Man and Elephants
Posted on August 1st, 2009

By Charles.S.Perera

 In Sri Lanka the man and elephant had a close relationship, from the very ancient times. The domesticated wild elephants were captured by man in elephant kraals and tamed. Separated from their herd-mates these poor beasts, like the healthy African youth captured by European slave merchants and sold in slave markets, slaved for his master doing heavy work a man could not handle. The ownership of an elephant tethered by a strong chain to a tree in the compound of the Walauwa enhanced the stature of many Kandyan Nilames like Dela Bandara .

 The elephant had a close affinity to Buddhism. The decorated elephants were the main attraction at Buddhist festivals . The thousands of spectators of the Kandy Esala Perahara come year after year to see the caparisoned elephants, joyfully counting them as each one ambled past them. The last randoli perahera which is attended by the largest number of spectators is the most colourful and the longest with a greater number of caparisoned elephants.

 The star of the Perahera is the “tusker” which carries the casket containing the relics of the Buddha. People say that he is so intelligent as to recognise the importance of his task carrying the relics of the Buddha on his back, that he does not place his front foot on the ground until the white cloth is spread in front of him, and once it is spread it ambles gracefully on the cloth covered ground.

 No one bothered to “ask” the elephants whether they were happy being with the humans, and whether they did all what they did willingly. Occasionally there were elephants running amok killing its mahout and creating fear among the people. It happened even during the Kandy perahera. Some said the elephant was mad, and others said that the elephant was in musth. If it was the latter an elephant will not run amok if it was living among its kind in the forest.

 The age old method of capturing a wild elephant by making it fall into pits, or by throwing a noose around it was abolished during the British rule. Thereafter elephant kraals were set to capture wild elephants to work for man. There were no opposition to those kraals, until at the last Kraal in Panamure organised by Sir Francis Molamure where 17 elephants captured were found with gunshot wounds, and the fearless leader of the herd who broke through the kraal to save his herd was shot dead. He became a heroic figure at the time and was immortalised in a song ” Panamure Ath Raja” in praise of his brave defence of his fellow elephants of the herd.

 Sri Lanka which had an elephant population of about 50, 000 in the early 20th century has only about 2000 to 1000 elephants now. Of these at least 120 are said to be killed annually. There are around 500 to 600 domesticated elephants in Sri Lanka. These elephants in captivity do not bear calves. If the present trend continues the elephant will soon be an endangered species in Sri Lanka.

 The land reform and setting up human settlements have shrunk the forests- the habitats of the wild elephants. The elephants short of roaming space encroach onto the farmlands. The farmers to protect their farms from the elephants fire at them with shot guns either killing them or maiming them.

 As much as the close affectionate relationship between man and elephant, the man’s cruelty to the elephant seems far greater. Many elephants separated from their herd became rogue elephants. They were killed when they roamed into human settlements and attacked the people.

 Plantation owners without finding a method to keep away the wild elephants from destroying their plantations killed these great beasts without any compunction. Once, one of these rich planters systematically killed and burnt about 22 trespassing elephants, and when he killed the 23rd elephant and was burning it, a young calf had “burst” through its womb to dye writhing in flames. This had happened in 1958 and the news of it had horrified the people.

 The terrorism too took its toll of the elephants. Many had been shot by the terrorist while others had been wounded in ground bombs.

 The elephants that were shot and killed or maimed by farmers, and the rogue elephants that were killed were mostly males. This unfortunately reduced the number of males in elephant herds which adversely affected the elephant population. Eventually the elephants too became aggressive killing the farmers who had encroached upon “elephant territory”, which aggravated the man- elephant conflict.

 But in Sri Lanka there are no poachers as in Africa, who kill elephants for their tusks. However, the colonial rulers had killed elephants in large numbers for their tusks. Others had captured tuskers to be offered to temples. Thus reducing the number of elephants with potential tusk bearing genes. The result is that Sri Lanka has a very small percentage of marsh elephants among whom the “tuskers” are born. They are the most sought after and held as valuable possessions.

 The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage opened by the Department of Wild Life in 1975 is now under the Department of Zoological Gardens. It was primarily to accommodate abandoned or wounded elephants found in the jungles. It now has nearly 400 elephants. What is exceptional in Pinnawala is that the elephants have given birth to calves within the orphanage. This is unusual for elephants in capture. It shows that elephants in Pinnawala are by far happier than those owned by Kandyan Chiefs, or temple priests.

 The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage being under the Department of National Zoological Gardens, the Government sets rules to satisfy its whims and fancies. The elephants in Pinnawala are part of the natural treasure of the people and therefore the government should not use it for its own purposes.

 The baby elephants born in Pinnawala had been taken away by the Government to make gifts of them to other Countries. In a country which has a dwindling population of elephants , to give away the few that are being born at Pinnawala is a crime against the Nation.

 Separating two Baby Elephants from its Mother Elephant

 The government privilege over the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage has given rise to most condemnable high handed action. There is at the moment a raging controversy over the inhuman plunder of young baby elephants from Pinnavala. Inhuman is too lame a word to describe such monstrosity committed by a Minister, a Diyawadane Nilame and two highly respected Chief Prelates.

 Even the Buddha himself would have condemned such lack of good sense, insensibility for the suffering of other beings, and depriving an innocent “baby being” of its maternal love and affection. This has taken place as there is no proper person in-charge of the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. It has become a place where any Government Minister could do what he thinks is right without any one to object.

 Next time they may do the same thing with any “Government Orphanage for Children” Just snatch away a baby they want and give it to whom they want, without questions asked. This has to stop and the President who had won a battle against terrorism should not allow terrorism against innocent beings be they animals or humans, by the Minsters of his cabinet.

