The Sunday TimesPlus

2nd June 1996




Jumbo Drive

By Tharuka Dissnaike

The Handapanagala herd is in the news again. Amidst severe protest from the environmental lobby, the government plans to relocate the Handapanagala elephants to Yala block four . The previous plan to create a jungle corridor through which the herd could move freely from Handapanagala to Yala has now been abandoned and the present plan is to have an elephant drive to take the Handapanagala herd into Yala and seal off the path permanently using an electric fence. According to unconfirmed reports, the government also plans to invite Britain's Prince Philip, president of the World Wildlife Fund to witness the drive.

Work has already commenced inside Yala block four , where several tanks are being rehabilitated to accommodate the new influx. The tank rehabilitation work is being undertaken by the Moneragala District Secretariat with the Department of Wild life Conservation. The funding for the project was provided by the Pelwatte Sugar Company whose sugar cane plantations are at risk because of the large herd of elephants trapped in Handapanagala.

We are providing Rs. 500 000 to the District Secretary to do the tank repairs. Identifying the tanks and the actual rehabilitation work is being done by them and the Wild Life department said K. Rantilaka, Agriculture Manager at Pelwatte Sugar. Ò We have also started work on the fencing. There will be a temporary fence to protect the plantation at the time of the drive and a permanent fence to prevent the elephants coming back

Mr. Rantilaka believes that this is the best solution to the problem of elephants that has been plaguing the company since its inception . The Handapanagala herd, numbering a maximum of 130 elephants were trapped in a pocket of jungle around the Handapanagala when the Pelwatte sugar company under private ownership, expanded their plantations cutting off the jumbos pathway to Yala National Park. The elephants were forced to crash into the plantations and nearby villages to forage for food. This resulted in the loss of many lives- both of elephants and humans. In 1993, when President D.B. Wijetunga was in Office there was a high level committee that dwelt on the problem of the trapped herd and the escalating elephant deaths. An elephant drive proposed by the government at that time was opposed by NGOs and other specialists, leading to a half way agreement to create a jungle corridor between Handapanagala and Yala. Here, the elephants would basically be encouraged to move away from the picturesque Handapanagala tank towards Yala. But the plan was to coax the jumbos into the National Park and not forcibly drive them there. Work got under way along this plan, and corridor land surveying and demarcation was under way when the plans were abruptly changed by the present government. While still reluctant to give out all details of the operation to the press, the government is slowly but surely going ahead with the plans to conduct a massive drive from Handapanagala to Yala.

Reports from the Southern area wild life officers and Moneragala district secretariat say that a special committee comprising of Deputy Director Wild Life Nandana Atapattu

and representatives from other relevant organizations in Moneragala , were to meet last week in order to discuss the details of the drive.

When contacted by The Sunday Times, Dr. Atapattu, who is the veterinarian for the zoo and who has been entrusted with many elephant tranquilisations and translocations in the recent past, said that he was not in a position to talk about the drive. The Director of Wild Life would be the person to give the details to the public he said.

Director , Wild Life Department, L. Hettiarachchi told the Sunday Times that he was not in a position to reveal the details of the proposed drive. The drive is being planned by the Ministry ( of Public Administration, Home Affairs , Plantation Industries and Parliamentary Affairs.) Therefore the Ministry officials would be able to provide much more details about the project said Hettiarchchi. He said that although he is a layman when it came to wildlife matters, he personally did not think the corridor plan would have been successful. I will extend my fullest co operation to any decision taken by the Ministry by way of providing equipment and trained staff from the department to handle the drive .

Secretary to the Ministry, R.S. Jayaratne said that no plans or dates have yet been finalised, but other sources revealed that tentative dates have been fixed towards the last weeks of July this year.

The environmental lobby, especially those NGOs who vehemently opposed the earlier drive in 1993, are up in arms again, protesting this sudden , mysterious plan to move the elephants without any consultation with interested parties. Last week a petition was presented to the president by the Elephant Group, which comprised of three leading environmental NGOs, asking the president to reconsider the plan for an elephant drive. Also one of those NGOs, Fauna International wrote to the British High Commission, quoting newspaper reports that the government intended to invite Prince Philip, President of the World Wildlife Fund to observe the drive, asking the Prince to disassociate himself with the entire exercise.

