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Udawalawe’s famous icon in danger of being translocated :

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.

Discomfort


Snr. Vet. Vijitha Perera trying to feed Rambo with fruit laced antibiotics
H.D. Ratnayake
Srilal Miththapala

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.

Problem

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 warned.

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