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1  Latest News Updates / Local Nature News / Re: Search for Sri Lanka’s biggest tusker is launched on: January 27, 2011, 04:55:08 pm
Road to Raja opens other doors-Sunday Times
The initial idea for this endeavour came to me in September last year, when I was talking to my one-time colleague, and now elephant researcher in his own right, Ashoka Rajeeva, about elephants and the Uda Walawe park (one of our favourite topics! ). Ashoka mentioned in passing, that we had not sighted ‘Walawe Raja’ that year (2010).

Now, for those who yet may not be aware, “Walawe Raja” is a majestic tusker in the prime of his life, who frequents the Uda Walawe National Park (UWNP) usually during the drought period, (July to October each year), when he appears suddenly to spend about 2-3 months in the park. Often he is in musth, and spends his time searching out receptive females in herds. No one really knows where he disappears to the rest of the time.

Over the years, one of his tusks had been damaged, and he is thus now easily identifiable. He was the star of a film shot for the BBC/Discovery by Mike Birkhead and Toby Sinclair in early 2000, titled ‘The Last Tusker’.

Raja’s popularity had grown over the years. His majesty is not only due to his physique (although he is heavily built, he carries many scars and bullet wounds), nor his tusks (which are reasonably big, but with one broken one now, does not beat any records) – unlike the late and great Parakrama-the Siyabalanduwa tusker ( who had the most perfect physique, and beautiful long tusks) who met with an untimely death recently.

Raja is majestic because of his regal demeanour. He was the ‘King of Uda Walawe’ and he clearly knew it, and behaved as such. There are hardly any reports of any altercations with him and visitors on record. He considered visitors and their jeeps unworthy of his time, and often cast only a disdainful glance at the ‘intruders’.

Hence it was worrying that he had not made his appearance in 2010. Inquiries from UWNP and DWLC officials, and trackers also elicited the same concern. So my son Dimitri and I decided that ‘someone needed to do something’ about this. We began the ‘Find Raja’ project knowing we were taking on an almost impossible task, much like looking for a needle (albeit a very large one in the shape of Raja ) in a haystack, not really knowing what the elephant’s normal home range was.

Identifying the initial study area
The area north-east/ north -west of the UWNP is surrounded by village hamlets and dense forests. It is presumed that Raja’s home range extends to this area because he is always sighted for the first time during his periodic visits, in this area, which leads many to believe that he uses these ‘corridors’ to move in and out of the park. Research has indicated that home ranges for Sri Lankan male elephants can be in the order of 100-200 sq km ( Fernando. P; Wickramanayake.E ; et al 2007). However, it must be borne in mind that home range fidelity is dependent on varied factors such weather, food resources, and most importantly in this case, sexual condition. ( Raja is a fully grown male in the prime of his life and regularly comes into musth). Hence there is a fair amount of ‘guest-imation’ in deciding on the study area.

The methodology and plan
The plan was to traverse the outer boundary of the north-east/north and north-western park, and talk to as many villagers as possible, showing them photo identity kits of Raja to see if there were recent sightings. They were also given a card (M/s Mercury Print from Ratmalana printed them free) with our hotline so that they could ring up if they had any sightings.

Thanks to some generous donors, I set up a small team at Uda Walawe. A young undergraduate from the area Udaya Sameera, and my old friend who worked with me earlier Kapila, formed the core field team, with Ashoka and Dimitri providing additional expertise. Nishantha, from Grizzly Safaris Uda Walawe, provided the transport, with his trusty World War 11 vintage jeep, which could take on many a terrain that the more modern 4- wheel drives would ‘fear to tread’.

Hans Wijayasuriya, CEO of Dialog offered to help with the IT and connectivity from base camp, which was most welcome, and we were ready to roll in November.

The objectives we set ourselves were-
To undertake a quick search and investigation in the surrounding regions of the north eastern and north western side of UWNP, to try and ascertain whether there have been any recent sightings of Raja, and thereby try to locate him.
The progress of the work to be publicized and highlighted on an on-going basis. In doing so we hoped that more focus and attention will be on the plight of wild elephants in Sri Lanka and the urgent need to take some cohesive action immediately to halt their deaths in the wild.
The expected outcomes were-

-Find Raja ‘hale and hearty’ ( best outcome)
-Find Raja injured ( launch rescue mission with the DWLC)
-Find Raja dead ( worst outcome)
-Not find any trace of Raja, dead or alive ( at least we tried)
-Raja suddenly turns up in the park ( Hurray! )
-As it is, at the closure of the project in end December, we had not found Raja. While I am sad and possibly fear the worst for Raja, I am still happy that I was able to achieve the second objective to a great extent.

