Colombo Telegraph

Misbegotten Love For Elephants !

By R.A. Ratwatte

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!

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