Udawalawe’s famous icon in danger of being
Stop bothering Rambo
Rambo, the iconic pachyderm of the Udawalawe Wildlife Reserve, is
likely to get translocated, most probably to the elephant holding
grounds in Horowpothana, if people continue to disregard orders,
trespass into the reserve and harass him.
The encroachment into the reserve through the fence at the Udawalawe
tank boundary came to light when a drunken man was found annoying the
elephant. Rambo's reaction would have had tragic consequences if the
animal had used its full power.
As it was, the man only suffered minor injuries and was dragged out
of the Reserve by the staff. He was later arrested by the police.
The wildlife authorities fear for the safety of both humans and the
elephant, if people continue with their thoughtless action.
The issue of feeding wild animals at national parks has been
discussed and debated for decades, but no one has been able to put a
stop to it. Instead feeding wild animals expanded into a business for
the villagers living nearby, making it a new adventure for people
passing by the wildlife reserve.
“Bananas and watermelons are just like desserts to the elephants that
come to the Udawalawe park border,” said Srilal Miththapala, a keen
environmentalist and wildlife enthusiast. “If people think that
elephants come to the park boarder because they lack food in the jungle
then they are seriously wrong. People do not have to sympathise with
these animals and feed them. They have enough food in the jungle,” said
Miththapala who has been following Rambo's behaviour for the past 10 –
15 years continuously.
He explained that an elephant need more that 200 kgs of fodder, which
it finds it in the jungles. “People must understand that a mere banana
or a watermelon won't be enough for the animal,” he pointed out.
Snr. Vet. Vijitha Perera trying to feed Rambo with fruit laced
People have created an unnecessary situation putting the animal at
great discomfort. If Rambo gets confined to an elephant holding ground
of a few acres, there will be no gentle giant waiting for the people
near the Udawalawe Park.
“Rambo has never shown aggressive behaviour during the time I
observed him. It was quite evident when he had to be medically treated
in early 2013,” said Miththapala recalling a time when Rambo was hurt.
The elephant was out of sight for a significant period, before wildlife
authorities and enthusiasts sensed he had gone missing. Hearing the news
Miththapala had gone to the Uda Walawa Park looking for him and saw him
at the far end of the Udawalawe tank. He had quickly contacted
veterinarian Vijitha Perera, and late in the afternoon they had reached
the spot. It was not a time to tranquilise the animal, even if
tranquilisation was necessary. Later in the evening they found an
injured Rambo at the same spot and the veterinarian had been able to
feed him fruit laced antibiotics.
“The animal was not aggressive at all though it was obvious that due
to the illness he was in severe pain,” Miththapala recalled.
As Miththapala further explained, due to their superior intelligence,
elephants understand the concept of space and ‘comfort zones’. “In this
case Rambo is absolutely docile as long as people stay outside the
boundary in ‘their space’. But if someone were to venture into its
domain, (like this drunken man did) then things can get quite
dangerous,” he added.
If Rambo gets forcibly moved from his ‘home’ that would be the
biggest injustice happening to the gentle giant. Why cannot the Police
and the Wildlife Department take legal action against the trespassers
instead of putting the animal in duress, he asked.
When questioned about this, Director General, Department of Wildlife
Conservation (DWC), H.D. Ratnayake said, “Whenever we as the Wildlife
Department take steps to solve a problem, people habitually label us as
being wrong. We have the same experience when we erected the second
fence in Uda Walawe Reserve to stop elephants for coming to the border
to be fed by people.”
The DWC built a second line of fence behind the main fence line, to
prevent elephants from coming to the edge of the Uda Walawe National
Park. People of the area and a few local community groups protested
against this step stating that their livelihood had been hampered. Some
of the villagers had set up small boutiques close to the reserve selling
fruits to visitors who liked to feed the elephants.
“We have to think 10 times before we enforce the law. We have very
bad experience with such unwanted pressure on our department for simply
taking a step to conserve the elephants,” he said.
“Luckily there was video on what happened with the elephant and the
drunken man at Udawalawe. It made clear that the man was violating the
law. If there was no video and if Rambo killed a man it would be
reported as a crime done by the elephant,” he said.
Before a serious incident happens we might have to chase the elephant
into the deep wilderness and if that is not working we will have to
translocate him to the Horowpothana elephant holding ground,” Ratnayake