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A potentially dangerous situation is developing in Sri Lanka's Yala National Park

21/01/2013 10:55:17

The big tusker has become too friendly, and this may well end in his relocation and death.

Please don't feed the elephants - Written by Srilal Miththapala
January 2013. There is a serious situation developing in Sri Lanka's Yala National Par, due to a particular adult male elephant becoming too acclimatized to tourist jeeps and interacting with the visitors closely.

Mature tusker
This elephant is a mature tusker, known as ‘Gemunu', that has become a very popular & iconic elephant in Yala for over a decade now. However, for the past year, he has begun to have close contact with jeeps, most probably because he is being fed by the tourists or even the jeep drivers in an effort to keep their clients happy. Elephants are very intelligent animals and can learn certain behaviours quickly.

Do's and don'ts for visitors to Yala National Park, which could in some way help mitigate this problem.

  • Don't take food items into the park. If you have to, please ensure they are in air tight containers so that odours and smells are minimized. 
  • If you come across Gemunu (very easily distinguished by his big tusks), do not stop, and do try to move away. However, this may not be possible as he stands in the middle of the road and blocks the path. 
  • In all instances, be guided by the Wildlife Department tracker. But in some instances, due to the demand, trackers are not provided for every jeep. In such cases, please do not allow the jeep driver to show-off by stopping for Gemunu. 
  • If Gemunu is too close, don't try to drive away, as this may alarm him. Stay quiet and as calm as possible. He is usually very docile and has not harmed anyone.
  • Do not take any chances, however exciting and exhilarating the experience of having a full grown elephant calmly check you out at such close quarters. Remember he is a WILD ELEPHANT and could be potentially very very dangerous. 
  • Very often, he gets hemmed-in the middle of a convoy of vehicles. The vehicles in front should move away, without waiting for photo opportunities, allowing other vehicles to also move. 
  • So far he has been sighted on the main road, but he could possibly come across to the places where people alight from the jeeps to have a snack, such Patanangala. So be careful at any location where you leave your jeep, and if he is sighted immediately get back into your jeeps.
Potentially dangerous
The situation has reached a very critical point, where Gemunu now is bold enough to walk right up to a jeep and put his trunk completely in to the jeep, searching for food items. In fact, last week when I was in Yala, I saw him putting his entire head into a jeep; thankfully there were only two guests in the jeep and they managed to squeeze to the other side while he rummaged around the jeep, took out a knapsack and destroyed it. These guests were extremely traumatized by this experience.

While this certainly provides a once- in- a life-time exciting experience, it could very easily turn into a serious incident. 

The only way to stop this is by gradually ‘teaching' Gemunu that coming and searching the jeeps for food will not yield any success. There is no other way he can be constrained.

My concern is that if a serious incident were to occur, it will reflect very badly on Sri Lanka, and Yala in particular. The response from the Wildlife Department would then be to tranquillize the elephant and translocate it to another location. As many of you know, this is only ‘changing the pillow for the headache,' and often results in disaster for the elephant.

There used to be a similar wild elephant on the Minneriya road near the temple, who could also be fed by passes-by. He was translocated a few years ago by the Wildlife Department, and met gruesome death, shot by villagers.


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