Kaudulla the New Theatre of Jumbos

Sri Lanka has always been in the limelight as an ideal destination to see Jumbos in their natural habitat. There are a handful of wild life sanctuaries in Sri Lanka with a moderate population of elephants in each one among other species of animals.

Historically Kaudulla was one of the 16 Irrigation Tanks built by King Mahasenwho ruled the country from 277 to 304 AD. After being abandoned for decades,the reservoir was fortified in Year 2002 as a result of a number of initiatives taken by the authorities to preserve wildlife. Elephants hither-to had been a specie facing extinction due to human activities such as deforestation, poaching and felling of trees. Kaudulla National Park which came into being in year 2002 is now a hotspot to see large gatherings of elephants in South Asia.

As the extents of forests keep narrowing as a result of aggressive encroachmentby human specially the farming community, the elephants had been pushed backthus triggering a never ending tussle what is notoriously known as a human-elephant conflict. On one hand stories of elephants rampaging into human settlements, trampling crops and devastating houses and at times killing the inhabitants have been among the news more often than not. On the other, the inhabitants of areas vulnerable to elephant attacks have as a tactic to preempt such threats gone on elephant killing sprees by resorting to illegal methods such as poisoning them or using various kinds of illegal weapons. One way or the other the conflict is widening with the authorities too running out of measures to arrest the situation.

Notwithstanding aggressions by both the elephants and human affected by this ongoing tragedy the perennial bond that exists between elephants and human remains unchallenged. Whenever the slightest opportunity arises, Sri Lankans love to make it to elephant parks to see the jumbos in their natural habitat. Embarking on an elephant trail poses a certain amount of threat as everyone loves to get as much closer to the elephants to enjoy seeing them. It certainly is very hard to read the minds of these normally peaceful animals as a tiny noise made by elephant watchers or an attitudinal change on the part of an elephant may result in chaos. The beauty is that still people take the risk to see elephants and elephants too love them being seen.

Our family too in the month of September 2019 took a break from our busy routines to go on a wildlife tour. One of our close friends Aruna, a National Tour Guide Lecturer by profession recommended us to visit Kaudulla saying that we could witness a large concentration of elephants if we considered ourselves very lucky.

The truck, we call it the Safari Jeep, took us on a bumpy track engulfed in clouds of dust generated by about 200 vehicles those entered Kaudulla Park within aspan of only 2 hours. For a moment my memories ran back to the years I spent inthe Middle East where sandstorms with zero visibility were a very common scene.After absorbing so much of dust over a period of nearly 20 years I worked there in extreme conditions, enduring the same ordeal for just two hours for a worthy cause was simply a good headache to have.

As our vehicle suddenly emerged from shrubs to an open area overlooking the Kaudulla Tank, we were encountered by a large gathering of elephants that literally surrounded us from every side. Everybody was whispering ‘Shh’ inviting silence and to keep our fingers crossed to see what was happening next. The tracker cum driver kept calming us in an effort to dispel any doubt that we had that we may come under attack. For him this was just a daily routine.

The real excitement began when the group of mighty elephants advanced to be within inches close to us. They posed and flapped their ears nonchalantlysuggesting that they were not bothered by our presence. They never even intheir wildest thoughts meant to harm us setting an example for ruthless elephant poachers who would resort to any evil act to kill a tusker just by the sight only to collect its tusks and sell them for a song. The way the mother elephants formed a circle to protect their babies to give protection teaches a fine lesson to parents who breed for sexual pleasure and kill their children later to avenge their life partners or when finding it difficult to feed them.

We never felt feared as the elephants instilled a feeling of safety in our minds.The elephants must be fully tired of people who come to see them. As I said in the beginning what these harmless animals are trying to portray is a perennial love towards human being and given the mighty contribution that the elephants

have made in providing a life-line to hundreds of safari operators across Elephant and Wild Life Parks around the country, should we mercilessly kill them for a pair of tusks or bow them for the exemplary manner in which they keep promoting co-existence and harmony.

M H Liyanage

E-Mail: lee@naturetrailsunawatuna.com