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Tree Tops Farm

 

"Living in Harmony with Nature"

 

 

 

 

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Written by; 

Aku Esufali, 

Cheif Coordinator/Tree Tops Farm.

E - mail: aku@eureka.lk

 

 

UPDATE 25th SEPTEMBER 2001.

Hello, am back from the Farm with some exciting news about a certain elephant in the area, a definite new comer to the jungles of the Weliara. I met this beauty just 2 days before I was scheduled to leave for my other life in the city, very unfortunately. This time, I also met 2 more of my friends in the jungle as well. An albino cobra that lives somewhere between my toilet and the house in the jungle, and a big python somewhere in the jungle.

But first, an update on the climatic conditions down there in the dry zone jungles, well especially in the Weliara area.

Since my last visit to the Farm, at which time the days were at the peak of its’ ‘heat’, this trip which lasted from the 12th to the 22nd of September, was very different, temperature-wise. 

The days were quite warm, but definitely cooler than mid/end August to early September. A definite change in the climate. The winds that came in were very nice and cool in temperature and came in from the South, Southwest.

The skies were a brilliant blue during the days, and the days would really get hot around 11.00 – 12.00 am. Ha, ha, but the dry zone jungles normally start the days “in heat”, normally by about 7 – 8 am, the heat has already set in, by about 10 – 11 am, the heat is fully ‘on’ till about late evenings, that is till about 7.00 pm from when it starts to cool off giving way to very pleasant evenings, temperature-wise.

Back to the present conditions out there, in the afternoons at around 3.00 pm, light formations of clouds start to set in from about the South and East. These clouds become quite dense and heavy but they tend to clear up by about 6.30 – 7.00 pm, leaving the night skies clear and cool.

Oops… sounds a bit like the climatic conditions last year, same time. It should have started to rain like crazy by now.

There seemed to be heavy dew falling during the nights, heavy enough to leave the earth fairly moist till about mid- morning. A very nice feeling with almost everything coming back to life again, and with all the fresh shoots sprouting about the place.

It rained, well, a light but very unexpected shower came in lasting for about 2˝ hours. The earth was very nice and moist, on the surface!

We dug an experimental hole in the ground; the earth was crusty dry just 3 inches below the surface.

The village folk have already started to clear up their respective lands off the scrub in preparation for their cultivation cycles. They are most certain that it will rain this year as it had not rained for too long a period, almost 2 years.

In their eyes, it has to rain, or they will be in very big trouble, more than the agriculture that they depend on. If it doesn’t rain this year, they can survive by destroying nature a little more, but where in the world do they run for water, even when the existing and functioning tube wells are having a hard time to pull water out of the earth???

It is almost end-September, and although the signs of rain are clear – there is no rain!

Once the rains start, if it starts, the jungle will be one big load of mud and is going to be very wet and slippery, and should be very exciting off road cycling with mud flying all over the place. Trekking or living in these conditions will be exciting as the earth will be as slippery as putting your foot on banana skins, and if you slip and fall – be ready for one big mud bath

 

Now, about the wildlife that I encountered while on my stay down at the Farm.

On the 16th, I had a need to use the toilet sometime around 3.00 o’clock in the early morning, and upon going to the toilet I stopped in the doorway and looked inside, as is normally the ‘done thing’ in the jungle, and in the light of my torch I saw a big and very beautiful specimen of an albino King cobra.

He coiled him self and stood up in the ‘attack mode’ when I approached closer and shone the torch directly on him. He was indeed a real beauty with his hood all opened out and with his tongue whizzing in and out of his mouth.

The snake was white, or rather, a silverfish-gray in color and his eyes were a brilliant red, and they shone like a couple of the best gem stone, to be precise, like the way a couple of the highest grade rubies would sparkle under direct light.

The king cobra had probably come in to drink the water that was in a bucket in the toilet when I surprised him. Actually, it was I who was surprised, as I was certainly not expecting to meet old King cobra like this, especially at that time of the night too.