Peripheral achievements
With the Sunday Times supporting the project and running a column each Sunday, it generated much interest among the public in general. Dimitri’s IT knowledge was utilized to set up our blog (http://findraja.srilankaelephant.com) and related facebook group which surpassed all our expectations. It was my first ever experience with ‘blogging’ and updating a facebook group, and I was simply astonished at the power of these social networking mechanisms. We have a list of ardent followers, and today, the site seems to have grown and expanded in its scope, and is now a central ‘gathering’ point for the dissemination and comments on the state of Sri Lankan elephants.

So on the second count; I think we have done pretty well. We are now in fact considering ways and means of keeping the blog alive, although the Raja project has drawn to a close.

On the ground, we were able to talk to, and sensitize some 150 villagers in the area about elephants and the need to somehow prevent calamity befalling them. During the initial stages we were often met with good-humoured curiosity, as the ‘crazy city dwellers driving around in the hot sun looking for an elephant’. But as time went by, they appreciated our efforts and supported us, judging by the number of hotline calls we received of tusker sightings. Very few were hoaxes, though we had to sift through typical Sri Lankan over-enthusiasm (all in good faith of course), to sometimes arrive at the correct picture.
If we had gone by all our ‘reports’ we would have recorded some 5-6 Rajas, and another 10 – 12 tuskers in the area, some with 6 foot long tusks!!!

But there was no doubt that there have been at least two reasonably accurate sightings of what could be Raja, in the Rathanagama/Hambegamuwa ( north-east) areas. But the issue was that they were old sightings (more than six weeks old at that time). No sightings have been reported of late.

We also concluded that there seems to be at least two more adult tuskers in the Kalthota range, who can be sometimes sighted from the foothills below. (We hope to mount an excursion as soon as the rains cease to further investigate this.)

Our hotline will be kept open for a month or two more, just in case we hear of something. Even today we still have a few villagers who call us and inquire as to whether we have found Raja.

So the ‘crazy city dwellers’ may have in some way helped some of these villagers to think of elephants in a different way.

Unexpected situations
We spent two and a half months looking for a live elephant, but saw more dead elephants. To see these once gentle giants, lying spread-eagled and bloated, stiff in rigor mortis, with maggots crawling all over them, or burning slowly at a way side cremation, was heart wrenching.

We also came into contact with the on-going protests against the newly proposed elephant corridor at Dahagala. Scientists and the DWLC believe that this corridor is essential to allow for the movement of elephants in the area, and the Supreme Court has ruled that the fence must be installed.

But there is a well-organized protest campaign by certain local leaders, blocking the erecting of this fence. The grapevine has it that opening of this route for elephants will disrupt some of the nefarious activities that are being conducted in the area. In any other country this will be tantamount to contempt of court, but then…this is Sri Lanka. Our team beat a hasty retreat from the area, as we did not want to be embroiled in this controversy.

The Uda Walawe National Park
Today the UWNP has grown in popularity, both amongst Sri Lankans and tourists, and is without doubt, the easiest and most convenient location in Sri Lanka to view wild elephants all year around. During the time I was conducting my field study (2003) under the auspices of the US Fish& Wild Life Services at UWNP, I concluded that the park had a population of some 300 -350 elephants. However emerging research ( Silva.S.& Ranjeeva.A 2007 ongoing) indicates that there could be up to 800 elephants in UWNP. Of course, a good proportion could be transient ‘visitors’ who use the northern “corridors” to move out of the Park periodically.

Visitors are guaranteed of good sightings at any time of the year. In fact today, there many elephants who have learnt to solicit food from passers-by by staying at the electric fence along the Thanamalwila road. So one does not even have to go into the park to see elephants at Uda Walawe! I noticed this phenomenon in early 2000 when it was only‘ Rambo’ who frequented the fence, and wrote about it, warning of the possible dangers of this activity.

Today, Rambo is still there, but he has a host of other companions, sometimes numbering up to twenty!

The park boasted of four adult tuskers- Raja, Sumedha, Asoka and the Kalthota tusker, all non-resident. Of this foursome, Asoka met with a very suspicious death with gunshot injuries inside the park a few years ago. With the Kalthota tusker’s visits becoming infrequent, it was thus only Raja and Sumedha dominating the park.

Up until last year when Raja went missing, Sumedha’s movements were limited, as he always played second fiddle to Raja, although he is also a well-built mature tusker.

It may be my imagination, but of late Sumedha has been seen quite frequently in the park. Like Raja he visits the park when he is in musth. Now clearly in post-musth, he is still around in the park. Could it be that he senses Raja’s absence, and feels more confident that he is the new King of UWNP?

UWNP has a reasonably well balanced healthy population of elephants. The park does not have any major problems due to encroachment or poaching. If adequate and careful park management and habitat improvement is undertaken, then, while we see the gradual demise of the wild elephants in other parts of the country due to the serious human elephant conflict, UWNP could be Sri Lanka’s future ‘last bastion’ of the Sri Lanka elephant.

