Expert Verdict: Good as Dead
By Risidra Mendis
One of the primary duties of a wildlife officer is to protect and save the life of a wild animal. However, some wildlife officers prefer to take the easy way out by assuming that the animal will die anyway and refrain from doing anything to help the animal in distress. Around 8 May 2021 a juvenile tusker about 10 years old was found stuck in a mud hole in Puthur, Vavunia by a villager. The villager contacted the Police and subsequently the Sri Lanka Army (SLA) got involved.
The SLA contacted the veterinary surgeon in charge of wildlife for the area Dr. Balachandran Giridharan and offered to help in getting the tusker out of the mud hole. Dr. Giridharan in the presence of the SLA and Ven. Pagoda Jansavansa Thera from a temple in Anuradhapura said the tusker will die in a few days and there is no point in taking him out of the mud hole. The SLA taking the word of the vet did not attempt to take the tusker out of the mud hole. One week later, the tusker was still alive. Ven. Jansavansa Thera was again told the best place for the animal is the mud hole.
Left in the mud hole
The tusker was fed by the villagers and the Chief Incumbent of Dalada Maligawa, Vavunia Ven. Muvatigala Ananda Thera during this time. Another week goes by and the tusker is still alive. The tusker is left for two weeks with one eye submerged in the mud, just because the veterinary surgeon has said the animal will die in a matter of days. Ven. Jansavansa Thera is deeply concerned and upset over the plight of the tusker and contacts President of Justice for Animals and Nature (JAN) Ven. Omalpe Sobitha Thera on 21 May 2021. Dr. Giridharan was injecting the animal with pain killers and presumably with antibiotics and was basically waiting for the tusker to die.
Shocking as it may seem this is exactly what a vet in charge of wildlife did until Ven. Sobitha Thera contacted Director – Conservation Projects of JAN Dominic Perera. What followed thereafter was a nightmare that no animal welfare activist should ever have to witness.
Relating the incidents regarding the rescue operation Perera told Ceylon Today, “On 22 May JAN was able to evaluate the situation and Ven.Sobitha Thera contacted me and requested to communicate the details with Ven. Jansavansa Thera. After receiving all details of the ground situation provided by Ven. Jansavansa Thera, I realised the great danger and contacted ‘Animals and Us’ an animal welfare group, who often works with JAN on rescue operations, and executed a rescue plan scheduled for 23 May,” Perera revealed.
Rescue team leaves Colombo
Perera communicated the details of the plan with the Secretary of Ministry of Wildlife Ret. Gen. Palitha Fernando, Director General of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) Chandana Sooriyabandara, and Director of Wildlife and Health DWC Dr. Tharaka Prasad. He also communicated the details of the plan with Gen. Hemantha Bandara who is in charge of Vavunia/Killinochi and requested his assistance. “Ven. Sobitha Thera realising the urgency was kind enough to communicate with the IGP to arrange the required travel permit.
On 23 May JAN and Founding member of Animals and Us Chandani Perera arrived in Anuradapura at a temple where Ven. Saddhatissa Thera who was also a part of the coordinating team, guided us to the location where the elephant was in anguish,” Perera explained. He said on the evening of 22 May 2021 and morning of 23 May 2021 attempts to contact Dr. Giridharan who is in charge of the distressed elephant was unsuccessful. “After more than 14 attempts I was able to communicate with him with the greatest difficulties and was told that the elephant is in critical condition and can die within two days, it could not be saved or pulled out to safety. Dr. Giridharan was arrogant, uncooperative, and won’t listen to what anyone had to say, setting a very poor example to the DWC’s already-tarnished reputation,” Perera said.
Tusker pulled out
“The rescue operation took us over three hours and the young tusker was pulled to safety on higher ground with the help of the DWC, JAN, Animals and Us, and the local villagers,” Perera explained. Perera had to tie the front legs of the tusker as the wildlife officers were unable to do it. “Tying the legs of an elephant is difficult as the animal keeps kicking. The SLA also took part in the operation and set up a security post near the elephant to safeguard the animal and provided the required food with the support of the villagers and have been consistently providing food for the tusker since it was found,” Perera explained.
He said a closer examination by DWC Veterinary Surgeon Dr. Chandana Jayasinghe who was also called to the scene determined that a severe blow to the aft section of the tusker could have caused the injury to its spine and the gunshot injuries were ruled out. Investigations by JAN also found out that within the distance of approximate 1.4Km from the area where the elephant was found, there is the Northern Jaffna railway track, and the tusker could have got knocked by a train.
Fuss over a tusker
“Around ten days after the tusker was rescued there was a slight movement in his left rear leg. Movement in the leg could mean the animal is not paralysed as thought before, which is a good sign. We should try to transport the tusker to Udawalawe for hydrotherapy - the only option left for the tusker,” Perera said. “I think the tusker has a fracture in the leg.
It is a risk to get the animal to stand up since we don’t know the damage inside. The movement in its leg doesn’t mean he is getting better and transporting the tusker is not advisable at this time,” Dr. Prasad conversely opined. Commenting on the injured tusker Sooriyabandara said Dr. Giridharan is treating the animal and wildlife officers are providing the food. Sooriyabandara denied allegations that Dr. Giridharan had not done his best to rescue the animal and said he is an experienced vet who knows his job. “When a tusker gets injured or electrocuted animal welfare activists make a big fuss about it but when an elephant is injured or gets electrocuted nobody makes a fuss about it.
There is an elephant that has collapsed in Galgamuwa, similar to this case. We are treating that animal in the same way we are treating this tusker. For us there is no difference between a tusker and an elephant. They are important assets to this country. But nobody is making a fuss about this elephant,” Sooriyabandara said. It has been more than 10 days since the tusker was pulled out of the mud. At the time this article was written the tusker was still fighting for his life, despite what the so-called experts had predicted. We hope the animal will continue to fight and come round soon. (Pix cortesy Dominic Perera)