But he was a very beautiful specimen and I was real glad of this chance meeting, we have met on a few rare occasions before as well, but never so openly or so close.

By the way, an albino king cobra is a very rare species and this snake seemed to be quite old, or so I thought because of his size – but I am not an expert in snakes to know this for a fact, but he certainly looked like in very good health. This king cobra was very easily in the region of about 1 meter in length and had a very thick body with quite a big hood, a down right beauty

I watched him for about 15 minute from a safe distance and then backed away to let him continue what ever he was doing in peace. Incidentally, the need for using the toilet was forgotten and I went back to bed.

 

On 18th September, the time was around 3.00 in the afternoon and I was riding back from an unsuccessful visit to the Weliara tank when this incident happened.

I was riding back along this dirt road that leads into the jungle on my bicycle and I was doing a very slow and silent pace when at one point where the road forks out, I heard a small squeal, very much like some small animal in total terror, a small scuffle and then total silence.

Just one short squeal and a small sound of something trying to fight or escape, then total silence. I stopped immediately and tried to peer in through the trees for some kind of action but could not see anything so I leaned the cycle against a tree and crept up to the tentative spot of the sound, and about 3 – 4 meters in the jungle amongst the trees, actually behind a tree from the direction that I approached was a sight of nature preparing for a big meal.

A big python was already wrapped around a small animal, which looked very much like a small deer, but was difficult to be certain at that point as I was about 3 meters away and they were amongst the foliage.

I crept up closer to about 1 ˝ - 2 meters away till I could see them clearly, and watched nature in action – first hand.

The python was totally wrapped around the small animal and was steadily squeezing and crushing the life out his meal by making his coils tighter and tighter. He did this for about 10 minutes and then he released the small animal and it was at this time that I realized that the small animal was a young spotted deer, although it was terribly deformed and crushed.

The python released the deer and then turned the animal around and started to swallow the animal whole, starting from the head. It was real amazing to watch the way the pythons’ jaws opened out to accommodate the size of a small deer, which is quite a mouthful, especially in one go.

The python was big, easily about 4 meters in length, and very thick, would estimate him to have been about 35 - 45 cm. (15 – 20 inches). The colorings on his body were a dark green with light green and yellow blotches on his trunk. He had a big head with a longish and broad sort of snout. The underneath on the python was an off-whitish color.

I watched the antics of the python till it swallowed the deer whole, totally ignoring me in his feeding process, and I then waited till the python sort of stretched out to a comfortable position, so that he could digest his food in comfort, and then made my way out of there, without disturbing nature.

This poor young deer did not have a chance from what I saw, because by the time I reached the spot of the action, the deer was already wound up in the pythons’ vice-like grip, from which one has to be very lucky to escape.

That meal would have been a bellyful for the python and that means that he would not be feeding again for at least a another week, thus is the eating habits of pythons.

 

The next friend that I met in the jungle, or rather, on the Farm premises itself, to be precise – about 10 meters (about 35 – 40 feet) from the house in the jungle, just standing there on the road that leads to this house. Please let me explain…

 

20th September; Time: mid-noon.

As I had mentioned somewhere before, we at the Farm are doing some re-construction work on the main lodges out in the front section at present.

Christ, this was an incredible meeting and totally unexpected, not at this hour of the day, and specially with all the sounds of re-construction that was happening out in the front, maybe about 20 meters away. 

On this particular day, we had been working for about an hour and a half after the lunch break, and this point had a need to discuss some matters with my foreman so we headed out to the house in the jungle for our private chat.

Maybe I should explain some details about this particular lodge and of its’ surroundings so that the picture will be quite clear to you as to what happened and if you check out the ‘Gallery’ in this website under the caption ‘Farm Pictures’ and the first picture will show you a part of this house.

Okay then, this house in the jungle is also built out of wattle and daub, and I had this built for my use, away from the Farmhouse complex. And of course, as a nature lover, I preferred to live in the jungle, amidst the foliage. The bedroom in the 4th picture is the one in this house.

