The Sri Lankan elephant (Elephas maximus maximus) is one of three recognized subspecies of the Asian elephant, and native to Sri Lanka. Since 1986, Elephas maximus has been listed as endangered by IUCN as the population has declined by at least 50% over the last three generations, estimated to be 60–75 years. The species is pre-eminently threatened by habitat loss, degradation and fragmentation. – Wikipedia
Srilankans has a complex relationship with elephants. These gigantic, intelligent animals have been a strong part of Srilankans’ lives since the beginning. An elephant is an icon of proud history and culture of Sri Lanka. They are a national treasure loved by many.
Ancient Sri Lanka & Elephants
Elephants had been a royal asset to ancient kings, the army, and a transport mode. When a king steps out of his palace, he traveled on the royal elephant. It added an extra royalty to the king himself.
Present day Sri Lanka’s relationship with elephants
Today government is taking some actions to protect elephants as a national treasure and you can see lots of elephants live in temples among humans being treated well with good enough care from their caretakers.
Sri Lanka houses one of the largest elephant orphanages in Sri Lanka – Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage. It houses about 90 elephants at the time of writing and a famous tourist attraction. I’m certain cute baby elephants will steal your heart. Most interestingly you get to adopt and sponsor these animals.
The famous cultural event with the involvement of these animals is the pageant of the palace of the sacred tooth relic of Kandy which takes place every August. A lot of elephants participate this event with their owners and caretakers. They dressed up with nice colorful clothes and participate in the pageant with pride. A noble elephant gets to carry the sacred tooth relic of Lord Buddha on his back during the pageant.
People believe that carrying a toddler and walk round an elephant’s front legs taken away bad omens and bring prosperity to that child.
The Ugly Truth
In the other hand, some people suffer from the damages caused to their properties by the elephants. That is because these animals are losing their natural habitats due to human activities. The country is losing its forest cover at a rapid rate due to property developments and the industrial revolution. Green tree jungles turn into concrete jungles and the wild life is threatened. Animals are left to survive by finding food where they can which happened to be nearby villages, farm lands & paddy fields. thiis cause a lot of damages to villagers’ crops and paddy lands which led to a conflict between elephants and people. It is tragic that the country is yet to find a solution for this conflict situation between parties.
The species was once found throughout Sri Lanka, but today elephants are restricted mostly to the lowlands in the dry zone where they are still fairly widespread in north, south, east, north-western, north-central and south-eastern Sri Lanka; but with the exceptions of small remnant populations in the Peak Wilderness Area and Sinharaja Area, elephants are absent from the wet zone of the country. The species continues to lose range to development activities throughout the island. – IUCN Red List
The video below is taken en route Kataragama – Buttala. This road lies between the borders of two national parks and few elephants make it a habit to come and stay beside the road and ask for food from the drivers. While they are not much harmless unless you scare them or threaten them as long as you give them something to eat they just let you carry on your way through the road.
The elephant in this video is called “Waligakota” which means short tail who has first started the habit of asking for food from the vehicles. Now, about 5 other elephants follow his steps and post at different locations through out the route. Drivers also make sure to take some fruits with them and drivers have made it a habit to usually notify each other by flickering the head lights of the vehicle so that the other driver would know there is an elephant waiting ahead and get fruits prepared. Some of the drivers actually stop by to give them fruits by hand because these elephants are much used to humans now and friendly. There is nice co-existing situation going on there. But it is advisable not to get off your vehicle or try to take photos with them. Give them some fruits and drive by slowly without alerting them.
My honest opinion is that these innocent animals should be cared for and well looked after, but not by caging them and forcing them to change their life style. Protecting their natural habitat and giving them the space to live freely should be prioritized. I sincerely hope that eventually someone will come up with a plan to fix the issues and we will be able to protect these amazing creatures without letting them go extinct. If not, one day world will only see elephants in animation movies like the Ice Age Mammoth.