This was epitomized by a unique and most wonderful sighting at UWNP just a few days ago, as a mother emerged from the bushes with her newly born calf( less than two weeks old) to calmly walk across the road in front of us, with complete trust. A truly memorable moment, to be cherished for a long time.

Conclusion
At the end of the day, the ‘bottom line’ is that we did not find Walawe Raja. We are not sure what fate has befallen him. But I am happy that despite the constraints, we ‘got out of our armchairs,’ and tried.
Was all the effort worth it, for one single elephant?

Yes….an emphatic Yes! Raja is an icon, a flagship. By focussing attention on him, I think we have been able to generate interest and understanding about the plight that has befallen Sri Lankan elephants.
I still hope and pray, that one day, as I drive around in the UWNP, and turn a corner, that I will be greeted by the once familiar lumbering shape of Raja, as he nonchalantly walks up to my vehicle, as he has done many times before.


Srilal Miththapala looks back at the ‘Find Raja’ project
2  General Chat / Conservation / The Year to Save Forests, Bats and Biodiversity - Sunday Times on: January 27, 2011, 04:44:06 pm
Kids, we have just stepped into the New Year 2011. Do you remember that the past year 2010 was the International Year of Biodiversity..?

Naming a year for an important cause is a way used by the United Nations to pay more attention to that cause. But from recent years, there is more focus on Environment and taking the trend forward, UN has taken steps to dedicate 2011 for many environmental causes.

If you are curious to know more about these and be active partners in protecting the environment, keep on reading..!! Your favourite friends, Puncha & Panchie too will meet you in 2011 to explore more on biodiversity. So keep an eye on Funday Times and take a vow to do your part in 2011 to save our Forests, Bats and Biodiversity..!!

Wishing a happy new year to all the kids…!!

International Year of Forests
Forests are very important habitats of the earth with an estimated 80% of land based animals and plants living in them. United Nations named 2011 as the International Year of Forests with the aim of raising awareness, strengthening sustainable forest management and protecting them for future
generations.

It is estimated that about 60% of the earth’s land area was once covered by forests. But due to the need of lands for agriculture, town houses, mining and logging, these forests are cut down. Now the global forest cover is only about 30%, but deforestation still continues. In Sri Lanka the present closed canopy forest cover has reduced to 22% of the land area.

During the Forest Year, try to visit at least a forest such as Sinharaja or Knuckles with your parents and experience the diversity in
them…!!

Focal point: United Nation’s Forum on Forests.

Decade of Biodiversity
Year 2010 has been the Year of Biodiversity, but recognizing the importance of paying more attention, the next decade starting from 2011 is also nominated as the Decade of Biodiversity by United Nations.

Biological Diversity is the difference between all the living things in the world. But due to many reasons, animals and plants are pushed toward extinction. World leaders are planning many things in order to protect earth’s valued biodiversity.

Focal point: UN Secretary General's office

The Year of Bats
The Year of Bats The bat is one of the planet's most misunderstood and mistreated mammals, so United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) together with the Convention of Migratory Species (CMS) has launched a two-year campaign to raise awareness on bats starting from 2011.

There are more than 1,100 bat species around the world. Insectivorous bats eat insects that can harm crops, so it is a friend of the farmers. When these bats decline in number, demands for dangerous pesticides grow, as does the cost of growing crops like rice.

Fruit and nectar-eating bats are equally important in maintaining whole ecosystems of plant life. In fact, their seed dispersal and pollination services are crucial to the regeneration of rain forests which are the lungs and rain makers of our planet.

Some bats must be visiting your garden too. Observe these creatures of the night carefully from a distance when you see them next time.

Focal point: UNEP and CMS

International Year of Chemistry
International Year of Chemistry 2011 is also the International Year of Chemistry. The goals of IYC2011 are to increase the public appreciation of chemistry in meeting world needs, to encourage interest in chemistry among young people, and to generate enthusiasm for the creative future of chemistry.

Chemistry meets the global challenges of clean air, safe water, healthy food, eco-friendly products, renewable energy etc. So even though the Year of Chemistry is not a direct environment theme, this will also touch the environment.

By Malaka Rodrigo

3  General Chat / Conservation / Drowning in mindless sand-mining - Sunday Observer on: January 27, 2011, 04:37:20 pm
The degradation is fast and furious not due to natural causes but wilfully man-made with scant regard for the consequences. While it is happening all over the country, the main focus seems to be the Maha Oya which falls into the sea north of Negombo, with prohibitions being violated with impunity.

Sand-mining with gay abandon is the culprit, the Sunday Times understands, even though the highest court in the land, seeing the irreversible damage of this man-made threat had brought in not only conditions but also prohibitions.

