The historic Somawathiya Temple is an incredible place
The historic Somawathiya is an incredible place. It is the second oldest temple in the country and the Buddha’s right canine tooth is enshrined in the Chaitiya. Somawathiya is situated in the flood plains of the mighty Mahaweli Ganga the longest river of Sri Lanka and has an elephant population of over 300 elephants. The Somawathiya Chaitiya Temple is an incredibly unique place―possibly the only Buddhist shrine in the entire world where pilgrims venerate in the midst of wild elephants. Wild elephants visit the temple and the Chaitiya practically every day but with the increasing numbers of devotees it was essential to make sure the elephants could not come to areas that were important for devotees and pilgrims to conduct their veneration activities.
A wild elephant saunters in while devotees are in the temple
A wild elephant in front of the historic Chaitiya
An elephant chasing pilgrims at the temple
In 2005, the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society (SLWCS) at the request of the Chief Priest of the Somawathiya Temple provided a solar powered electric fence to the temple with funds provided by the Alexander Abraham Foundation of New York.
The electric fence erected by the SLWCS ensures the safety of pilgrims and elephants
The SLWCS has maintained a continuous relationship with the temple and is in the process of developing a nature/culture program to teach especially foreign visitors about Buddhism and how the precepts and concepts of Buddhism are very much ingrained in the Sinhala culture, especially the concept of ahimsa which calls for not causing harm to other life forms.
It is February 27, 2010 and I am at Somawathiya for a discussion with the Chief Priest about our project. After my meeting with the Chief Priest, the junior Priest who is the assistant to the Chief Priest―an affable young man―took me to aside and said they had been given three orphaned baby wild boars and would I mind taking two since three were a handful. His intention was to release just one in the temple grounds but felt three would be a problem. Ever willing to help a needy wild animal to get back to the wild I agreed. The challenge though was how and where we could release the two baby wild boars? While the obvious place was to release them back to the wild at Somawathiya the chances that they would survive there on their own was very slim. The other problem was who will take care of them at Somawathiya until they could be released. Another issue was once they were released will they get used to eating refuse and swill of devotees and pilgrims who came to the temple which would make them a problem later on. The second challenge was how to give the two baby wild boars the best chance to survive once they were released? To give them the best chance of living like wild boars they had to be brought up in such a manner. Since they were small and had to be taken care off there was no way to eliminate completely the presence of humans from their caretaking. This meant that they would not only be fully wild but also have no complete fear of people―therefore there was a huge possibility of them venturing into human habitations and meeting with a mishap one day.
The three orphaned baby wild boars at the temple
Taking all of these issues and concerns into consideration the two baby boars were brought to the SLWCS field site at Wasgamuwa. The reason to bring them to Wasgamuwa was the absence of major predators, poachers and trap guns. The baby boars could grow in a near wild state without the fear of falling prey had they been released in the Somawathiya area. As it turned out figuring out how to get two wild boar piglets back to the wild happened to be the easy part. Trying to catch them was another completely different matter!
They are small, very cute, striped like ostrich chicks, have dainty hoofs, and are very fast. To that now add a 5000 watt output squeal that sounds like a banshee and basically you got yourself a wild boar piglet straight off the assembly line.
They are cute, fast and squeal like banshees
The singers who did not make it at the American Idol try outs should take heart and not be disappointed. The two piglets when they were caught could squeal to a musical scale that has been devised by rubbing two inflated party balloons and at such a high frequency, that there was no fear of the human ear ever missing out on their vocal performance.
The three baby wild boars were held in a construction site at the temple. The efforts to catch two toy porcine formula cars did not definitely add to the sanctity of the temple. Adult men trying to catch little wild piglets under any circumstance do not look like a serious occupation―neither did it look like we were doing a meritorious act that befits the behavior of good Buddhists in the hope of attaining Nibana. The disapproving frowns and alarms of anxiety appearing on the faces of devotees that a moment ago was in sublime repose and serenity meant we were causing bad sound vibrations. Therefore we had to catch the baby boars as quickly as possible and get out from the temple before bad Karma caught up with us.
After they were brought to Wasgamuwa the two baby wild boars were held in a temporary holding pen and were allowed to gradually settle down. To keep them from getting too habituated to people just the field house caretaker was assigned to take care of their needs. While it was quite a challenge at first to interact with two highly strung animals they gradually settled down and were soon eating from the hand of the caretaker. Throughout this whole process the always curious Dodam the giant squirrel was a frequent visitor who came by to give his moral support to the two piglets. His visits though always coincided with the feeding time of the baby boars―talk about the 6th sense in wild animals!
The care taker of the field house who took good care of the two piglets
The caretaker of the SLWCS field house and his lovely wife did a tremendous job taking care of Piggy and Wiggy the two baby wild boars. The two very endearing names came about from a visit from two young and hip ladies to the field site. Apparently the two little wild boars reminded them of two cute friends they loved and respected very much!? Well! I guess that’s what friends are for!
Three months after they were brought to Wasgamuwa, Piggy and Wiggy were released from their temporary holding pen and allowed to go free. Apparently they had other ideas because it seems free meals are hard to come by in the wild. Today they have moved into a patch of bush in the property where the field house is located and seem to be quite content.
The two young wild boars in their patch of bush
Growing old in the wild seems a realistic dream now
Well in retrospect they should be content! There are no leopards, poachers and trap guns at the field site to be afraid off or die from. Dying of old age in the wild seems like an achievable and realistic dream now.
They arrive like clockwork for their meals...
...and so does Dodam
And of course in the interim they have been brain washed by Dodam the giant squirrel because now they too arrive at meal times like clockwork.
The SLWCS field house is getting to be a quite a hang out joint for animals
There seem to be a small wildlife union forming up at our field site. Well I’m not surprised, because the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society is in fact was established to work and speak on behalf of wildlife. So in a sense it does make good “sense” for wild animals to hang out at our field site.