There are two roads leading to this house from the Farm, one road is for vehicle traffic and the other is a path that connects this house to the Farm section.

The foreman and I took the path that connects the Farm to this house and we were in rather deep conversation and certainly not paying any attention to the terrain around us, which is the jungle.

Both, my foreman (who is a boy of the area) and I walked up to the house and I even went in and sat on one of the bunks before I realized that the foreman was motionless and sort of speechless and his gaze was fixed at a point down the road.

I looked in the same direction, and bang in front of us, standing very quietly and not moving at all, was this big gray elephant. He looked like a monster to us at that moment, as he was certainly huge. A big mass of gray with a off-whitish kind of markings on his trunk with two big tusks crossed at the front.

 

We were all shocked, man and elephant alike and we just stood there looking at each other. An incredible experience, yes, I have seem many of these animals and am quite used to them, but never in circumstances like this...

 

This elephant was very tall, easily over 10 feet (3˝ meters?), with a good body structure, fleshy and muscular. This was a male elephant and he looked like in very good health. He also sported a pair of beautiful tusks, the thickness and length of them was quite incredible.

This beautiful elephant had one big deformity, though. His tusks were crossed at the middle, thereby him not being able to lift his trunk at all. There by his not being able to lift his trunk more than 1 ˝ - 2 meters, it beats me as to how and on what he feeds himself. He certainly cannot lift his trunk high enough to break branches from trees to feed on, and yet, he seemed in such great health, and obviously not from the lack of food.

When we all recovered, well we started to talk to the elephant asking him to go away, which is what we normally do in the jungle. Yes sir, my weapon against elephants and most animals is a sort of a calm conversation with them and it has always worked for me.

The elephant started to turn and moved away, going down the driveway of this house. He went to a point and then turned into the jungle, but – please note this amazing act - he turned again and went amongst the trees going back first into the jungle. We could not believe this our selves too, but it is true.

Thinking about it, well, going into the jungle – back first - would have been the best way for him to travel through a jungle full of trees as I am sure that if he went through that piece of jungle in the normal way, the cross in his tusks would certainly have got entangled amongst the trees.

This was an amazing thing to have witnessed, and it really blew our minds – that is, my foreman’s and mine! Wish I were equipped with a camera, it would have been some picture, if we could have reacted time! As we were really dumbfounded.

This incident blew our minds for many reasons, I mean, we are talking about broad daylight, the sounds of construction happening not very far away, human voices, and of course our scents. And we/I have done this path – a million times??, this is where I stay when I am on the Farm and this is the first time that I have witnessed something like this, since I occupied this land in 1997.

My foreman and I were so blown that we immediately had a cup of tea, amongst other things, and spoke about this instead of what we came to discuss in the first place.

By the time we did go into the jungle looking for this elephant, he was unfortunately gone. Unfortunately, I was in a sort of a hurry to leave for the Town as well, so we really couldn’t track this boy down, oh dear, and I was scheduled to leave for Colombo the next day as well.

This elephant acted like he was used to being around man and did not seem to get excited at all. He was so cool that nobody felt threatened at all - we were just too shocked for words.

At first, we thought that this elephant was a part of another herd that also had an elephant with crossed tusks, but this guy was different in appearance and much bigger and healthier.

Let us take another scenario!

Let us assume that it was one of the mad loners in the area that we met, instead of old ‘crossed tusks’, I am sure that we would have all being so shocked that we could have reacted too late, and the elephant would have being so shocked that he would have just attacked – fearing for his own safety.

An elephant attack! I would like this opportunity to elaborate on this subject but time is certainly not on my side today. But take it from me, it is an absolutely terrifying experience to get caught to, and I am talking through first hand experience as I have been attacked in this area as well as in other areas, while traveling in a vehicle and on foot.

Well, this is what Tree Tops farm is all about, bang in the middle of the jungle. Nature at our fingertips, cool isn’t it?

