experiencing a severe drought at present, mostly due to the greed of man, who would destroy the jungle for his personal gains.
Update - July 13, 2001,
The current man-elephant situation in the Weliara wewa area, which is on the Northern boundary of Yala National Park, is not very good. Many herds of wild elephants are roaming around this area mainly due to the shortage of water and in search of new pastures to feed on. These new pastures are close to, or in human occupied areas.
Unfortunately, most of the village folk are on the rampage for the wild elephants, as it is now becoming more and more dangerous to even step out of ones' house, so the village folk are armed with licensed and homemade shot guns awaiting their chance for a shot.
In the month of June, many new herds were reported by many of the village folk of the area. Lots of elephant noises and activities could be heard from the Farm premises from about 6.30 pm onwards. The roads were marked with fresh elephant dung and their frolic in the shrub was very clear when taking a walk in the mornings.
The winds, Southwest monsoon was in full swing, making even a simple walk quite cumbersome. This is a dangerous time to walk in the jungles as nothing can be heard nor can the aromas of the elephants or any other wildlife be got due to this reason.
Of the lone elephants in the area, there are 3 new comers. These 3 new comers are off the 150 odd elephants that were transported from the Handapanagala jungles by the Department of Wildlife Conservation.
The wild elephants from the Handapanagala jungles have a reputation of being violent towards humans, and they are used to eating the various crops grown by the farmers of the Handapanagala area. These elephants have suffered many gunshot injuries from the village folk of that area, hence would gladly chase after any unsuspecting human and destroy their fragile wattle and daub houses in the process.
The Department of Wildlife Conservation have drugged and transported many of these dangerous animals deep into Yala, where they are released. Unfortunately, this area of Yala is not very far from the Weliarawewa and from the farming community of this area.
Out of these three loners, one of them is supposed to be quite ferocious and is supposed to have chased some of the village at night, even though they shine their torches and yell at the elephant in a bid to make it go away.
Most elephants tend top move away from the light of a torch and from the sound of man.
The other two tend to move away from the light of a torch, specially if the torch light moves in a manner similar to a hunter, i.e. tied to the head.
One of these two elephants are reported to have chased a few villagers during daylight. The report I got was that these men were walking the jungle looking for cattle, and the elephant is just supposed to have come after them.
The water table at present (during the month of July) is another very sad situation, with most of the wells running dry. The irrigation tanks in the area have about a maximum of 11/2 - 21/2 feet of water in them - compared to last year when I went for a swim in one of the small tanks and found the water level to be near the height of about 41/2 feet.
Last year (2000), my well had 11/2 feet of water in August - which is the peak of the drought season, but this year, now in July, (with August still ahead) there is not enough water to even fill a small bucket in one go. There is about 8 inches of water in my well.
The climate in the area, during the days - hard southwest winds with brilliant blue skies.
The nights - windy, with very clear skies. Absolutely no signs of any rains.
On the 5th of July, I took some visitors from the UNDP/Eco-tourism Development Section for a walk in the jungle to the Weliarawewa with the intention of spotting some elephants and we were lucky, we observed a herd of about 10 animals including three youngsters, one of the youngsters was a tusker and they were about 31/2 feet tall.
From our spot behind some foliage we could clearly see the herd feeding off the trees in the jungle and then we watched the bull of the herd come prancing out of the shrub jungle towards the water, obviously for it's cooling pleasures and to quench his thirst. The water was up to his eyes and I let him put the first mouthful on his back when I decided that was the time to crawl away.
The bull was about 35 - 40 feet away from our hiding place in the shrub when we crawled away from our cover, and the bull had still not seen us. The wind was in our favor as well up till that point.
At this point, we had all left the hiding place near the tree in the shrub and the photographer was quickly trying to put on his shoes a little away from us and we were walking towards him, away from our hiding place.
I suddenly turned around and the bull elephant had got our scent and he was standing exactly where we were hiding, just looking at us. I spoke to him as I normally speak with the elephants and he gave two soft trumpets, turned and walked away.
I could see the other elephants coming out of the shrub towards the water but they all turned back towards the shrub jungle that they came out of and got lost amongst the trees.
We went to another part of the tank and watched them come out to the water about 1/2 an hour later. By that time we were quite far away from them and watched them from a distance before making our way back to the Farm.
The nights are full of the sounds of a variety of wildlife. I heard and smelt the bear while on my way through the jungle for my dinner at my neighbors. The bear and the leopard and various other game are starting to come out of the hills in search of food and mainly water.
The bears become most dangerous at this time because they are in 'heat'. As we all know, all animals are dangerous during the mating season where they could get very aggressive towards human contact.
On the 11th July, came in contact with the herd of 4 elephants at the Kumbukkan Oya at about 11.00 pm. This spot is located near Block 2 of the Farm, which is in the middle of man occupied areas.
What happened was that I was going back to the Farm from a funeral across the river around 11.00 pm. My neighbor was with me and we decided on a spot to have a drink. This spot was at the base of a tree. While we were relaxing for some reason, I stood up and the smell of the elephant was so clear that they were almost on top of us. They had quietly come towards the river with the intention of probably crossing the river into deeper civilization - towards paddy fields.
They turned towards the jungle when we started to shout, and from there on we could hear the village people along the river chasing this herd of 4 deeper into the jungle.
What would have happened if my neighbor, Uppe and I had not met this small herd of 4 and turned them away?
The worst scenario??
If they had continued across the river towards the paddy fields that I mentioned, they would have had to walk past the funeral/alms-giving house (dhane gedara). As we all know most of the men folk are in high spirits by this time, well eaten and drunk, and with the elephants walking past on the road, and with the strong aroma of cooked food, specially the rice - their favorite?
Chaos, injury and death to both - man and probably elephant.
With these experiences and more with the wild elephant, I feel confident that we can help solve the man - elephant conflict, and 'live in harmony with nature'.