22nd April 2001
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For this elephant - death came from the heavens


By Ruhanie Perera
For this elephant - death came from the heavensThe oil lamps were lit and the monks performed the 'pansakula'. The last rites completed, she was buried. It was a sad occasion, more so because 'Seetha Menike' -the elephant - did not die a natural death; she had been struck by lightning.

'Seetha Menike' belonged to the Dalada Maligawa. Travelling to Mawanella to carry out a postmortem at the request of Diyawadana Nilame Neranjan Wijeratne, Dr. Neville de Silva, senior lecturer at the Faculty of Veterinary Sciences, University of Peradeniya found Seetha Menike's carcass surrounded by oil lamps. The elephant's grief-stricken mahout of ten years and villagers were gathered around. "It was obvious that the whole village was devastated by the incident," said Dr. de Silva.

Originally owned by the Venerable Keraminiya Anomadissi Nayaka Thera, head of the Keraminiya Ayurvedic temple in Mawanella, 33-year-old 'Seetha Menike' was offered to the Dalada Maligawa in 1986. Having been a part of the Maligawa perahera for the past 15 years 'Seetha Menike' was, according to Dr. de Silva, who remembers her clearly, "a perfectly healthy animal, which never needed any extra treatment in addition to her routine shots".

On April 14, 'Seetha Menike' had been tied to a tree near the Wanduragoda Viharaya in Mawanella for the night. Karunaratne, her mahout having tended to her needs had gone back home in the midst of a thunderstorm, never realizing the dangers of the open space, tall tree and metal chain in such a situation. During the heavy showers that followed, a bolt of lightning had struck the tree to which 'Seetha Menike' was tethered. The current first struck the chain and then ran through her. 

Not long after he got home, a villager had informed Karunaratne that all was not well with his elephant. Rushing back to where he had left her, the mahout found his beloved elephant thrown almost 10 feet away from where she had originally been tied. The chain was in pieces. The elephant was lying on the ground. The mahout had noticed some weak trunk movements and slight swelling of her face and feet. 

"However I didn't come across this swelling in my examination of the carcass," says Dr. de Silva, "but there were burns on her leg around the area where the chain had been. She had been in a state of shock and had died within 15 minutes of the mahout getting there." Dr. de Silva said he did not do a post- mortem as the cause of death was obvious.

Says Dr. de Silva, "It is sad that this elephant met with such a tragic end through no fault of hers." In order to avoid such incidents he suggests the use of Manila rope to secure elephants, but concedes that they are not as durable as chains and are rather expensive. "At the very least, the mahouts can see to it that the part of the chain which goes round the elephants' legs is insulated with rubber. That prevents direct contact with the metal." 

"Mahouts should also be careful where they tie the elephants. They should avoid empty open spaces that leave these animals unprotected and quite vulnerable in the event of a thunderstorm. I feel that it is up to us to do our utmost to protect them," he said.

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