 It was recently reported that a mother had sold her baby for five thousand rupees. The police had been informed and prompt action had been taken against the mother. But what action has the police taken against those who snatched away the baby elephants from Pinnawal Orphanage.

 There is a story, that when King Elara had his Kingdom in Anuradhapura, he had hung a bell on the wall outside his Palace for any one who wanted Royal justice to ring the bell. Once when the bell was rung, the king found that it was a cow pulling at the string to ring the bell. On investigation the King found that the baby calf of the cow had been run over by a chariot killing it on the spot. King found that the chariot was driven by his son . The king ordered that his sun be killed the same way the baby calf had been killed.

 Apparently there is no bell of justice hanging on the outside wall of the” Temple Trees”, and the mother elephant cannot go all that way. Where is justice to-day for the two baby elephants stolen from its mother ?

 Diyawadane Nilame is just an ordinary citizen, his office is restricted to his activities of the Temple of the Tooth. He has no prerogative right to claim any thing which belong to the government, which is ultimately the property of the people of the country. The Minister has no right over government property to do just what pleases him, no has any one the right to get a Cabinet approval for such an inhuman act, and say that a Cabinet approval cannot be changed by any one.

 The two Chief Prelates of Asgiriya and Malwatte too have unfortunately burnt their fingers over the matter. These prelates are not there to confirm, or put right the wrongs done by lay Budhists. Monks are expected to be compassionate towards ” all beings “. But unfortunately the two prelates have shown a complete lack of compassion in confirming the right of the Diyawadane Nilame to keep the baby Elephants.

 The two prelates who are considered the head of the Buddha Sasana in Sri Lanka seem to have lost their sense of vocation. They should stand against injustice where ever it had been committed, without condoning one injustice and condemning another.

 The Chief Prelates are unfortunately turning their back to where there services are needed, to defend injustice committed by the lay people who have the whole justice department to take care of their injustices. The Buddha Sasana is in a deplorable condition. The Monks act as if they have no authority over them.

 It was reported recently that a Monk has filed action against government authorities for their refusal to issue him with a driving licence. There was also a Monk accused for molesting a young woman.

 There is complete lack of discipline among the Monks studying in Universities. The Monks who are supposed to have gone away from the house hold life, thus giving up lay life are acting worse than the lay people. What have the Asgiriya Malawatte Chapters done about these regrettable situation as for as the Sasana is concerned ? These monks who do not heed Vinaya rules should be disrobed in the interest of Buddha Sasana.

 That is where the intervention of the two prelates is required , but not to settle the issue of nabbing baby elephants by the Diyawadena Nilame.

 Latest development with regard to taking away the two baby elephants is more comic than reasonable. The Minister Says that he will bring the mother elephant to Temple of the Tooth to feed her babies. The Minister may as well set up a Orphanage for Elephants in the Temple of the Tooth premises, which would make matters easier. The Two Prelates might approve of it.

 The Minister Gamini Lokuge has said that the removal of the two elephants under two years of age is a Cabinet decision and it cannot be changed. It is here that the President’s intervention is necessary not to allow the continuation of an injustice and inhuman act to hand over the baby elephants to a temple when they are better being looked after in the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, with their mother and in the company of other elephants.

 It would be a shame for the President, who is well respected by the people to hand over the two baby elephants, and the mother elephant as well as the Minister Gamini Lokuge says to the Mahanayake Theros , despite the growing displeasure of the people.

 This proposal of the Minister Gamini Lokuge shows his inability to see the reality of what is wrong and what is right. It is not the bringing of the mother elephants to the two baby elephants that is important. It would be a complete uprooting of the animals from their surrounding, the atmosphere of where they had been and the sounds and smells coming from their related beings around them. The Minister must be having a home if so he may know what it is to be at home with his loved ones. So are the animals they are happy where they are with those that are like them and love them in their way.

 If the two Prelates acted with wisdom they would have proposed Dele Bandara to return the baby elephants to Pinnawala and make a request to the authority in-charge of the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage to present the elephant to the Temple of the Tooth when they are weaned from their mothers elephant.

 This should be a lesson for the Government to look deeper into the question of wild life, “fauna and flora” and their protection by legislation. Perhaps there is a necessity for legislation to register all domesticated elephants and appoint Veterinary Doctors as Inspectors to check on these elephants to see that they are being well looked after, and enlarge the Pinnawala elephant Orphanage to take in all domesticated elephants who are not well looked after by their owners.

 Legislation is absolutely necessary to stop baby elephants from being removed from Pinnawala by any one before they have been weaned away from their mother elephants, and that too with appropriate permission from the authority concerned. It should not be left to the Chief Prelates of Asgiriya- Malwatte to set binding rules. It should also not be a cabinet decision as it is more appropriate for the Parliament to take a decision on such a matter which concerns the people, before it is put to the cabinet for approval.

 Diyawadane Nilame should be put in his place what ever relationship he has with the President, as what is unjust and wrong should be accepted as such and perpetrators punished, according to the law of the land.

 This should be made the occasion to re- establish a new Man and Elephant relationship which is just, fair and humane.

One Response to “Man and Elephants”

  1. dharmasiri Says:

    This is very true, Charles. Being a devoted Buddhist ,I agree with you 100%.
    I do not know what to say about Malwatu and Asgiriya Cheif monks, let them explain where in the Buddhist Cannon it is said that Elephants are required to carry Lord Buddha’s tooth.
    This is not a shame to Buddhism because Buddha always rejected such stupid acts carried out by untrained worldlings.
    Malwatte and Asgiriya monks should wake up from mediation with compassion to all beings and return the babies to mother, not bring mothers for milking purposes.
    Gamini Lokuge is a thug and his mother should be brought back to feed him some breast milk, so that his brain can develop. He cannot even undestarnt what is LTTE terrorism and his own terrorism against babies.

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