By R.A. Ratwatte –
There are lots of articles appearing these days about “illegal” elephants and the naive public is being whipped up into frenzy by insidious individuals and NGO’s into believing that all domestic elephants are tortured and starved and deprived of their mothers love and such horrendous things.
Let me present another perspective. I come from a family that has had elephants living among us for generations. I am also probably one of the last people who have been involved in capturing and training wild elephants.
As in all dealings with wild creatures the experiences I had were incredible. Incredibly unique and wonderful and also terrible and traumatic. Some of them I still struggle to come to terms with….
I have written a book on my experiences and here is a description of an elephant calf who we “rescued” from a herd trapped in a pocket of jungle in the North Central Province :
We found Kiri in a terrible state. She was riddled with ticks and full of internal parasites. This little elephant calf had also been shot at and there was buckshot all over her body. She was so weak that when she lay down she needed help to get up again and when she got any food she ate so fast that it was obvious that she had been brought up on a diet of food snatched from angry cultivators’. Kiri would probably have died if she had remained in the wild under those conditions ……..
We named this calf Kiri and she now lives in Pinnawela, stumbling down to the river twice a day to enthral, tourists and has nothing to occupy her agile mind with, other than eating and sleeping.
Is this what misbegotten elephant lovers want to do with the wild elephants who are trapped in pockets of jungle due to indiscriminate and illegal clearing of their habitat?
We have a wonderful alternative to Culling, which is what happens in most of the rest of the world. We have an age old art of domesticating elephants and nurturing those that can’t actually live in the wild due to various circumstances. This art should be treated in the same way that other aspects of our ancient culture are treated, like dancing and singing and the ancient languages.
What about those already in the so called “orphanage”? They cannot be released into the wild?
They are to spend their days living in an orphanage, getting minimal care and living a life of mind boggling boredom?
For the edification of those who have not had the experience, may I share another extract from my book, this was with an elephant who had been in our family since she was a calf :
I have been blessed! And I am very grateful. To have had the opportunity to Live and work with those magnificent elephants was a unique and wonderful Experience. I was, on occasion, very closely associated with them and although some instances where scary, the magical and truly wonderful moments outnumbered all else.
I remember sitting on a rock beside Tikiri’s stable on a full moon night and listening to the sound of “pirith” or the chanting of bhuddist priests. This chanting used to go on the whole night as a blessing to the house that it was held in. For a while Tikiri was contentedly munching her food and I was watching her and enjoying the peaceful cadences of the chanting. Elephants normally lie down and sleep for 2-3 hours in the wee hours but they usually do it only when there is no one around. Tikiri stopped eating and got very still. She too was listening because I saw her ears go forward and she was a magnificent sight in stark relief in the bright tropical moonlight. I was about to leave because I felt that she needed to sleep and I should give her some privacy. However she just knelt down and then lay on her side and I was flattered, because it showed the trust she had in me. Tikiri was going to be at her most vulnerable with me within touching distance. Even at this stage I was going to get up and steal away, when I heard a rustling sound and found Tikiri pushing her trunk into my lap. She let it lie there and she slept for a while. Unfortunately not long enough for me, because I was in total bliss during this time when my lovely companion showed her absolute trust in me!
My plea to all of you being led up the garden path by individuals and organizations who have sworn that “they will not rest until the sacred tooth relic is taken in the Dalada perehera on the back of a pickup truck “ is to speak to people like me, there are plenty of us and listen to the other side of the story.
Visit some of our homes where we still have elephants that we love and care for and who are part of our families and THEN and only then. make up your minds.
The next time you go to Pinnawela look beyond the “Aney Sweet” sight of an elephant bathing, look into the elephant’s eyes and see the look of hopelessness, the despair that is there to be seen to the discerning observer.
Then come and see a Elephant that has lived as part of a family. See the way the elephant “talks” to his custodian (I hesitate to say owner) and the mutual love and respect that is shared.
I hesitate to say owner of an elephant, because we have a belief that an elephant who comes to our families is often a debtor from a past life, who has come to pay off his debts. When the debts are over if we have mistreated him he is well within his rights to end our lives with the minimal effort that it takes a six ton animal to kill a mere human!
Patta Pal / February 7, 2015
SAROJINI / February 7, 2015
MY LOVE FOR ELEPHANTS GO BACK A LONG TIME . MY GRAND FATHER KEPT AN ELEPHANT WHICH WAS NOT A STAUS SYMBOL THEN . THESE MAJESTIC CREATURES SHOULD BE NURTURED AND LOOKED AFTER WITH DUE RESPECT . I CRIED WHEN I SAW THE INHUMAN WAY THE ELEPHANTS ARE TREATED IN THE DEHIWALA ZOO WITH VERY LITTLE SPACE AND TIED UP WITH HEAVY CHAINS,LOOKING SO VULNERABLE AND HELPLESS . SIMILIARLY THERE IS AN ELEPHANT IN GANGARAMA TEMPLE SUFFERING THE SAME PREDICAMENT . PEOPLE NEED TO REEALISE THESE CREATURES NEED SPACE TO FREELY ROAM AND KEEPING THEM IN CHAINS IS BARBARIC. THE ELPHANT I AM TALKING ABOUT WAS LOOKED AFTER VERY WELL BY A FULL TIME MAHOUT WHO DID NOT THINK OF AS HIS JOB BUT A LABOUR OF LOVE . WE ALL HAD TURNS IN FEEDING THIS ELEPHANT DURING THE NEW YEAR WHEN MY GRANDFATHER ANNOITED HIS FORHEAD WITH OIL . SADLY IT PASSED AWY A COLE OF YEARS AGO . ANYONE WHO TREATS THEM WITH CRUELTY SHOULD BE PROSECUTED .