On the pretext of feeding the apparent construction boom, unscrupulous people are brazenly violating the conditions and prohibitions of the Supreme Court and over-exploiting this resource, lamented environmentalists. The cost to the country cannot be gauged in simple terms, they pointed out.

The Maha Oya, rising in the Kandy-Nawalapitiya area, flows 125 km through the Kegalle and Negombo districts. It is one of the 103 rivers in the country, classified as one of the 36 major river basins. Its important ecosystems include estuaries, coastal wetlands, inlets and beaches.

How and why has this situation arisen? The contributory factor for the floodgates of sand to open has been the non-compliance by the Geological Survey and Mines Bureau (GSMB) of standard requirements, other environmentalists alleged. Anyone seeking to mine or transport sand for commercial purposes has to obtain a licence from the GSMB.

The GSMB is renewing the licences of so-called traditional sand-miners without carrying out an assessment of the availability of sand. The sustainability factor is not being looked at and this has led to illegal sand-mining in unauthorized areas, an environmentalist explained.

The GSMB is not monitoring sand-mining or its transport and thus it is happening on all days, whereas earlier mining was allowed only on certain days of the week, with artisan mining falling by the wayside and certain types of mechanized mining using suckers being carried out, another pointed out.

Artisan or manual mining is carried out by miners wading into the water or dropping down from barges and extracting sand by using baskets or buckets. This is in contrast to mechanized mining where heavy machinery such as backhoes is used to dig out large tracts of sand, the Sunday Times understands.
Fortunately, mechanized sand-mining is still prohibited, another said, and the urgent need is to crack down on the use of suckers etc.

A strong indictment of the situation at Maha Oya comes in the form of a 'Monitoring Report' compiled by the Environmental Foundation Limited (EFL). River sand-mining has been observed all over the Maha Oya, points out the report on observations from September 1, 2009 to as close as January 10, this year, stating that sand-mining is being carried out even on days where it is not allowed.

The report on the status of the Maha Oya comes on the instructions of the Supreme Court with reference to an ongoing case. Illegal mining activities are being carried out within the first kilometre from the river mouth and one km on both sides of the Kochchikade bridge, the Sunday Times learns, despite strict prohibitions.

The no-mining zone, 500 metres on both sides of the Maha Oya from the Bambukuliya water intake, declared by the GSMB, is being violated at will, with illegal mining taking place. This no-mining zone was declared after realizing the devastation that would follow if the Bambukuliya water storage tank collapses due to such activity, an environmentalist pointed out. It is from this storage tank that water is provided to vast areas such as the Katunayake Free Trade Zone.

The team has also observed a number of sand and clay mined pits, some still in operation and others abandoned, both contiguous to the river and inland. The pits varied from one-acre extents to as huge as 140 acres, with depths going down from 5 feet to 40 feet.

"Some pits are in no-mining zones within the first km from the river mouth," pointed out an EFL spokesperson. "An analysis of the water quality of pits even further away indicated salinity even though they were located inland 2-2.5 km from the sea."

Ironically, an abandoned mine-pit has become the official garbage dump of the Negombo Municipal Council, further jeopardizing not only the riverine ecosystem but also people's health, it is learnt.
Referring to the "meanders" (bends) of the Maha Oya, the report states that Jambugaswatte, the first meander downstream, though a no-mining zone is severely degraded. "Sand-mining is ongoing in the river and the adjacent land area," said a Monitoring Team member. "This has changed the direction of the river flow, resulting in hydrology changes and reducing the productivity of the land due to water-filled mining pits."

Mukkama, the second meander after Jambugaswatte, has fared no better - the Maha Oya has changed direction drastically, due to unplanned and irregular river and inland mining, causing massive degradation, it is understood.

A major concern expressed by another environmentalist is the move by the GSMB to increase the quota of sand that the Divisional Secretariats could authorize for non-commercial use. Earlier, the Divisional Secretariats in the area could grant permits for the mining of only a total of 100 cubes of sand each per month, with individuals being able to apply for a maximum of two cubes each. But now the Divisional Secretariat's quota has been increased to 200 cubes per month, the environmentalist said. "This will see a splurge of activity, not only from unrestricted areas but also no-mining zones."

It is high time that relevant departments carried out a well-grounded comprehensive study of river sand-mining effects so that the nation can understand the actual long-term impacts of turning a blind eye to what is really a national disaster, urged the Chair of the Sri Lanka Water Partnership and NetWwater, Kusum Athukorala.

Pointing out that advocacy against illicit river sand-mining is carried out by concerned civil society groups and affected community groups, but this issue affects the whole nation, Ms. Athukorala stressed that illicit river sand-mining is eroding our national investment in rural infrastructure such as roads, irrigation systems and water supply schemes.