This is what “Living in Harmony with Nature” is all about, totally basic and wild!

 

Back to this elephant, he acted so cool that it makes me wonder about a certain story, about “One of the Best Presidents of Sri Lanka”, Hon. R. Premadasa was also an ardent nature lover and used to spend much time in the jungles of Sri Lanka, specially the Southeast dry zone jungles.

It is reported and documented that President Premadasa had found this deformed elephant once deep in the jungles of Yala National Park and had then made it a habit of feeding him everyday.

Food, that is basically fruits like pineapples, bananas, etc would be airlifted by helicopter to a clearing deep in the jungle, and this elephant would always be there to greet this chopper.

It is maybe rather far fetched to think that this could be the same elephant??

Maybe, maybe not! But when looking at the map of Sri Lanka, the depths of Yala National Park is not very far from Tree Tops Farm – maybe about 20 kilometers, which is not a great distance for an elephant to travel.

 

Update October 8th 2001.

Hello, I am back from the Farm and have been there since the 1st to the 9th of October and would like to update you further on the current situation in the area.

Get ready for a sad story!

There had been a few light rains during the weeks of early-September and most of the village folk had started to prepare their respective lands for cultivation, as they were certain of the rains coming in this season.

Most of the village people were in tears as they had put in the last of their resources, some through Banks and some by illicit means, and gone ahead and purchased the necessary items like seedlings, fertilizer, etc, in preparation for the coming cultivation cycle.

They are ready to start ploughing their fields and sow their seedlings, but, a very big “BUT’, they are all still looking up to the skies – waiting for the clouds to shed their loads.

It should have rained rather hard around the 1st – 2nd week of September, thereby making the parched earth soft and soggy enough to plough their fields.

The ‘hopeless’ look is very clear on their faces but there is nothing that I can do for them right now, but we are working towards our goal, other than trying to promote paying guests to the Farm which in turn will form a sort of employment to some of the village folk of the area.

The climate in the area is still quite cool when compared to the hot days of the past months. It had rained on a few occasions, but the rains were far too light to wet this parched earth 5 – 6 inches below the surface.

A terrible situation in the area and most of the people do not know what to do, how to survive in the coming months!

 

Sri Lanka has been experiencing rather heavy rain in some areas, heavy enough to flood some areas in the South and the hill country. In fact, it had been raining so much in Nuwara Eliya region, that many of the residents of that area left their homes for other parts of the country. This lasted for a few days, of course!

Nuwara Eliya is in the central part of Sri Lanka, way up in the hills - 1,889 meters above sea level and used to be a favored hill station during the good old days when we were under British rule.

Nuwara Eliya, meaning the “City of Light” is one of the very popular locations for Sri Lankan and foreign visitors alike with the many tea estates around in the area, amongst other activities of entertainment that happen especially during the months around April.

The climatic conditions here are normally wet or at least damp all the time with many little streams gushing with water – all year round under normal circumstances, that is.

During the months around August 2001, when the drought was in full swing, all these little streams were completely dry – and the people of Nuwara Eliya, a normally wet City, had to travel distances for water and that too there was very little of it to go around.

The harsh rains have sort of eased off to light showers here and there at present and things are more or less back to normal, except for the stupid power cuts that the present, crazy Sri Lankan Government has imposed on the Citizens of Sri Lanka, amongst other things.

Maybe we should get back to Tree Tops farm and the surroundings.

 

The village folk of the area are really upset with the current climatic situation, at the way the rain cycles have changed, which is definitely not to the benefit of the agricultural community of the area.

In short, the irrigation well at the Farm – which is very large and the other smaller fresh water well have never run dry, but this season, now, at present, I still have only about 6 inches of water in the fresh water well, despite the little showers that have taken place these last few days.

A very sad story, and many of the village folk are destitute for an income for their survival, and when I see all this...

