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Handle gentle giants in humane manner

ELEPHANT CONSERVATION: On May 19, the Richmond Times Dispatch of USA carried an article in the middle page title 'Sri Lankas naughty pachyderms to pack trunks for rehab'. This news was also on the internet on CBS news.

I read this article with much interest, as I have been involved in many elephant projects in Sri Lanka from my childhood.

I fully support this proposal by the Director of Department of Wild Life and Conservation (DWLC) Dayananda Kariyawasam, however a master plan is needed to train these elephants in a very humane manner as the department has no experience in training them.

To being with, the DWL will be dealing them mostly with isolated bull elephants. These elephants have been used to kill villagers, raiding crops and human habitats as they are familiar with human beings as well as trap guns, electric fences, fire crackers and sharp weapons that farmers usually use to protect crops.

Majority of these elephants have either bullet riddled bodies, maggot filled open wounds, deep cuts or are basically in very bad health conditions.

It is a hard task for anyone to train these grown up bulls as they try to free themselves once they are captured. Any grown wild elephant when captured uses immense force to release itself from being tethered. This causes the animal to sustain deep rope cuts.

Furthermore these cuts get infected because of the chains or ropes and some of them die of tetanus, infections or fatigue. Tranquilising to captur these animals are not a problem for our veterinary surgeons.

The main area one has to look into is the training process, healthcare and proper management of these animals.

I was a witness to the "Reswehera Capture" in 1980's which was a total disaster, and against all animal rights. It was cruelty beyond means.

The department utilised bulldozers to capture the elephants and once a bull elephant even pulled a Catipillar D4 a few feet. Out of the 'Reswehera' herd that was captured in Galgamuwa. Not more than two elephants are among the living today. It was a sad scenario.

I suggest that the DWLC should send a team to India and follow the procedure in wildlife parks like Mudumalie where the government of Tamil Nadu's department of wildlife trains wild elephants including fully grown bulls.

They have more humane methods of training, rather than our rough and cruel methods. India has adjustable training cages where the elephants are not tethered at all, during the training process.

Elephants have very little injuries during this period as they seldom use ropes or chains.

They move about freely inside the cages. Elephants also have the freedom to sleep without being restrained as in our system.

The department should find a good location that is not in an urban area for the training camp with easy access to water. The environment should have a nature friendly atmosphere for these gentle giants of the jungle.

The DWLC must formulate a new training system looking at the Indian method and our 'Free-Contact' system, which has been in practice for many years in Sri Lanka. One must also look at the "Protected-Contact" system which is widely used in the western world.

As a matter of fact, if you contact Ms. Marie Galloway, the Manager of the elephant house in the Smithsonian National Zoo, she will be ever willing to extend her fullest cooperation to train personnel in the protected contact system.

She has all the necessary expertise and skills in this field of training which I have witnessed. All three systems should be looked into and a new training program should be drawn up for this project. This kind of a system will be highly respected even by animal rights groups.

If this proposed training program is not done in a systematic manner, another disaster like "Reswehera" is bound to happen. In this present day and age the director of DWLC will be at the center of criticism.

Whilst admiring the director of DWLC for his correct decision regarding this project, one must bear in mind that there are lives of poor innocent villagers at danger who are at the receiving end of these wild elephants.

On the other hand it is his responsibility to save the elephants too, and I fully support his new program but of course in an organised manner.

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