Sunday Observer Online


Sunday, 23 January 2011





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Why did Neelagiri have to die?

Neelagiri when strong and healthy

Generally all of us do not believe in starting stories in a negative perspective. Yet there is no option but to mention tragedy with the death of Neelagiri elephant, a proud member of Sri Lanka's flagship species. Neelagiri died last Monday. This tragedy took place as a result of inhumane actions of a few individuals who were expected to be loving and caring for animals bringing sadness to the majority of animal lovers and honest, genuine officials involved in wild life conservation.

"The Assistant Director of the elephant orphanage did not inform the Department of Zoological Gardens or any other senior official on this matter though we had a number of discussions and meetings with all the officials under the Department," Director of the Department of National Zoological Gardens Bashwara Senanka Gunarathne, said. "I was informed by a visitor on December 31st saying that one of the elephants is being treated for injuries. According to the information we had at the Department there could not be injured elephants thus we inquired from the Orphanage through the Assistant Director. Only then we were informed about the actual situation and following inquiries we found immediate responsible people," Gunarathne added.

Based on the inquiries three workers of the orphanage were interdicted and the inquiries continued. "We found that the Assistant Director has interdicted the mahout to whom Neelagiri was more obedient and close. Though the Assistant Director has the authority to take that action we are investigating deep to find the background for this action," said Gunarathne.

According to the inquiries it was found that this group of people have inhumanely injured the animal on November 20 last year. Neelagiri had numerous injuries and was suffering a lot when the veterinarians found out the incident. Neelagiri was in a period of musth.

Getting treatment after the injuries

"We as the Department have a person there to represent us as the Assistant Director, and it is that official's responsibility to report all activities and treatments taking place at the orphanage, which was not properly done," said Gunarathne. "We will not hesitate to take proper action against the responsible officials," he added.

After the incident was revealed to the Department of Zoological Gardens Veterinarians from the Veterinary Faculty of the Peradeniya University and from the Dehiwala Zoological Gardens were rushed to the scene. The authorities reinstated Ananda, the mahout that was interdicted earlier with whom the animal was more comfortable. Yet with all the efforts Neelagiri died last Monday leaving a tragic story behind.

Neelagiri was around 20 years at the time of its death and though not the tallest, Neelagiri was one of the elephants in the Pinnawala herd with a majestic physique. In this herd the tallest was Neela who is 42 years. And the old and hearty Raja (68) is of the same height. Neelagiri since the day it came to the elephant orphanage in 1989 from Lahugala jungle in the Ampara District grew up healthily.

"We don't recommend punishing the animal to control it especially hurting them is not accepted at all," Veterinary Surgeon of the Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage Chandana Rajapakse said. "It is scientifically not yet proven how the traditional methods the mahouts use to control elephants," Rajapakse added. "Mahouts can use these techniques only in an emergency that would threaten their lives or visitors," he explained.

Asked what happens if the elephant gets uncontrollably aggressive during the musth season in the mating, the veterinarian said they have specially made huts to keep them.

Start of the postmortem

"These places are specially constructed with concrete slabs and shelter with ample amount of water in the tank next to it. And we make sure these animals are bathed daily in order to keep them well hydrated," Rajapakse added. According to him there are ten such places in Pinnawala to keep aggressive male elephants.

Amidst all the proper care by kind people Neelagiri died due to the barbaric action of few individuals. "Why they did it is what we are trying to find out through our inquiries. Proper action will be taken against anyone responsible for such action, not only for this incident but in the future as well," Director Bashwara Gunarathne said.



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