I would love to elaborate on this topic and that would mean letting the frustration that I feel being know towards the unnecessary formalities of bureaucracy and to the folk who can help, but are either lazy, selfish, or probably think that I am mad to fight this lone battle – at the risk of losing every thing that I have, maybe even life.

I guess that’s life!

This is actually one of the main reasons for the Farm to try and promote guests who might like to visit this harsh and wild but beautiful land, and to experience a style of living that may be totally off the comfort zone.

Learn the art and experience the difference of actually living the lifestyle of the jungle. Your stay will be the real thing to the term “eco-tourism”. While you stay at Tree Tops Farm, you will be actually “Living in Harmony with Nature” as there is no other life style here..

We assure you to make your visit as comfortable as possible in this wild place, and if you are willing to spend about a week or more with us at the Farm, which is not very easy – and is quite a challenge, until you start to know the jungle through your senses and until you are comfortable in the silent calmness in comparison to City or Beach life.

 

The jungle seems to be coming back to life again and is a very pleasant site to see, contrary to a parched jungle a couple of months back, thanks to the light rains that have been taking place the last few weeks.

Sadly, the rains are not enough to plough the earth for cultivation as the ground is still rock hard a few inches under the surface.

 

If the Farm was equipped with a tractor, a Massey Ferguson 240 series or a cheaper but reliable tractor of the same capacity (but most preferably a 4-wheel drive tractor as this would serve our purposes the best) – with all the necessary attachments, we could have made a difference to the village folk of the area, and there is no doubt about that.

But, I guess, Life is a “Bitch” to some!

 

I have some more sad news about a wild elephant that had somehow burnt his four legs up to his knees and was supposed to be in terrible pain. 

3rd October 2001; Time: around mid-morning.

I was on my way to Town when some of the village folk told me of this, but I was not lucky enough to witness it for my self.

To start at the beginning, The Municipal Council of Buttala had come up with a bright idea sometime last year, the year 2000. They had run out of land to dump garbage in, so they selected a plot of land about 1 kilometer down the Weliara Road from the turn off, which is more or less the border of elephant country for this purpose.

When I say the border of elephant country, I mean from this point on, about 5 minutes away by bicycle, the village of Helagama starts and has quite a population living there.

 

A short description of this area so that you will get a rough idea of the terrain

When coming out of the jungle; you will pass Tree Tops Farm, then through jungle again, and then on through the small village of the Weliara about 1˝ kilometers down the road, then to the garbage dump about another 2 kilometers further on, and finally to the main road, through a patch of jungle, which is about another 1˝ kilometers further on – to man-occupied areas – the village called Helagama.

It is the other way around when approaching the Farm from the turn-off from the main road that leads to Town.

 

For your information; the jungle in this area consists of a diverse variety of fauna and flora that is native to the dry zone jungle. The jungle of the Weliara area is abundant in a variety of plants and herbs that have rich medicinal properties; some of them are quite rare as well.

The area between the main road and the garbage dump is a patch of jungle. This patch of jungle is full of a variety of medicinal herbs, plants and trees – and is an area that is protected by Law against destruction – because of its’ valuable fauna and flora!

 

Back to the garbage dump; when the Municipal Council of Buttala acquired this plot of land from some source for their garbage disposal in mid- 2000, the village folk reacted against this decision, as the village folk stated very clearly that the elephants were around in this area and it would be dangerous in the future.

The Municipal Council, against all protests, managed to convince the village folk that they would dig very deep pits and dump the garbage in this, hoping that this would keep the elephants and other wildlife away.

So by using a bulldozer, they dug this pit, and of course – it was a waste of money and time. Unfortunately, this is how the PA Government that is in power at the moment works (October 2001).

The Municipal Council boys dug this pit to about 10 – 12 feet (3 – 4 meters), and the dimensions were approximately 30 x 30 feet (10 x 10 meters) square, but…, they did not remove the ramp on the side of the pit which was out of the earth itself, that the bulldozer used when going in and out of the pit.

