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Elephant News June 20th – July 5th:

Large crowds, including 10-20,000 pilgrims are flocking to Kataragama to attend the two week long Kataragama Esala festival; a team of vets from the University of Peradiniya also travelled down with the MVU for the first few days of Perahera. The annual Esala Festival at the Kataragama Shrine in Sri Lanka’s southern jungle honours the variously named Kataragama God with two weeks of celebrations. The festival culminates in a spectacular performance of devotees walking over burning coals. At festival time the jungle transforms under the weight of religious frenzy. On the first night a flag-hoisting ceremony begins the festivities. Each following night, after the ritual puja, white-clad Kapurala shaman-priests perform a carefully choreographed ritual in which the Kataragama God is depicted as emerging from his Maha Devale residence.
Hundreds of devotees, dressed in their dhotis and ceremonial markings, turn up with huge earthenware vessels on their heads.
Things get more colourful towards the end of the festival with the “water-cutting” ceremony, which is enacted after the ritual puja. A holy casket is dipped in the Manica Ganga sacred river, followed by thousands of pilgrims who submerge themselves – with their arms raised and shouting “Hora Hara“. At about 4am when the river ablutions are complete, the area in front of the main temple is cleared and laboriously covered in burning tamarind firewood. Hundreds of cleansed pilgrims slowly make their way, barefoot, across the burning ash. No one is burned.

Plans are underway to extend Yala Sanctuary, home to many of Sri Lankas wild elephants;  to include enhanced facilities for the public. The Minister of Agrarian Services and Wildlife, S M Chandrasena visited the Yala Sanctuary to initiate the development programme of the new zone. The infrastructure of the protected zone including roads, bridges and common amenities would be developed under the proposed programme. The minister said he decided to improve the facilities in the Yala Sanctuary to make it one of the chief tourist attractions in the South. Zone 2 of the Yala Sanctuary which is about 34540 acres in extent is home to wild elephants, deer, sambhur, and many other species of wild animals.

Sadly another wild elephant has fallen victim to the ongoing human-elephant conflict, he was found dead in a paddy field, a little distance away from the Grama Niladhari’s office in the Maradankadawala area. A wildlife officer  of the area, S M Heenbanda who examined the carcass said he noticed gunshot injuries near the left ear of the elephant. He said the well-grown bull elephant was between 25-30 years of age. The veterinary surgeon of the Anuradhapura Wildlife Range, Dr Chandana Jayasinghe was scheduled to visit the scene to perform the post-mortem examination. The Anuradhapura Wildlife Ranger, T R Pradeep and the OIC Kekirawa police, Kapila Abeynayake are conducting inquiries to arrest the individual who shot the animal.

The project that we volunteers are working on in Habarana is focused on reducing the impact of the human-elephant conflict.  Many elephants are displaced due to human settlements, farming, deforestation, etc.  These wild animals are now posing a threat to themselves and the villages that have been built along elephant corridors (migratory paths).  The most recent development came on Saturday 18th of June when 3 elephants were hit by a train travelling from Anuradhapura to Colombo.  All three died after the collision near Ambanpola. MEF is working to reduce injuries and death tolls on both sides of the equation with their educational work.


Closer to home, at the nearby Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage, a baby elephant drowned on June 4th in the river.  Reports state that the elephant became trapped after being trampled by an older elephant and despite bystander warnings, mahouts at the river failed to take action.  The missing calf was discovered later when a headcount was taken.


On a more positive note, an elephant holding ground is being created to relocate elephants who have been trapped in conflict with local villages. Elephants will be located far from human settlements in comfortable areas.  This comes after startling statistics that have been released by the Wildlife Department, revealing that “during the past five months, some 85 elephants have been killed and several other elephants injured while more than six people had been killed as a result of elephant attacks.”