Meanwhile, numerous attempts by the Sunday Times to contact the Director-General of the GSMB or any high official proved futile.

Dangers of river sand-mining
An important threat from sand-mining is coastal erosion which leaves in its wake loss of habitats, loss of ecosystems and their services and loss of productive land. The beach from the Maha Oya going upto Waikkal, Wellamankara and Lansigama, a stretch of about 13 km, is considered the most eroded coastal area in the whole of Sri Lanka. The maximum local retreat rate of about 12 metres per year has been observed here, with the average coastal erosion being only 0.5 metres per year.

Salt-water intrusion - the depletion of sand in the river-bed causes the deepening of the river and estuaries and the lowering of the river-bed leads to salt water from the sea coming into the river. Excess salinity in the river water will alter the riverine environment, affecting the flora and fauna, destroying some species, reducing biodiversity and endangering ecosystem services.

Lack of bedload of sand to replenish the equilibrium of the coast, as it is the sediment that is transported by rivers that is deposited there. In this case it is the Maha Oya which is the main river that transports sediment to the Kochchikade-Chilaw beach stretch.



By Kumudini Hettiarachchi

4  Latest News Updates / Local Nature News / Uda Walawe sluice gates reopened on: December 30, 2010, 05:03:31 pm
The sluice gates of the Uda Walawe reservoir were re-opened once again as the reservoir was spilling for the second time after two years, Uda-Walawe Irrigation Engineer Thilak Ranasinghe told the Daily News. He added that the other reservoirs including Urusita Wewa, Chandrika Wewa, Andara Wewa and Kiri-Ibban Wewa in the Uda-Walawe Zone have reached spill level due to heavy rain experienced in the area.

Meanwhile, over 3,000 acres cultivated with subsidiary food crops such as green gram, cowpea and ground nuts have been devastated due to this situation, Uda Walawe Zone farmer organisations said.

Daily News
5  Latest News Updates / Local Nature News / All zones at Yala open from Jan 1 on: December 30, 2010, 05:01:42 pm
All zones in the Yala National Park will be opened for local and foreign tourists from January 1, said Agrarian Services and Wildlife Minister S M Chandrasena.

He said earlier only Zone 1 of the park was opened for tourists due to the conflict. "Now that terrorism has been wiped out and peace has returned to the country, my Ministry has arranged to open the entire park for the benefit of visitors," Chandrasena said. The Minister who disclosed this at a press conference held after an inspection tour of the Yala National Park and the Uda Walawa Elephant transit home, said with the opening of the Magampura Port and the Mattala International Airport more tourists are expected to visit the Yala National park.

He said his Ministry hoped to develop the park into an international standard to cater to the expected high tourist traffic.

Chandrasena also thanked the security forces and police for weeding out terrorists from the park and making it safe for visitors.

Ministry Secretary Udeni Wickramasinghe and Wildlife Director General Chandrawansa Pathiraja were also associated with the Minister during the tour.

Daily News
6  Latest News Updates / Local Nature News / Wildlife Dept goes hi-tech to detect illegal activities on: December 30, 2010, 05:00:26 pm
The Wildlife Conservation Department introduced a Protected Area Habitat Health Management System which involves organized periodical patrolling system with new technologies such as Remote Sensing, Geo-Informatics (GIS), Global Positioning Systems (GPS) and Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) to detect illegal activities in jungles.

The Department trained its first batch of specially trained wildlife patrolling group from December 11 to 14 with a real life practical component including three days patrol operation.

The trainees were equipped with knowledge in satellite based remote sensing, geo-informatics for law enforcement, global positioning system (GPS) and navigation and use of VHF radio systems in law enforcement. The e-law enforcement facilitation and intelligence management system which is in the process of development was used at its rudimentary stage. It was able to pinpoint the locations of illegal activities.

Daily News
7  Nature Article & Trip Report / Nature/Travel Destination / Re: Trincomalee on: December 30, 2010, 04:58:12 pm
i have Plan visit trinco Nest Month,
8  Latest News Updates / Local Nature News / Tusker tragedy prompts calls for safer transportation - Sunday Times on: December 02, 2010, 03:05:47 pm
Newly appointed Minister of Wildlife, S.M. Chandrasena, at a meeting on Friday afternoon, instructed his officials to ensure that elephants are transported in spacious vehicles, without endangering their lives, following the tragedy that befell a tusker last week.

The Minister has also called in the Criminal Investigations Department (CID) to investigate the circumstances surrounding the death of the tusker while being translocated from one area in Galgamuwa, in Anuradhapura District, to another.

Mr. Chandrasena said that initial reports suggest that the tusker’s legs had broken through the floorboard of the truck in which the animal was being transported. The elephant was about 40 years old and about nine feet in height, with tusks over 5 ft in length.

