TUSKER BARANA DEPARTS

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He roamed the jungles with his magnificent tusks and was the attraction of many tourists who visited the Kala Wewa area to see him. This forest was his home from his childhood days and he roamed free until the day when he realised that he had no food to eat.

During the dry season the elephants come to feed on the fresh grass beds that have sprouted after months of rain. The elephants and Barana had no food to eat as the lake is now full of water and there are no grasslands.

Barana then started coming to the village in search of food. He was not a fierce animal and had not harmed anybody. People in the area had also observed that during those days Barana roamed with a blind elephant known as ‘Veera’.

He was seen in the Namal Uyana Forest reserve an area that he also visited. Then came the news that this magnificent tusker was found dead mysteriously in the Namal Uyana forest reserve. On the night of 25 July, while coming from Namal Uyana to Kala wewa Barana had died and there was a strong suspicion that the tusker had died by electrocution.

The carcass of the tusker was found in the Namal Uyana forest reserve in Galkiriagama by the Galkiriagama wildlife officers. The tusker was about 30 to 35 years old and possessed a pair of tusks nearly four feet in height.

“The Kala Wewa area is well known for its tusker population. But today many of these magnificent animals have died at the hands of humans. In the last four to five years Walagamba, Digha-2, Rewatha and Dala Puttua, who lived in this jungle and enhanced the beauty of this forest have also died,” Environmentalists said.

Seven elephants that died mysteriously in the Tundikulam Lake Reserve some years back, were also animals that made this lake their home. The forests belong to the elephants. But due to the rapidly increasing human populations and illegal encroachments elephants are losing their habitat and their lives.

Kala Wewa was declared as a National Park in 2015. The Kala Wewa and Balalu Wewa tanks were constructed by King Datusena in the 5th Century. The park consists of around 6000 hectares and is home to large herds of elephants with the notable feature of the tuskers. There is a large concentration of Tuskers in this elephant herds. This has become a magnificent scenery because only seven percent of the male elephant population has them and the genetic structure is unique in these tuskers.

The national park is in the dry zone there is a time where the water levels decreases from the tanks and the lush grasslands begins to reveal themselves from the dried out waterbeds of the tanks which is much sought after by the elephants. Resident herds and migratory herds from nearby jungles all congregate, to enjoy the grass. This makes it a promising sight to witness large herds of elephants with the tuskers.

The park has a beautiful landscape lined with massive Kumbuk trees. The monsoons arrive around October to November and the grasslands disappear to give way to filled up reservoirs. While the resident elephant herds remain, the migratory elephants return. The Park’s beautiful kumbuk trees and vegetation complement the reservoirs, birdlife and pristine surroundings.

“More than 70 per cent of the wild elephants live outside the protected areas of the Wildlife Department. The reason for this is there is no proper management of wild elephants by the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC). Elephants don’t have enough food and water in these areas. They don’t have elephant corridors to move from one forest to another. So they have to go through villages and people and this has caused a Human Elephant Conflict,” Director and Senior Advisor, Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) Hemantha Withanage said.

He says 250 elephant deaths were reported for this year and around 300 to 350 elephants die per year. “There are 350 open garbage dumps in the country. About 150 of these garbage dumps are frequented by elephants. Wildlife officers think that when they put electric fences it can control the elephants. The Director General – DWC says to find suitable areas and start elephant trenches again. There is no management of these elephant trenches and it doesn’t stop the elephants either,” Withanage explained.

He says the DWC has no interest in protecting these wild elephants. “What we see is that the DWC has left the elephants to die without taking any measures to protect them. The DWC and the police have not yet given the post mortem report of the seven elephants that were killed at Habarana a few years ago.  No report was given on the Kala Wewa elephant death at the Kekirawa courts. The same thing will happen to Barana also. The DWC should appoint people who can do something for wildlife.  There are some committed DWC officers who are interested in saving the wildlife in this country,” Withanage said.

“The tusker Barana that amazed the world has been killed. He was electrocuted by an illegal live wire. The incident took place at a location in front of the National Namal Uyana. Barana used to visit this area in the past few days because he liked to eat jackfruit? People have told wildlife officers that Barana is coming to the village not once or twice but many times. But wildlife officers have said they don’t have petrol to come to the area. Today Barana is dead,” Environmentalist Nayanaka Ranwella said.

He added that Barana was a healthy tusker, but seemed to have a gunshot wound on the bottom part of his body. “His tongue was blue and this is a sign of electrocution. Rewatha suffered the same fate as Barana. But the suspect was bailed out in one day. We don’t know if Barana’s case will also be thrown away when time passes,” Ranwella explained.

“We lost Barana says Director Centre for Eco Cultural Studies (CES) Sujeewa Jasinghe. “The tusker was killed by an illegal electric fence. Due to the intentional flooding of the lake, the Human Elephant Conflict has increased, with increasing elephants deaths. During the dry season the elephants come to feed on the grass beds. With the lake full there is no grasslands, forcing the elephants to wonder into the cultivations,” Jasinghe explained

This is the last generation of big tuskers in Sri Lanka says Jasinghe and adding that the others are too young and may not become adults due to the Human Elephant Conflict. “Also some nutrition deficit is causing the tusks to break off, in the younger tuskers,” Jasinghe said.

“Live wires were found in the lake close by to where Barana was suspected to have been electrocuted. There are a few houses close by and there is a strong suspicion that the current for the wires was taken from these houses,” Environmentalists explained. 

“According to the report published by the Auditor General of the Government regarding the progress of the Department of Wildlife Conservation during the period 2012-2016, no judicial action has been taken regarding eighty-nine percent of the 384 elephant killings that took place from January 2015 to October 2017,”Convener Biodiversity Conservation and Research Circle of Sri Lanka Supun Lahiru Prakash said.

Director General DWC Chandana Sooriyabandara said the post mortem report says the tusker died by electrocution. “We are investigating the matter and nobody has been caught yet,” the Director General said. 

Barana is dead but sadly there is no development on his case. Environmentalists and Animal Welfare Activists wait patiently to see if this will be another case that is swept under the carpet by the DWC.    

By Risidra Mendis