Elephants still lurking around in Sinharaja

By Srilal Miththapala

It is a known fact that wild elephants were found in most parts of Sri Lanka during the early 1900’s. However, with the rapid development of the South and South West regions, they gradually moved towards the Central, South Eastern and North Eastern regions. With the rapid development of the tea plantations, the elephants living in the central hills also moved away into the central East or were decimated in the course of development.

Sighting in 2008: Sinhabahu at Ensellwatte Estate . Pix by Project staff at the Estate

However, there has always been speculation that a few stragglers were still around, especially by the world heritage site of Sinharaja forest, in the south eastern part of Sri Lanka. In late 2008, much to everyone’s surprise, a well built mature male elephant was sighted just outside Sinharaja, in the Ensellwatta Estate, on the south eastern side of Sinharaja.

The staff were able to take some good photographs of the elephant as he nonchalantly walked up to the circuit bungalow, and then continued along the estate road. The elephant which sprouts two distinct small ‘tushes’ was named ‘Sinhabahu’. Tushes, not to be mistaken with tusks, are also teeth, but do not grow more than a few inches. A male without tushes or tusks is called a ‘Pussa’ in Sinhalese, while a female without tushes is called a ‘Alidena’. A female with tushes is called a ‘Athinne’ ( ref: Jayawardene.J -The Elephant in Sri Lanka )

Sinhabahu was not sighted after this and many felt that he may have met an untimely death, being isolated in this region. However, most elephant enthusiasts were thrilled to hear that Sinhabahu made another appearance a few days ago, (March 28 to be precise) at exactly the same place he was sighted three years ago, near the circuit bungalow at Ensellwatte estate. He seems to be in good physical health and this time there is evidence of him being in ‘musth’.

Unfortunately, this time around the staff have not been able to take a good photograph of him, but the grainy photograph that they did manage to take, clearly shows his main identification marks, his two small tushes. The musth secretion is also quite evident as a dark dry stain near his eye, indicating that he may be just coming into musth, or at the tail-end of it.

More excitingly, unverified reports coming in on March 30 indicate that another mature elephant has been sighted in the Patana Division in the adjacent estate. This indicates that the 2-3 elephants said to be living in the Sinharaja area are alive and well.

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