Amarasiri / February 7, 2015
“There are lots of articles appearing these days about “illegal” elephants and the naive public is being whipped up into frenzy by insidious individuals and NGO’s into believing that all domestic elephants are tortured and starved and deprived of their mothers love and such horrendous things.”
Rajapaksas do love Elephants that are stolen and then maintained using Peoples money. They are an asset, very valuable, as well as bring prestige.
Elephants on Tourist hotels bring in several Lsks per day.
Another elephant calf found at Elapatha
An elephant calf has been found at Elapatha area in Ratnapura to officials of Wildlife Department. The elephant calf was found yesterday (6th) tied in a shrub when the officials from Wildlife Department at Uduwalawe and Palabaddala offices carried out the investigation on information received.
A Buddhist priest from a temple in Tissamaharamaya area had come forward with documents prepared to register the elephant calf. However, Wildlife officials produced the elephant calf and the mahout before Ratnapura Magistrate last night.
Toni Bartlett / February 7, 2015
What a lovely insight into an elephants life thank you for sharing
BBS Rep / February 7, 2015
What a lot of crap this Ratwatta fellow is talking.
The elephants belong in the forests with their herds. Period.
And you sir Mr Ratwatta belong in the trees with your ape tribes.
And the pirith chanting priest should be meditating in the forests instead of entertaining the tree dwellers with their shangha bajaw.
That is all.
Emil van der Poorten / February 7, 2015
With my minimal knowledge of elephants in “captivity” I have tried to convey a little bit of what you have expressed so eloquently.
I, too, am sick and tired of the ill-informed nonsense that I keep hearing from people who have got closest to an elephant if they happened to encounter the truck carrying the poor pachyderm to some perahera.
I do remember elephants not being treated as well as they should have but those were exceptions and the accusations used to be levelled at drunken mahouts, rather than the owners (And you know me well enough to know that I am not a particular admirer of the Kandyan or any other “nobility” or “gentry” and not likely to go out of my way to cover their behinds leave alone sing their praises!)
Seemingly, a new era dawned on January 9th – one of decency and honesty – and I hope that there will be a return to sanity in the matter of elephants outside their wild habitat. This willy-nilly entrusting of these truly magnificent animals to retired 7-Eleven managers or simply someone of influence who wears a saffron robe is symptomatic of the unbelievable manner in which these great animals have been treated in this country and is the tip of a totally unacceptable iceberg that must be removed forthwith.
For a start, people like Rajitha MUST be given the opportunity to contribute their knowledge and genuine love for these animals and an appropriate policy formulated without delay. Put this task in the hands of knowledgeable and concerned people and it will get done surprisingly quickly.
BBS Rep / February 9, 2015
I am a little bit surprised with your comments here.
Of all people I expected you to be on the side of the elephant and not on the side of the men behind the elephants.
The elephants should be nurtured, that is true. But in their usual habitats. We the humans have a habit of thinking we know what is best and that includes the belief that the elephants or for that matter any animal can be happier with us. No body asked the elephants where they are most happy. I assure you that the elephant if given a choice is not going to choose Mr Ratwatta’s kraal to live its life however well intentioned Mr Ratwatta is.
What is needed is to protect the rights of animals including the elephants which also goes hand in hand with protecting their habitat. If orphans are found we must nurture them and return them to the forests as soon as practicable. Not nurture them for the entertainment of tourists and to increase the regard of men suffering low self esteem including 7 eleven cashiers. We must not allow humans to encroach on habitats reserved for the animals – period.
Sri Lanka has a very poor attitude when it comes to respecting the rights of the animals. Just look around and you will see what I mean.
Emil van der Poorten / February 9, 2015
You will note that AT NO POINT have I suggested a return to a practice of simply “kraaling” elephants to establish some kind of “tame herd.” There are continuing instances of baby elephants being orphaned by one human activity or another. Also, the human-elephant conflict continues, not only unabated but appears to be accelerating, because of criminal encroachment by humans on elephant habitat, misuse of land, inclusive of elephant corridors, etc. Too often I’ve seen video of responses to such elephant “conflict” by SEVERAL people, both in uniform and in “civvies,” armed with assault weapons.
Apart from orphan calves often created by cow elephants defending their errant calves from trains, If elephant “culls” are necessary as they surely appear to be in some parts of the country, isn’t it a far better option to capture these animals rather than riddle them – calves, bulls and cows – with buckshot or, horror of horrors, destroy them in the most cruel fashion imaginable with “hakka-pattas” which is an explosive concealed in food that elephants particularly like and which, when they bite on it, explodes destroying their ability to take in any food thereafter?
