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
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
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
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
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
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