Sunday, March 6, 2011

A haven for elephants

The lost, orphaned and injured are well taken care of at the Uda Walawe Elephant Transit Home
The largest land animal on the planet, the elephant, is loved and adored by many of us. However, during the recent past with the increase of the population, many elephants have lost their habitats ( living spaces) and food sources. Therefore, they come to villages looking for food.
This has created a conflict between humans and elephants. A large number of elephants and humans have died as a result. Some elephants, especially baby elephants lose their parents and become orphaned. We cannot let these little ones die. Keeping this tragic situation in mind, the Department of Wild Life Conservation initiated a pilot project in 1995 to take care of the elephants that are in need of help and later release them back into the wild when they are ready.
'Ath Athuru Sevana' or the 'Elephant Transit Home' was built on a 22-hecatare land with the sole objective of saving our endangered elephants.And do you know who the first resident of this transit home was? An elephant named 'Komali',found from Meegallawa, Galgamuwa.
Today there are 43 elephants between the ages of two months to five years at this home. Since the inception, around 73 orphaned, lost or injured elephants had been found from various parts of the country .
When such elephants are brought to the home, the transit home officials take good care of them before releasing them back into the wild. So, to date 73 elephants have found their new homes in the various wild life parks such as Udawalawa, Maduruoya and Lunugamwehera. Of these, the majority had been released to Udwalwawa National Park , as it is the closest and also has enough resources for the elephants to roam and grow up freely.
"We find orphaned baby elephants from all around the country. These elephants can be orphaned due to an injury or death to the mother or as a result of straying from their herd.
Some small elephants which get along with the buffaloes in the vicinity are in the habit of walking around with these buffalo herds ," said the veterinary surgeon at the Elephant Transit Home, Dr. Udaya Kumara.
"As soon as we find these elephants , we check whether they need any emergency medication. Thereafter we take good care of them until they are strong and old enough to live on their own ," he added.
According to Dr. Kumara adult elephants are fed milk every three hours and baby elephants every two hours. A veterinary surgeon and other officials work round the clock (24 hours a day) to take care of them.
"Sometime these little elephants behave like children .They fight with each other and injure themselves . Then we need to treat them and give them medication. They also suffer from stomachaches and phlegm problems just like human babies. Therefore, we need to be vigilant about them all the time," said the senior veterinary surgeon at the home, Dr. B. Vijitha Perera.
Even though they are big in size, their behaviour and needs are very similar to those of an infant. Someone has to keep an eye on them all the time. However, it is strictly prohibited for anyone to pet these little ones, unlike at the elephant orphanage at Pinnawela.
You may think it is strange or cruel to do so because these baby elephants are so cute nad lovable. But the authorities have a very good reason for doing this.'These elephants are not going to be at the Home for their entire life. They have to be released into the wild, so they need to get used to the life in the wild. “Therefore, we make sure that human contact is at a minimum. We never pet them," said Dr. Kumara.
Once these elephants reach the age of four or five years they are released to the wild. At this point, home officials fix a radio belt or collar with a transmitter, around the neck of the elephant.
By this the officials can identify the location of these elephants once they are back in the wild.They closely monitor the elephants released from the transit home for a period of three years. During this time, their behaviour and the way they adapt to the wild is observed.
"When we release these elephants to the wild, some of them tend to return to the home, and then we have no other option than relocating them to another national park," explained Dr. Kumara.
These giants pachyderms are maintained mainly by Government funds. However, people who love elephants can contribute to the well-being of these majestic animals, threatened with extinction today.
The Elephant Transit Home also has a 'foster parent' scheme. An organization or a person too can become a foster parent to anyone of these elephants.
These foster parents pay Rs. 25,000 per month to maintain an elephant. Musaeus College, Colombo is also the foster parent to an elephant named Kanthali at the home.
The Wild Life Conservation Project of the school holds various fund-raising campaigns to collect this amount.
The public, yes even you can contribute any amount as a general donation for the development of this one and only elephant transit home we have in Sri Lanka.

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