Find Raja’ project slowly draws to a close

Srilal Miththapala writes of the search for the missing Uda Walawe tusker

As the days go by there is still no sign of Walawe Raja. While we carry out our field work, we are battered by reports of several horrible deaths of elephants from all parts of the country. No less than some six elephant deaths, some very gruesome, have been reported just in the past nine days. I must emphasize ‘reported’.-No one will really know how many have gone unreported.

The most recent was that of a female who had got bogged down in the mud, along the Anuradhapura Puttlam road, near the 12th mile post. Its concerned calf had been waiting close by. Concerted efforts by quite a few people had resulted in some medical help being administered to the fallen animal, but she is reported to have died. What has happened to the calf is yet unknown.

So it’s a bad time for wild elephants in Sri Lanka, as the Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) escalates, taking its toll on both human and elephant lives. The Department of Wild Life Conservation (DWLC) has a new director, there have been news conferences and meetings, and promises, but nothing positive seems to be happening at ground level.

Some short term action has to be put in place urgently such as a ‘rapid response team’. With only some 6 or 7 wildlife veterinarians available in the DWLC, who have very little resources at their disposal, (sometimes not even transport facilities to get to an ailing elephants) it is an impossible task to attend to an ailing animal quickly.

(It is reported that the female elephant on the Anuradhapura Puttlam road? had been there for over two days before help arrived. And that too, only in the form of saline, as no other heavy equipment was available to move the fallen animal)

So in the immediate (short term ) I believe we must have

  • Best practice guidelines /check lists for translocation
  • A rapid deployment rescue team set up with all resources at hand
  • A shortlist of private sector organizations (who have agreed to help out with select resources) who can be called up if and when required
  • A system to immediately report and alert all concerned, of any accident or life threatening injury to an elephant.

Efforts are underway to start a process of engagement between the DWLC and several experts at large, to work out a plan of action.

But back to Raja. Although we keep receiving sporadic news of wild elephants from the North Eastern area outside the Uda Walawe National Park (UWNP), there have been no reports of any tusker sightings, contrary to what we had a few weeks ago. So it is becoming increasingly obvious that travelling around was becoming a futile exercise. The heavy incessant rains also have caused changes to elephant movements in the area. One day the team also went ‘slap-bang’ into the Dahaiyagala protest and beat a hasty retreat, as we did not want to get embroiled in that controversy.

We considered even trying to organize a quick aerial surveillance, but without really having any recent strong leads of probable locations, and also considering the heavy forest cover in some areas, this idea also was shelved.

So we will undertake a few ‘wrap up sorties’ next week, once again to sensitize our key contacts established in each of the short listed villages, of the need to be vigilant and inform us on the hotline if they have any news of Raja. We will consider offering a small reward for any news that leads to a positive sighting.

The Raja blog ( ) and facebook page ( accessed via the blog) continues to draw considerable traffic and is now fast becoming a ‘sounding board’ for many animal lovers.

At least we have the satisfaction that Raja, where ever he may be, in this world or the next, has contributed to creating a healthy and vibrant forum for exchange of views re the HEC.

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