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Tree Tops Farm

Raja Story

 

 

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AN EXPERIMENT WITH A WILD ELEPHANT CALLED 'RAJA'

My love for Nature has taken me on many treks into the wilderness, some in the regions of the Sinharaja Range - our largest and only rain forest, the Knuckles Range - a beautiful jungle high up in the mountains, and the jungles of the Southeast - dry zone jungle.

My preference is the Southeastern, dry zone jungles, therefore, I ventured out on having a 'base' in the jungle and the Farm came into existence. Bang in the middle of one of the main elephant tracks in the jungle, about 4 kilometers from the Northern border of Yala National Park.

The terrain around the Farm is jungle that is home to a variety of species of wildlife that are native to our Southeast jungles. Many species of bird life is found in abundance in the area too, both native and migrant varieties.

There is a variety of beautiful trees, and a range of various plants and herbs that are of great medicinal value. At present, all of the above are in danger of destruction.

Of all the beautiful animals around, the elephants are the most prominent in the area.

There are five single/lone elephants that are permanent residents of the jungles around the Farm. There are many more herds that come and go, but these herds are seasonal, starting from about the month of June/July with small herds coming in. The month of November and December is the peak season with plenty of food and water around.

In December 1999, I got a confirmed count of a total of 69 wild elephants in the area. This included a herd of 'kuru aliya' as well. A rare species - the midget elephant.

A Note; an elephant was found 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 carcass of the animal. The elephant had died of gunshot wounds. So now we have 4 elephants left.

Upon inspection, found the carcass of elephant #4. 

For more information on the movement of the elephant and wildlife in the area, please refer the appropriate document.

Raja is a wild elephant that lives in the jungles around the Farm.

We have got to know of each other since June 1997, since the inception of the Farm.

I did an experiment on Raja one day in April 1998, during the Singhalese Avuruddu season and his reaction to this experiment was another story. Totally mind blowing.

Raja is a big male wild elephant. (He is elephant #1) 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 the hubters 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 plantation 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. He has been known to chase people when startled in the jungle.

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.

I climbed up on a solid tree along one of the spots he frequents armed with a few crackers, water, food, a powerful torch and a sheet to keep the dew and cold away. I was ready for a long night, and waited for the arrival of Raju. I selected a spot that was rather open. A spot with minimum tree coverage.

When Raja came out into the area, it was about 6.30 PM, and I attracted his attention by talking to him and calling him by name. My tone was soft and as deep as I could get.

His reaction was surprise and possibly anger because he kept grumbling and walking up to the tree I was on and reach up as high as he could go. He tried to shake the tree as well, which I had anticipated. All this was probably because he was startled by my presence, and also to the fact that I was safely beyond reach, and maybe I disturbed his favorite snack with my presence by being too close. The scrub he wanted to snack on was about 20 - 25 feet below my perch. He would sound his trumpet at intervals but was not moving away very far from my perch.

Finally, he sort of got used to my presence and just continued his rampage for food. Every time I would speak to him, he would reciprocate with deep rumbling sounds.

We were like this for about 1 1/2 hours, and it was a beautiful moonlit night, around 8.15PM. Raja was still around in the area, and he was fully 'on' with my presence.

Then I started my experiment. Starting with fire, I would light two matches together, making the flame big. Raja reciprocated with a loud deep rumble. Every time I would light a match, the flame would set a series of loud rumbles.

Next, I tried out different tones of voice on him, friendly & calm, stern & angry and finally abusive language, and back to friendly and calm. The effects on Raja were tremendous.

As follows....................

* Friendly & calm voice: he would grumble in low deep tones and continue his eating, his actions were relaxed. 

Like the way he broke branches for his eating was not in an aggressive manner. His rumbling sounds were not at all threatening, and were sporadic.

* Stern & angry voice: his sounds became a little louder when I started, and as the tempo of my voice picked up, Raja became much noisier. 

He circled the tree I was on a few times, coming in real close and reaching up with his trunk to as high as he could get. His rumbling sounds were quite loud at this point, but he was definitely getting worked up. 

He didn't go far from the tree, and at this point I was getting rather scared, as I have been witness to the destruction an angry elephant could cause, and I was alone, perched right up on a rather solid tree. 

Anyway, I went on to the next step.

* Loud abusive language: at this point, Raja was about 25 - 30 feet away from my tree and an amazing thing happened. When I started on some choice Singhalese vocabulary, at first, there was complete silence on Rajas part. 

The time was about 1/2 hour past midnight. 

The scenario - Raja standing there facing me, just looking at me in complete silence, and it was an eerie experience. I got courage because of his silence and kept on shouting indecent language at him. 

Raja suddenly turned and walked off into the jungle, again in total silence. When he turned his back on me and walked off, my tone and language got even more abusive. Raja kept walking up to about 100 feet away - and then there was chaos!

Total madness is the closest word to describing what happened. 

With loud trumpeting sounds, he just turned and came for the tree I was on. 

His trumpeting sounds were the loudest I had ever heard, and he was breaking branches off other trees and shrubs in a very violent manner. 

At this point, I was terrified, and my mouth got shut! Raja was trying hard to push and pull on the tree I was on, but thank the Lord my tree was very solid. 

It was a very frightening experience, and I was so thankful when he finally turned and walked off into the jungle when daylight started to set in.

I must say that I am very lucky to have survived this mad experience!

This crazy experiment made me think a little different about these mammals. The only reason for his behavior would be that he understood me. Either he understood the tones of my voice or the language (unlikely), but to cut a long story down, his reaction to my experiment was certainly mind blowing!

All the same, Raja is a threat to the village folk of the area, and is a probable target.

 

A special Note; September 2001.

Raja is reported to have been shot to death, along with another elephant, near a village close to the boundries of one of our sugar cane cultivations.

This is a confirmed report!

 

 

 

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