Then came the garbage, tractor loads of it! About 5 – 6 tractor loads of garbage collected from Buttala Town are dumped into this pit, which on the boundary of elephant country, every day – and the pit filled up to over flowing – in no time at all!

I am extremely sorry for going off the track, but this garbage pit is a total danger to the human population of the area and I will come back to this later, but this is a very important subject to take note of…

Back to this poor elephant with the burnt legs and all I know about it is that it is a loner, I don’t even know if it is a male or a female. All I could find out was that it was a small made elephant and a loner.

This elephant would probably have come out of the jungle in search of food, rampaging in the small village of the Weliara on his way, and then would have got the smell of the garbage pit from some place en route, and would have definitely gone to investigate.

This would have been a delicacy to a starving elephant and he would have gone wild amongst the human garbage, which probably consists of old/stale/over-ripe vegetables and fruits, various kinds of food that would be thrown from the many houses, hotels and restaurants, different forms of polythene, etc, etc, etc. The list can go on.

The elephant would have got into the garbage pit with the greatest of ease, as the pit was quite full – almost to the ground level, and would have rampaged for delicacies to his hearts desire, not knowing that there was a fire burning under his feet – until it was too late.

 

Something else, the garbage disposal crowd always set fire to the garbage that is already in the pit before dumping fresh garbage over this. There is always a flame somewhere underneath the surface, so this is a very deceptive sight as the surface looks like a load of garbage, while the a fire burns underneath.

 

Imagine this scenario; a starving elephant would have come to the garbage pit in total ecstasy, fully aroused with the different exciting smells all around him, he would have just plunged into the pit to feed – not knowing that there was a danger underneath, and the garbage would have compressed further with the many tons an elephant weighs.

The elephant would have been enjoying his meal without realizing that the garbage underneath him was on fire, and he would have ignored the initial pains in his feeding frenzy, until the pains could not be ignored any more and his legs were burnt up to or above his knee. That would have been a terrible shock, not to mention the pain, and again – due to mans’ negligence!

I was told of this sad incident by a village elder that had been out in the early morning to collect firewood. He had heard the grunts in the foliage and had peeped in through the foliage to see an elephant that was quite badly burnt from his knees down.

I did try looking for this elephant but was not lucky enough to find him, unfortunately. All I could have one was to inform the Department of Wildlife Conservation about this sad incident, which I did, but nothing really came out of it. They came in search of this elephant but did not venture out into the jungle to look for him.

 

Now, let’s get back to this deadly garbage pit, which situated on the border of elephant country – due to the negligence of man!

Amongst the diverse range of wildlife in the area, we will concentrate more on the elephant as if we had a problem, which is most likely to happen in the near future, it would be from the wild elephants in the area.

The danger of this pit is that once the elephant gets really used to feeding off mans’ garbage, then the elephant will most certainly venture out further into man occupied areas looking for this food, which could and will be in the villagers kitchens.

Then, there will be reports of elephants attacking houses and causing chaos amongst the unsuspecting residents of the area.

And then?? There will be a posse out in the jungles looking for elephants blood, and there will definitely be more elephants dying - due to the negligence of man!

Wouldn’t this be obvious when creating a garbage dump on the border of the jungle??

The Municipal Council of Buttala is blindly adding fuel to the to the man-elephant conflict, which is a sure way of helping to reduce our already low elephant population even further.

The village folk living in the area try not to use this road after 7.00 pm, as they have to pass this garbage pit on the way to their houses, as the elephants are somewhere in the area and could be very dangerous.

This has been a rather long update and will have to end for now as am scheduled to leave back for the jungles of the Weliara. Please keep your fingers that it is raining nice and hard in the area.

 

I thank you for your interest in our website, and I do hope you visit us at “The Wildest Hotel in Sri Lanka” and experience “Life in Harmony with Nature”.

 

Would appreciate a feed back from you readers out there.

Thank you and bye for now,

Aku.

 

 

 

 

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