Rare in life, rarity in death

Well-known wildlife photographer Vajira Wijegunawardane recalls his encounter earlier this year, with the magnificent tusker that died tragically last Tuesday, while being translocated by the Department of Wildlife Conservation

“There are few elephants that can literally take your breath away. ‘Parakrama’, named after King Parakramabahu the Great, is one of them. It was the fourth day, and the last opportunity to get a glimpse of this elusive but magnificent tusker. We had gone on foot with great trepidation, through scrub jungle, on information given by villagers, along an elephant corridor.

“Through dense jungle we arrived at an open area, where, in the distance was a tank with hardly any water. From the bund, I could see an elephant hovering within the thick jungle canopy. My only hope was that it would be the tusker. I hid behind a tree. Due to weight constrains for the hard trek, I was armed only with a 70-200mm f2.8 lens. Within a few minutes the elephant emerged. It was indeed the tusker.

“My heart stopped, as I saw the magnificent tusks shining dully, their full length hidden by the foliage. This was undoubtedly the largest tusker I had ever seen in this country. I felt so fortunate to see this animal. It was amazing how he had survived all these years, but was pleasantly reminded that its elusiveness and difficulty to track, was the very reason it was still alive.”

This is what I recorded earlier this year. On Wednesday, I heard the tusker was to be relocated, but never did I expect another call early the following morning, to hear of its death. The very fact that a majestic creature like this was roaming the jungles of Sri Lanka, was something all Sri Lankans would have been proud of, as its tusks were longer than even most African elephants’. I consider myself very fortunate to have been able to photograph this elusive elephant.

The tusker population in this country is minimal, and this particular tusker was no ordinary one, just like the Kumana crossed tusker, who became a victim of a poacher. Animals like this are irreplaceable, and, as nature lovers, all we can ask of the concerned authorities is to come up with a mechanism to ensure the remaining tuskers that are still roaming the jungles in our beautiful isle, be protected, as they are indeed national treasures.

We urge the authorities to engage interested corporate bodies, organisations and individuals who will willingly contribute the required resources for the success of this endeavour. The Sri Lankan elephant, which is a distinct sub species of the Asian elephant, is only found in our country, which all of us should value, and not take for granted.

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