A team comprising Dr. Basil Alexander of the Peradeniya Veterinary Faculty and Dr. Nihal Wedasinghe, Director-Health Department, North Central Province, reported that death was caused by the animal’s body repeatedly thrashing on the lorry, which caused damage to his heart.



It was earlier reported that this elephant had attacked four men, killing one and severely injuring the other three and had also destroyed some houses in the Dalpathagama in the Galgamuwa area.
Wildlife Department officials including Dr Tharaka Prasad, an experienced vet and the zonal officer C. Jayasinghe had launched on Monday the operation to capture the tusker for relocation.

The elephant had been tranquilized and was being taken to another location on Tuesday, when it had started attacking the vehicle with its tusks, which resulted in a gaping hole.

Though the animal was freed of the ropes securing it, it had not got off the vehicle. Instead, the animal had struggled drooling from its mouth, and around night time it had died. Villagers who witnessed the tusker’s demise, claim that, Wildlife officials were unable to take speedy action to rescue the animal.
“May be, they too did not have the resources to do that, but the reality is that the animal suffered,” a villager said.

Though Wildlife Department vets have been complaining of the shortcomings over the last few months, no remedial measures had been forthcoming they say.

The elephant, however, was given a fitting burial with religious observances by monks and the participation of the villagers.

Additional reporting by Athula Bandara


By Hiran Priyankara Jayasinghe
9  Latest News Updates / Local Nature News / Rare in life, rarity in death - Sunday Times on: December 02, 2010, 03:02:42 pm
               
There are few elephants that can literally take your breath away. ‘Parakrama’, named after King Parakramabahu the Great, is one of them. It was the fourth day, and the last opportunity to get a glimpse of this elusive but magnificent tusker. We had gone on foot with great trepidation, through scrub jungle, on information given by villagers, along an elephant corridor.               
               
“Through dense jungle we arrived at an open area, where, in the distance was a tank with hardly any water. From the bund, I could see an elephant hovering within the thick jungle canopy. My only hope was that it would be the tusker. I hid behind a tree. Due to weight constrains for the hard trek, I was armed only with a 70-200mm f2.8 lens. Within a few minutes the elephant emerged. It was indeed the tusker.               
               
“My heart stopped, as I saw the magnificent tusks shining dully, their full length hidden by the foliage. This was undoubtedly the largest tusker I had ever seen in this country. I felt so fortunate to see this animal. It was amazing how he had survived all these years, but was pleasantly reminded that its elusiveness and difficulty to track, was the very reason it was still alive.”               
               
This is what I recorded earlier this year. On Wednesday, I heard the tusker was to be relocated, but never did I expect another call early the following morning, to hear of its death. The very fact that a majestic creature like this was roaming the jungles of Sri Lanka, was something all Sri Lankans would have been proud of, as its tusks were longer than even most African elephants’. I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to photograph this elusive elephant.               
               
The tusker population in this country is minimal, and this particular tusker was no ordinary one, just like the Kumana crossed tusker, who became a victim of a poacher. Animals like this are irreplaceable, and, as nature lovers, all we can ask of the concerned authorities is to come up with a mechanism to ensure the remaining tuskers that are still roaming the jungles in our beautiful isle, be protected, as they are indeed national treasures.               
               
We urge the authorities to engage interested corporate bodies, organisations and individuals who will willingly contribute the required resources for the success of this endeavour. The Sri Lankan elephant, which is a distinct sub species of the Asian elephant, is only found in our country, which all of us should value, and not take for granted.      

         
10  Latest News Updates / Local Nature News / Re: Search for Sri Lanka’s biggest tusker is launched on: December 02, 2010, 02:59:44 pm
No Raja…but there’s Sumedha..!”   - Sunday Times
         
Srilal Miththapala writes of the continuing search for the Uda Walawe Park’s elusive tusker               
This week was a quiet one. The proposed, concerted effort to launch a series of field investigations in the area where we had received several reports of sightings of a tusker who fitted Raja’s description, did not materialize.               
               
Firstly Dr. Vijitha Perera, Wildlife Veterinarian, Department of Wildlife Conservation, who was to give us some guidance was called to Colombo for some urgent meetings and then dispatched to Giritale for a few days. So he was not in UWNP the whole of last week.               
               
Secondly heavy rains hampered our travel even within the park itself. So we postponed our activities for next week. As indicated last week, we believe the main focus of our search should now be in the north-eastern side, just outside the park boundary, where there are many reports of elephant sightings, as well as of a mature tusker with a short tusk. This includes the village hamlets of Gomagala and Rathabalagama in the Hambegamuwa area.               
               
