Save Our Noble Beast

The story of an elephant calf standing by his dying mother, injured by man-made explosives and refusing to move away was a tragic story as moving as that of humans and even more. Reports last week said that the mother elephant, said to be about 25-years-old, had been injured by a Hakka Patas - the crude kind of explosive used by villagers to scare away elephants – was lying prostrate near a village in the jungles of Horowpathana while a seven-year-old calf had stood by its mother for days refusing to budge. Even the arrival of a team of Wild Life Department officials with a Veterinary Surgeon did not make the calf abandon its mother and it had taken much effort to separate the mother from the calf to enable the injured mother to be medically attended.

But the mother could not be saved because the terrible and vicious device used by villagers had torn into the entrails of the noble beast and she was beyond redemption. The orphaned and devoted little jumbo had still refused to leave his mother till forced into the surrounding jungles by villagers.

This news story would have been read by a sympathetic public, tears shed, the pages flicked over and forgotten till in a few days’ time another such grim tragedy of this tribe of these noble beasts will be reported. Bureaucrats, wild life officials and politicians also may have taken note of the story and said in typical fashion: What to do? Animals too must die, no?

Yes, Sri Lanka’s elephants are fast disappearing. There were an estimated 10,000 elephants in this emerald isle in 1796. It had dropped to the alarming statistic of 2,000 in the sixties but good work by the Wild Life officials had brought the number to an estimated 4,000. But going by even current news reports, they are perishing at the rate of 1 or 2 per day. Is Sri Lanka to lose a part of its precious heritage in the near future?

There is a basic cause for this debacle of the Man-Animal Conflict. The urge to merge of the human race has created almost all of our fast expanding problems: Scarcity of land, problems of health, housing, education, student revolts, budgetary gap, many more and the man-animal conflict. Strangely every pundit provides a solution to every problem we face but not the basic solution: control of population as China and Singapore did. But that issue is beyond the scope of this editorial and we will confine ourselves only to the man-elephant conflict.

Not being pundits in this field we can only suggest that President Maithripala Sirisena and Ranil Wickremesinghe give the problem of diminishing elephants top priority as much as Megalopolis project or the ECTA. Those projects can wait but not the Elephant issue: The noble beasts are dying fast at one or two a day and they won’t be there any more soon.

Since the megalopolis involves town and country planning, shouldn’t man and elephant habitats go alongside megalopolis strategies?

Saving the elephant also needs brave and sincere efforts on the part of the leadership for implementing animal protection laws. We have seen instances of Buddhist temples violating laws regarding accommodating elephants. The Attorney General had given the green light to prosecute a well-known monk for violating regulations regarding keeping of elephants in his temple. The monk has provided an answer which is not one of enlightenment which monks are known for but of confusion: Someone had left a baby elephant in his temple! In another case a judicial officer too is alleged to have violated regulations regarding elephants being kept in private premises. Justice in these regards seems to have taken a holiday.

A sterner and a more vigorous implementation of elephant protection laws will deter the inhuman vultures who are engaged in capturing baby elephants in the jungles from their mothers and herds and selling them at fabulous prices to the Noveau riche who want to prove their aristocracy with the possession of elephants. If this process is permitted there would have to be as many elephants as White Vans in the homes of these new rich social climbers.

Even more tragic is the presentation of Sri Lankan elephants, baby elephants at that, to nations as tokens of friendship by our politicians who have no right to do so. It is said that under Sinhala monarchical rule, only the king was empowered to order capture of elephants and make presentations. But our nincompoop politicians, perhaps under the delusions of royalty, offer our baby jumbos as tokens of friendship. Basil Rajapaksa, when visiting New Zealand as a minister, had offered a baby jumbo as a present. The Rajapaksas with delusions of royalty may have been thinking they too had the right to make such an imbecilic token of friendship.

Do politicians who frequently utter the Buddhist stanza: ‘May all beings be well and happy’, consider the anguish and suffering of a baby elephant and mother when separated and the torture and agony the animal goes through travelling in the cargo section of a jetliner to be imprisoned in a zoo of a foreign country where temperatures drop to a near zero for a good part of the year?

New Zealand’s animal lovers demonstrated their humanity when they rejected the recent offer of a baby elephant. If the animal has been dispatched already, animal lovers should agitate for its return.

Indian animal lovers have been able to save the Bengal Tiger from near extinction through a country-wide movement. Why not a ‘Save our Noble Beast campaign’ by all concerned to save this priceless treasure being lost forever?


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