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Author Topic: In awe of our elephant  (Read 587 times)
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« on: December 12, 2010, 04:46:37 pm »

Sri Lankan Elephant - A Celebration of Majesty by Vajira Wijegunawardane
It doesn’t take long for Vajira Wijegunawardane to tell you which place in the wilds of Sri Lanka he likes best. The Kala wewa area is not a sanctuary but its vast stretches and rugged isolation is what draws him, its wild splendour – and of course, the elephants. On the cover of his first book is a picture that will gladden the heart of every wildlife lover on this country—a herd in headlong rush through the waters in this Dry Zone tank complex.

Printed in a sepia tone, it sets the scene perfectly for the theme of the book. A book that seems an apt product of one who had been going to the jungles all his life, even though he took to photography only some 14 years ago. For the enthusiast anything in the wild is rich material and Vajira, likewise has not limited his scope to only the large animals. He held two successful exhibitions of his photography in 2000 and 2004- Sri Lanka Wild but when it came to compiling a book, he has chosen to dedicate it to the elephant.

“We need to value what we are blessed with,” he says emphatically, pointing out that the Sri Lankan elephant (Elephas Maximus Maximus) is a distinct sub-species and indigenous to the country. The fact that we can see elephants not only in our wildlife parks but also outside the protected areas is something he values deeply. As a child his family reared elephants and that early exposure followed by frequent trips to the wild have left him with an abiding love for the animal. The fact that while there have been many books on the country’s wildlife but no photographic volume focused solely on the elephant led him to spend the last two years bringing this book out.

The coffee table book printed in Singapore on high quality matt art paper includes several articles by an impressive group of wildlife experts- Dr. Charles Santiapillai writing on Ecology and Conservation, Dr. Eric Wikramanayake contributing a chapter titled Social Engagements: Are people and elephants really that different?, Dr. U.K.G. Padmalal analysing the Human Elephant Conflict, Rukshan Jayawardene delving into the Evolution and History of the Sri Lankan Elephant, Gehan de Silva Wijeyeratne writing on How Conservation can be an economic driver, Dr. Prithiviraj Fernando looking at the future of the elephant as well as Thusitha Ranasinghe on the Maximus model for sustainable conservation, all exploring different aspects of the elephant and the challenges of conservation. Vajira himself has written on ‘the Young’ and Photographing elephants

The contributions enrich the book and broaden its scope- and reflect too the author’s own aim of making a wider readership aware of the urgent need to protect this heritage before it is lost to us.
A word about the pictures.

These are images that are simply compelling, the work of a thoughtful photographer who spends an immense amount of time and effort on his work. Photography is the perfect medium to capture the wonders of nature, he believes and he has deliberately set out in many of his images to convey the feel of the landscape; thus we also see the habitat that the animals are in, and the country’s awe-inspiring natural beauty.

Long hours too spent in silent anticipation to capture one fleeting moment, some quirk of behaviour have been amply rewarded, and there are endearing, heartwarming and spectacular images in this collection.

Vajira professes a particular fascination for tuskers and over the years has photographed many elusive ones, whose presence he is alerted to, he says, thanks to his many friends among the villagers and trackers. The Kala weva area, where he frequently sees big herds, also has a high percentage of tuskers he notes. Included in the book are images of the ill-fated Galgamuwa tusker that he had managed to photograph earlier this year after tracking it for three days through the jungle.

Working with a range of Canon SLR cameras, he took to digital photography somewhat late - just 2 ½ years ago and still maintains that there is no substitute for the creative eye, not being inclined to manipulate his images.

About 60% of the book is based on slide photographs. To get the best clarity and colour from the slides, Vajira had the drum scanning done in the U.S., after which he worked with the digital images, aided by Chinthaka Gamage and Priyanka Devanarayana in editing and layout.

His job at the Securities and Exchange Commission leaves Vajira precious little time for his passion for wildlife, and has often necessitated him leaving and returning to Colombo just hours after midnight to spend scarce time in the jungle.

The book is his way of showcasing the immense and unique beauty he has been privileged to see, he says, and to hopefully prompt the urgent need for its conservation.

‘Sri Lankan Elephant- A Celebration of Majesty’ will be launched on December 15. For pre-publication orders, please see , mail or call +94 752 775566.

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