In the meantime we continue to sight Sumedha, the ‘No 2 ‘ tusker of the park, within the park. It has been recorded that Sumedha also comes into the park when he comes into musth, which seems to be slightly later than Raja’s cycle. While there have been many occasions before, where both of them have been sighted in the park together, the ‘pecking order’ is obvious. Sumedha takes flight whenever Raja arrives on the scene, and is always submissive in Raja’s presence, although he is a mature tusker himself in prime condition, albeit a few years Raja’s junior. So this year it seems rather odd to see Sumeda, now clearly in post musth, still around in the park.               
               
Could it be that he senses the absence of Raja, and now feels more confident that he is the King of UWNP? All details of work done so far, with reports, video clips, pictures and maps can be found on our blog http://findraja.srilankaelephant.com/blog/. (Read extracts of Dr Vijitha Perera’s forthcoming book entitled ’10 years with Wild Elephants’ where he devotes a full chapter to Raja on our blog)               
               
Post script: A few hours after I penned this report, I heard of the tragic death of the tusker that was being translocated by the DWLC. In spite of repeated calls from renowned elephant scientists such as Dr. Preethiviraj Fernando and Dr. Devaka Weerakoon that translocation is not a solution to the human elephant conflict, the DWLC continues this short sighted ‘quick fix’ solution.               
               
With inadequately trained personnel, and poor resources, translocation of such large animals are fraught with danger…and in this case resulted in a gruesome death of one of the already rapidly dwindling tuskers in Sri Lanka.               
               
It breaks my heart and shatters my spirit. While a few of us, with meagre resources and funds, are trying desperately to locate another magnificent tusker, Walawe Raja, is this how the DWLC is protecting these animals?   

11  Latest News Updates / Local Nature News / Re: Search for Sri Lanka’s biggest tusker is launched on: December 02, 2010, 02:54:32 pm

Joining in the search for Walwe Raja ...!!! (Sunday Times)

The Sunday Times has joined in the search for ‘Walwe Raja’ the iconic tusker whose non-appearance in the Uda Walawe Park this year has caused wildlife lovers great concern.Here Srilala Miththapala, the conservationist behind the  ‘Find Raja’ project reports on his field trip of November  4th/5th as the team continues the search

The field trip was a gruelling, exhausting, productive, frustrating and eventful ..all rolled up in one !!!
The main objective of the trip was to meet up with senior ranger of the Department of Wild life Conservation ( DWLC) who has reportedly heard about Raja. This was told to me by the park warden, Prasantha.  So Dimitri and I decided to make the trip, to check this fairly reliable lead ourselves. 
We arrived at base camp at Uda Walaww (UW)and climbed into our World War II vintage Defender, with the pint sized, but very experienced driver Kapila at the wheel, and set off eastwards along the main Thanamalwilla road towards the Mau-ara  DWLC ‘beat’ office, where the ranger was waiting for us. We reached the turn off, and drove northwards into the park and collected Gunawardene, our guide for the day. He has had over 30 years’ experience in the Department, serving about 10 years in the Kalthota area ( north of UW).  Like all experienced DWLC rangers he had many a story to tell, and kept us entertained right throughout the trip!


Since we had a DWLC official on board now, we were able to cut thro’ the UWNP, instead of going all the way around the eastern boundary.  (see map below).  We had to ‘open’ up the electric fence ( by removing the removable  insulated link of the fence) and get into the park. We travelled along the Mau-ara road and as we reached the park main road, and lo and behold, we were confronted with some 30 odd  elephants crossing the road.  It was obviously about three herds who were together with about 5 juveniles.

We had to reluctantly move on, since watching elephants inside the park was not our primary aim today. We travelled towards Pokunutenna, and passed the new bungalow that had been built there. It seemed a bit out of the way, and long distance from the entrance.  A little further, just at the border of the park boundary we came across a sad sight. It was a month-old carcass of a dead mature elephant   lying on its side.  Gunawardene  told us that it had died after gunshot injuries sustained outside the park.


We once again ‘opened up’ the wire fence at the Pokunutenne  ‘gate ‘ and  moved out of the UWNP and drove along the narrow bund.  We got on to the road coming from Hambegamuwa and passed Aluthwewe  and proceeded northwards to Medabedda, which was close to Gunarwardene’s home, where he had heard of a tusker sighting. We spent a long while talking to the villagers in the area who were quite adamant that some elephants were habituating the area along with a tusker. We also visited the Kalthota DWLC office, and heard more about elephants in the Weli-oya area with confident reports of two tuskers in the vicinity. The villagers wanted us to come and stay a night to try and spot the elephants.
We bought ourselves some rice and curry packets at a wayside boutique, and started off on our second leg of the journey to Handagiriya.  By no  a thunderstorm had developed and the going was tough, compounded by the fact that the trusty old Defender had an apology for a set of wipers, and a tarpaulin cover that unloaded buckets of accumulated rainwater from  the hood, each time the vehicle braked! So it was a soggy and rather motley crew that finally reached the Handagiriya DWLC office around 1.30 pm. The senior ranger, Kaluaarachchi,  was very happy to see us and in spite of the heavy rain, we decided to go into the park with him. It brightened our spirits because this was an area usually inaccessible to visitors, and it would be nice to see the north side of the park.



