|The Lahugala-Kitulana National Park|
In 2004 the Department of Wildlife Conservation requested the SLWCS to establish a project to mitigate human-elephant conflicts in the remote Lahugala region. During one of the preliminary field visits we encountered an injured bull elephant that disappeared soon after we had observed it. We tried to help the Department of Wildlife Conservation personnel based in Lahugala to find this elephant so that a veterinary surgeon dispatched from their head office in Colombo could treat it. This is an account of what happened when we went in search of this injured elephant. While it’s true that a shoe was involved in this incident it had nothing to do with Cinderella’s story. Though to have had a fairy godmother when things looked pretty desperate during a faceoff with a bull elephant would have made this a very nice fairy tale.
It was the height of the dry season in 2005 when we came to Lahugala in regard to a project the Department of Wildlife Conservation of Sri Lanka had requested us to establish to resolve conflicts with elephants. It had taken us close to 12 hours to get there. That’s how far Lahugala is from Colombo. Today with better roads one could probably do it in less than 9 hours. With me were CC, Nishantha, Chandima, and Rohitha.
We had come to attend several meetings with
local stakeholders in regard to this project.
Rohitha was an old friend, who had joined hoping for a little bit of
excitement and adventure. My dear old friend should’ve known that going
to a garden with me was perilous enough. And here he was looking for a “little
bit of excitement and adventure” in the wilderness. He had apparently
forgotten that one had to be mentally deranged to go with me to the wilderness
where wild animals range freely and so do I.
|The Team: Myself, Nishantha, Chandima, Jeggan and Rohitha|
|Rohitha posing by the park offices had no idea what he had got himself into|
|The incredibly thrilling jungles of Lahugala|
|Observing a large herd gathered by the Kitualana Tank|
|A massive wild water buffalo bull looking alertly|
|A young female wild buffalo walking in a typical aggressive manner. An elephant walking away at the back|
Situated nearby to the park was the historically significant Magulmaha Vihara which is supposed to have been constructed for the occasion of the marriage of King Kavan Tissa to Princes Vihara Maha Devi around 200 BC. They were the parents of Sri Lanak's most famous King, Gamani Abhaya or more popularly known as King Dutugemunu who reigned from 161 BC to 137 BC.
|A part of the grand Magulmaha Vihara|
|From the ruins one can just imagine how impressive it must have been|
|One of the most exquisitely carved moonstones can be seen at the Magulmaha Vihara|
|Lahugala was famous for its large congregations of elephants long before Minneriya|
|Beru grass (Sacciolepis interrupta) that made the park an elephant Shangri-La|
|Village youth playing cricket with a wild elephant in the background.|
|A rice field destroyed by elephants|
|A villager heading out to protect his fields carrying a gun|
|This old farmer is lucky to be alive. He barely escaped with his life from an elephant attack|
|A baby elephant killed due to the escalating human-elephant conflicts|
|Illicit loggers come first...|
|...and then come illegal settlers|
|A meeting with stakeholders|
|Explaining to the local stakeholders about the project.|
|Driving through the enchanted forest|
|The road led through some of the most beautiful dry zone jungles in Sri Lanka|
|A feeding elephant framed by the trees|
|Another elephant feeding at the Lahugala Tank|
These jungles also act as sort of a connecting corridor between two divergent landscapes. After leaving Colombo and until one reaches Siyabalanduwa—which is the last outpost town before heading to Lahugala and then on to Pottuvil—the road leads through major towns and rural suburbia. After Siyabalanduwa the suburbia fades off and the road goes through this beautiful park-like jungle with enticingly cool shade and the lure of excitement, adventure and mystery. The Lahugala villages are an unwanted disruption after which the jungle again continues up to Sengamuwa where the entire landscape changes drastically. From Sengamuwa onwards until Pottuvil the land is a never ending vista of paddy or rice fields. This is “Rice Bowl” country and during the wet season it is one vast green sea of paddy fields. But during the dry season it becomes a parched land, literarily a “Dust Bowl” where vast herds of buffalo and a white hued breed of cattle range. Small herds of goats take residency in the bus stands.
|The Rice Bowl of Sri Lanka...|
|...becomes the Dust Bowl during the dry season|
|A large herd of domestic buffaloes|
|A white cow with an elephant in the background|
|A herd of domestic buffalo feeding with elephants|
|A nanny goat with twins heading to the bus stand|
|Two elephants feeding by the Lahugala road|
|We immediately noticed the swollen front left leg|
|It seemed to favor the front left leg every time it moved|
|Favoring the left front leg the elephant hopped on three feet whenever it moved|
When we got to the place where we had last seen it the elephant was not there. It had disappeared. This was not unusual since even a wounded elephant will not stay in one place if it could move however much incapacitated it was. Driving slowly we searched both sides of the road carefully and was passing by the Kitulana Tank when in the far distance by the edge of the diminished water were four elephants. One was by itself and was standing in the water and looked similar to the injured elephant. A regular habit of injured elephants was to get into water probably because it helped to sooth the pain. Assuming it was the injured elephant we parked the Defender by the roadside and climbed the bund to get a better look.
|Four elephants were feeding by the remnant waters of the dried up Kitulana Tank|
|The Defender parked by the side of the road of the Kitulana Tank bund|
|We climbed on to the tank bund to get a better look|
|The deceptive looking flat ground that was imprinted with thousands of elephant footprints|
|The distance we had to walk on open ground to get close to the elephants|
|The ground was pockmarked with elephant footprints that were an effective foot trap|