But a spokesman for the British High Commission in Colombo said that they have not received any formal invitation from the government of Sri Lanka inviting the Prince for this event.

NGOs and Wild Life enthusiasts basically oppose the plan to relocate these elephants on several grounds. One is that the Yala National Park has not enough water or forage material to accommodate such a large herd. Another complaint is that the corridor plan was abandoned without any preamble or consultation- when it took months of meetings and consultation to formulate it in 1993. The NGOs also resent the fact that there seems to be a shroud of mystery surrounding the drive as no public officer is willing to give out details on the drive . The methodology, the dates, the arrangements for the drive are all closely guarded secrets.

The Fauna and Flora Advisory Board , which was set up to give guidance for conservation of wild life in Sri Lanka is also in the dark when it comes to the proposed drive, which, if implemented would be the biggest of its kind done in Sri Lanka .

Ò It would be much more easier to drive the elephants to the Vandama forest reserve which is very close to Handapanagala than try to do this long distance drive to Yala. The number of elephants involved would make it a huge project, involving large amounts of man power and money, said Lasantha de Silva, a former member of the Fauna and Flora Advisory Board. He said that the government simply wanted to make a publicity event of the entire thing .

Although the Ministry claimed that they were doing the drive in consultation with the people of the area through their elected MPs, the district office informed us that the villagers were not really consulted. We were to go out to the field and talk to the villagers , but it has not yet happened.

Finally as one high ranking Wild Life Officer said- It is never a question of what the elephants or the people want. It boils down to what the politicians want and decides to do.

Appeal to the President

The 130 elephants of Handapanagala are the survivors of the Pelwatte Sugarcane Plantation opened in the 1980s. Most of the males and prominent individuals of the 300-odd elephants once believed to have roamed the jungles of Wellassa have been decimated in the path of the mechanized destruction of jungle and chena, lands which was carried out by the foreign developer.

Local politicians acting in concert with these alien forces and the bureaucracy, completed the task of isolating the remaining elephants in the catchment of the Handapanagala tank which for centuries had provided water and fodder for the elephants in their seasonal migration.

Successive appeals to the Highest in the Land, have helped ward off repeated attempts by interested parties to drive out the Handapanagala herd from their traditional habitat.

When the PA Government entered office, one of the first tasks was to appoint a committee on Wildlife.

The Committee's principal recommendation was for early establishment of the Handapanagala Corridor, and protective fences which were considered the most viable solution for balancing the interests of the people of the area and the elephants to co-exist.

Hon. Minister Wickremanayake ordered early establishment of the Corridor which he wanted fenced and completed for his personal inspection by May 1995. Work had commenced on the construction of the Corridor.

However, in March 1996, a former officer and veterinarian of the Department of Wildlife who had been interdicted earlier and removed from office on the directive of the Public Service Commission (PSC) in 1995, announced that the elephants could be driven to Yala National Park with much fanfare.

Your Excellence may wish to ascertain how and why this operation, which reverses the policy decision of the Hon. Minister as advised by the Committee on Wildlife is permitted to be carried out at colossal public expense?

Your Excellency may also wish to ascertain why the Fauna and Flora Advisory Committee was hastily re-constituted after dropping the President of Sri Lanka's oldest Conservation organization the 102 - year old Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS) and the Chairman of the Environment Foundation Limited (EFL).

Your Excellency may also wish to further ascertain why it has been allowed to embark on this adventure contrary to the considered opinions of successive Committees and policy rulings by Your Excellency's predecessors in office and the decision of your Hon. Minister in charge of the subject.

We also urge Your Excellency to inquire into the ambivalent role of the senior officials of this Ministry in this context.

While Your Excellency ascertains the facts of this matter, we urge you to order the immediate cessation of all activities connected with the proposed drive.

Your Excellency may wish to consider that all elephant drives of the past have been total failures and have only contributed to the rapid destruction of members of the herds.

Are we now driving these remaining elephants also to their certain death?.

Our failure to stop this drive will result in the certain annihilation of this once majestic herd, and likely loss of no less than eleven young tuskers (representing perhaps 10% of the total number of tuskers in Sri Lanka).