Kaluaarachchi however warned us about the roads and culverts - he was not sure as to what condition some areas would be in, given the heavy rain. The terrain was different, with the range of hills we normally see in the far horizon from the other side of the park, now very much closer. We could clearly see the Samanala -wewa power station penstock and the Diyawinni falls.

Very soon we saw our first elephant. It was interesting to note that they seemed to be very wary of us.  Another herd we came across retreated into the bushes, while one individual charged at us without any warning whatsoever. It was very interesting to note this type of behaviour, which reminded me of the elephants in the UWNP in the late 1980’s. They were not acclimatized to humans and jeeps back then, and I recall it was always two options…’flight’  or ‘fight’! Today however, a whole new generation of elephants have grown up within the park, and are much more tolerant to visitors. So we wondered whether these elephants on the northern side of the park, therefore maybe living more permanently in the region, judging by their behaviour towards us.

A while later we  came across  another carcass of a dead elephant again from gunshot injuries.
Then came the excitement.  A rather large and steep culvert had to be negotiated to get across.  Everyone was keen to give it a try, although it looked a tall order. So we all alighted form the jeep,  and Kapila started off slowly negotiating the steep incline on very low gear. Just when we thought he had made it across, the wheels spun and he went into a skid, and very soon was well and truly bogged down in the mud. No amount of revving on the 4 wheel drive, could budge the vehicle in the slimy mud. So it was all ‘shoulders to the wheel’, literary speaking, as we pushed the jeep, slipping and sliding all over.
With a lot of effort we finally managed to get two wheels to grip, and the jeep growled over onto firmer terrain. Soaked in rain and caked in mud, we got back but, alas could not proceed much further as the second culvert was much more ‘deadly’ than the first. So we decided to give up, and  reluctantly and turned around and returned. The negotiation of culvert no 1 on the return was less eventful, although we did get bogged down again, but with much less complications this time.
We reached back to the office around 3 pm, and managed to wash some of the mud away, and dug into lunch packets…..and boy oh boy! …didn’t those simple village lunch packets taste good? Under the shade of a tree, to our  famished and  tired team, it tasted better than any 5 star hotel meal!!


We rested for a while, and set off back again on the long journey back. We decided to take another route along a narrow bund, passing some spectacular scenery and soon arrived at the Pokunutenne entrance.  We drove back along the main road of the park eager to get back to base camp soon.
But as always, UWNP never fails to deliver. By the side of the main road, we saw a herd with juveniles mud bathing and having a good time after the heavy rains. We watched their antics, as one elephant  rolled over another, in blissful happiness. We marvelled at what we were seeing, and were thankful that we were a part of it.  Even the ‘ battle-hardened’ Gunawardene, who has possibly had ‘seen it all’, was also in awe

Again we reluctantly wrenched ourselves away from the wonderful scene, and in the fast receding light drove back via Mau-Ara , dropping off Gunawardene.  A hot water bath, cool beer, and a scrumptious Chinese cuisine at Kinjou Safari Village brought the wonderful day to a close.

However the frustrating part of the trip was the total breakdown of the  communication system. Although Dr. Hans Wijesuriya, CEO, and Viranga Seniviratne of Dialog  tried their best, we had very poor coverage in the northern side where we travelled. Quite apart from uploading stuff via the wireless modems given to us free by Dialog, we were even unable to make voice contact with base camp- a serious problem which will warrant total re-thinking of our entire IT/communication strategy.
Look out for more on the search for Raja as the week unfolds…

12  Sri Lanka & Indian subcontinent Birds Chat / Birds ID / Re: I need id these two little birds? on: June 22, 2010, 01:06:23 pm
wonderful Vidio,i'm so happy bout your explanations,yes that is the bird I saw at my garden,

Visal
13  Sri Lanka & Indian subcontinent Birds Chat / Birds ID / Re: ID help need this Eagle on: June 14, 2010, 08:56:01 am
Thank's Bee & Indunil,

yes i saw this bird near the tank @ Anuradhapura.huge bird while it's moving wings are blowing,gliding so nice...
14  Sri Lanka & Indian subcontinent Birds Chat / Birds ID / I need id these two little birds? on: June 11, 2010, 06:33:01 am
I found this two bird in my garden, they just come out from the nest ,
15  Latest News Updates / International Nature News / Re: New species of bird discovered in Colombia on: June 11, 2010, 05:17:28 am
Hi Indunil aiya
it's good news,i prefer to read your news blogs,i'm really geting more out your news board,

Visal,
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