Like many who have spent many hours in the jungles of this country, the single most fascinating experience has always been watching a herd of elephants simply feed. Nothing dramatic but always a fascinating and entertaining experience.
However, we need to face reality and combine humane practice established over centuries with our current reality. The practice of romantic notions will, as they do right now, do more harm than good.
BBS Rep / February 10, 2015
I am not totally convinced by what you say.
I believe we must not entertain any other option when it comes to protecting fauna and flora in our country. They need to be protected with utmost urgency. If we allow any powerful politician to keep any protected animal on any pretext including those who think they have a traditional right to keep elephants, we will pave the way for every other aspiring politician or jhonny with any clout, to follow suit as it has happened in Sri Lanka today. The same goes with tourism. Tourists should be escorted in and out of national parks by professionals trained in animal rights, welfare and protection. No other circuses on any pretext should be permitted for the entertainment of politicians or tourists using animals.
There should be zero tolerance in chena cultivators encroaching on National parks just as taking real action against illegal loggers.
I know, I know, we are talking about Sri Lanka where politicians are what they always have been, inept, self serving, nepotistic and vicious to the core. Animal rights or protection of flora and fauna have very little space in their urgency for self aggrandisement.
Don Quixote / February 10, 2015
Dreaming as usual BBS ! Ban chena cultivation in parks and buffer zones ?? You need to ban politicians and politics before that …utter rubbish.
Jagath Fernando / February 7, 2015
Thanks for your write up.
Unfortunately in recent times it has become a symbol of power and h poor Nimal is suffering in captivity.
We need a policy so that people like you continue to have elephants and other having them to show their power ar denied th opportunity and the animal is released to the wild.
Jagath Fernando / February 7, 2015
Thanks for your write up.
Unfortunately in recent times it has become a symbol of power and the poor animal is suffering in captivity.
We need a policy so that people like you continue to have elephants and others having them to show their power are denied the opportunity and the animal is released to the wild.
Roger Dodger / February 7, 2015
The author is trying to make it look ethical and justify the issue of captive elephants, no matter what wild animals belong in the wild, we cannot fulfill their basic needs, elephants need their own space , social relationships, and are part of a matriarcal family group .
Douglas / February 7, 2015
All of a “sudden” from no where this “Ali Kulappuwa” came to the public domain and today it is nothing but a big “DRAMA” to expose who owns and how it came to be. Even I see this in TV debates and talking of lost “Ali Potha” by ex Ministers. The worst “Joke” is where a Minister of State of the present Government “Personally” involved in “raids” looking for illegally kept elephants.
Haven’t we got more important and very many pressing problems of the people to be solved within this “100 Day” Government?
Mr. President, please make a very serious note: This “Ali Kulappuwa” is not going to help you. You need to consolidate your efforts in fulfilling that “100 DAY” pledge, as otherwise, “Ali Kullappuwa” will turn out to be a “PEOPLES’ KULAPPUWA.” If you wait till that happens, you will regret it and it will be too late.
Jim softy / February 8, 2015
Africans treat their elephants in orphanages very humanely than Sri lankans treat the domesticated elephants.
In that sense, Sri lanka is very primitive.
gamunu / February 8, 2015
Long ago there was a practical necessity to have a tamed elephant, such as transportation in a tough terrain and in logging industry. The use of elephants in parades and temples was perhaps because they were already there with use to the society and offering the the use of elephants for such occasions was as a thanksgiving. However the Buddha would never have endorsed this. Current days with the rapid transportation by many means and trucks to haul heavy objects, elephants are of no practical use. Hence having an elephant nowadays is purely an egotistic issue. Instead, raise a dog, a cow, a buffalo or an animal that cannot live without human interaction. I love lions, tigers, elephants and so many animals that are happier in the wild with their own families. That does not I have the moral right to kidnap these beasts for my pleasure! Be real and practical to the current age and have compassion for these animals. Most elephant calves had their mothers killed for trophy collectors like you. You have a lesson from the movie Elsa!
Emil van der Poorten / February 9, 2015
I’d suggest a little bit of research might be indicated with regard to “Elsa” and all that happened to that African lion and its fellows who were adopted by that particular family!
justice / February 8, 2015
Why are elephant teeth (tusks) also a symbol of prestige and prosperity?
The Buddha never spoke of domesticating animals, or exhibiting their body parts – yet many monks pose with tusks on either side, in temples.
Whatever happened to the shipload of tusks captured by the customs – it was reported that President Rajapakse wished to donate them to buddhist temples.
Ratwatte may be the only man – besides Tarzan – who fully understands an animal.
Animals belong in their habitat, not in ours.
C. Fonseka / February 9, 2015
The author obviously knows elephants well. Their habitat is increasingly under pressure from development. Some thought into allowing effective migration without damage to crops and the subsequent retaliation would be sensible. The orphanage while being a tourist attraction does seem a wasted resource in terms of working elephants.