We appeal to Your Excellency to intervene urgently to halt this insensible exercise and extend to these elephants the protection of the Head of State of Sri Lanka, as Your Excellency's predecessors have done.

Sri Lanka Elephant Group comprising of the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society (WNPS), Fauna International (FI), and the Environment Foundation Limited (EFL).


By Premnath Moraes

Cuts loom large in life starting with childhood. The first cuts we experience are those caused by climbing trees, scaling walls or early enterprising exercises like riding bicycles. Then come some of the unkindest cuts of all - six of the best or less at school, depending on the gravity of the offence. This was the statutory form of punishment which no education authority, be it the government or the school ever attempted to repeal. During school, there was also the thrill of keeping away from it AWOL, i.e. Away Without Official Leave as they say in the forces. In the dictionary this unauthorised form of absence is designated as "playing truent". In simple schoolboy English, it is cutting school. In doing so you should have endeavoured to keep the Eleventh Commandment, which is "Do Not Get Caught." Then in those dustant days, now beyond recall, "when like snail we crept unwillingly to school," we looked for short-cuts, to lighten the burden of the daily drugery. This was another cut we acquired early in life but which we tried to exploit later in life, in whatever tupe of activity, we were engaged in. What motivated our dissertion on this subject was the fact that we are currently experiencing Power Cuts and Water Cuts. Since both these elements are prerequisites for normal living, a recession in both these crucial areas, is truly a very unkind cut. To add to the existing misery, the clock has already been advanced. This is another hassle which we never expected. Cut by cut, life is certainly becoming disjointed. This brings to mind another cut. The one you go for to the Butcher's. The rule here is take it or leave it. For, there is no choice in cuts at all and gone are the days when you could have pointed your finger and demanded the cuts of your choice. Marking back to childhood even your hair was subject to different "cuts" though girls escaped this form of torture, boys had to invariably settle for the "No. O" Cut. This was executed by a machine bearing the same number and left you little short of bald. Yet you had to put up with this till you came of age when you could sport what was called a "jack" or later go in for an "Oxford" or "Windsor." On the cricket field too, you could go in for cuts. Among the many strokes that were taught and apart from the Pull, Drice, Glance, Hook were the Late Cut and the Square Cut. The former now executed on the off side and the latter on the leg or on side. The Late Cut was a very elegant stroke but needed perfect timing. It was played almost after the ball had passed the batsman and would usually earn him a boundary. Two cricketers of yesteryear, who were excellent exponents of the stroke were the West Indian Everton Weekes and our own maestro, the late M. Sathasivam. The Square Cut was a potential run getter and paced profitably on the on side where no fielders roamed. Those of us who were priveleged to work in the Press have at some time or other experienced the "Cut and Chop." This is a practice eagerly engaged in by conscientious Sub Editors who have missed their vocation. They should have been armed with a scalpel and not a blue pencil. Life is full of missed vocations. Now this function has been ethusiastically taken over by the censor who mutilates, decimates and abiliterates, well written copy. It is indeed a characteristic of the power cut, because when you are in power, the pen is no longer mightier than the sword, or whatever implement they use for cutting. A cut-out is a gadget used to regulate electricity. In the advertising sense it is a life-size reproduction of a figure or a product evolved to serve as an attention-getter. There are cuts that are inflicted on those in business like sales tax , turnover tax and similar impositions. There is the "Cut" in business which connotes your share of the profit in any transaction. How often have you heard someone say "Don't forget my Cut". Something that is "cut and dry" is that which is presented in a very correct form. My conjecture is that this was derived from dry fish, where the product is obtained by slitting and drying. If you feel cut-up about something then it is obvious that you are not pleased with whatever it is. Very often also you are compelled to cut down somebody to size when he needs that kind of trimming. Salary cuts are ot so common these days, because everybody is asking for more and any attempt of attenuating the emolument is definitely asking for a strike. There was a time however like during the Great Depression of the thirties, when salary cuts were the order of the day. If you do not like a person's company or his or her conversation, you cut him or her dry. If you want to say something briefly you cut it short. One could go on and on enumerating cuts of one sort or another but time and space does not permit of this pastime. However life is full of cuts and cuts and one must learn to live with them like diabetes, asthma or arthritis.

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