Sri Lanka releases eight orphaned elephants back into wild

June 14th, 2008 - 5:33 pm ICT by IANS  

By P. Karunakharan
Udawalawe (Sri Lanka), June 14 (IANS) As hundreds watched in silent admiration, Sri Lankan mahouts shed tears as eight orphaned baby elephants they had raised for four years were Friday released into the wild. There was no hiding the love the mahouts had developed for the young elephants over the years as the eight animals were given a final dung bath to prepare for a new life in the Sri Lankan forests.

The dung bath was given to get rid of the human smell, which would keep other herds away from the baby elephants.

As hundreds of journalists, government officials and tourists watched, the six male and two female elephants - Asha, Marga, Atlas, Nalaka, Baby Blue, Tharos, Minoli and Senani - took their time to make their way out of the Udawalawe Elephant Transit Home, located some 200 km southeast of Colombo.

They were the eighth batch of orphan elephants to be released into the wild in the last decade.

Veterinary surgeon Tharaka Prasad said of the eight elephants, six had been rescued in 2004 from pits, agricultural wells and canals, mainly from the north-central region of the country.

“The Udawalawe Eelephant Transit Home has successfully released 64 elephants into the wild in eight batches so far,” he said.

He said the first batch of elephants, released in 1998, had shown a successful integration with the wild population and one of them delivered a baby early this year.

Sri Lanka’s dragging ethnic conflict has proved deadly for the wildlife population. Many elephants and other animals have died after stepping on concealed land mines, leaving the young ones orphaned.

Over the years, Sri Lankan authorities have taken care of scores of orphaned baby elephants in sanctuaries. But it is not easy to bring up the elephants.

“The young ones are nursed and cared with artificial milk, given fodder every three hours, grass and medication,” Prasad told reporters at the release ceremony.

Udawalawe still has 36 orphan elephants, including two-week old babies.

Prasad said that the department needed at least Rs.900,000 a month to buy milk alone for the elephants. Over 25 individuals and organisations have adopted the present group of orphans.

“One foster parent would have to pay to at least Rs.25,000 to adopt an animal. Although we are getting very good support from the public, mainly foreigners, we need more people to come forward to meet the increasing needs,” he said.

Senior veterinary surgeon Suhada Jayawardane, who is in charge of rehabilitating the animals, said that the elephants released Saturday have been fitted with radio collars to keep track of their movements.

Minister of Environment and Natural Resources Patali Champika Ranawakka said the elephant transit home had earned recognition for contributing to wildlife.

He said the human-elephant conflict caused by de-forestation, development projects and cultivation had greatly affected the animal.

“The terrorist problem is one of the main reasons for the elephants to lose their natural habitat in several parts of the country,” said Ranawakka.

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