Sri Lanka: Save our Elephants

 It was British who invaded our country and introduced elephant killings in 1820s.

by Admiral Ravindra C Wijegunaratne

The killing and dismembering of Tusker in Block 03 of Yala National park recently brought tears to eyes of elephant lovers. This poor animal stayed within government boundaries marked by us to say “you are safe here”, and still killed with single shot on his head by inhuman poachers operating inside National Park. Further his small tusks were removed by using a chain saw. The tail also cut off to get “tail hair”.

Let us live them the life they deserve 

Why this happening ? Why we cannot catch these culprits ? We should do our best to stop this inhuman activities. Sri Lanka Army’s elite units can help the Wild life department in this effort.

There is Sinhala saying that you will never get bored by watching “Bali and Ali”, which means watching traditional dancing call Bali and elephants, you do not get bored. Elephant herds are such delightful sight. Baby elephants always playing under watchful eyes of mother elephants.The herd leader always stay away from herd and give protection to weaker ones.

My wife Yamuna’s late grand mother from her mother’s side, carried the longest registered name in Sri Lanka in her birth certificate – Akkada Mukkada Weera Rabukkada Rubuke Jayagath Diyathilaka Koralege Illanganthilaka Mudiyanselage Leelawathi Illanganthilaka. She was from a noble clan of Kandian Kingdom which was given task to protect Lord Buddha’s tooth relic. When she was living, she lived in Walauwa behind Haguranketta Raja Maha Viharaya, where tooth relic was taken when Kandy fell to British in 1815. Her clan used to worship tooth relic with Jasmine flowers.

You must be wondering what all these names prefix her surname means. Those are all “bravery medals” given to her clan by various Sinhala kings for fighting against enemy to protect Buddha’s tooth relic, which was most important possession of any Sinhala king. These prefixes are like bravery medals we were given by Head of State for our long dedicated service and bravery, which affix our surname. For an example, I am Admiral Ravindra C Wijegunaratne, WV, RWP and Bar, RSP, VSV,USP, NI (Military). What these letters affix my name are, Weerodara Vibhushanaya, Rana Wickrama Paddakkama, (twice), Rana Soora Padakkama ,Vishista Seva Vibhushanaya, Uttama Sewa Paddakkama and last Nishan-e-imthiyas ( Military) awarded by Pakistan Head of State.

Late Mrs Talatha Gunasekara ( nee Abeykoon)

Haguranketha Walauwa produced beautiful ladies for generations. I used to say they are like “Jasmine Flowers” which signifies fragrance, emblem of delicacy and elegance. The merits for worshiping tooth relic with jasmine flowers and supplying jasmine flowers to Temple of tooth relic has worked for them. My beloved wife is “Miss Sri Lanka for Miss Asia Pacific contest 1989”. Her mother late Talatha Gunasekara (née Abeykoon) was a famous actress in 1970s who resembled famous Hindi actress Vyjayanthimala. My wife has photos of her playing tennis at Hilwood College, Kandy wearing half-saree ( Lama-saree) in 1952. She was very beautiful.

This noble family was elephant lovers for generations. When my wife’s grand mother was living, she used to visit our home with my mother-in-law. As a pre lunch drink, I used to offer her with glass of best French or Chilean red wine . She takes only one glass. At end of it

, comes old stories until lunch is being served. She will boast, “ you know Ravi, I went on marriage to Mr Abeykoon (Grand father) with enough of lands, three servants and one and half elephants! “. My son, who was about six years old at that time will ask , “ Muttattama ( great grand mother), how you measure a half elephant ? By cutting a big elephant to two ? Aiyo !

She will reply, “No my dear great grand son, what I meant by one and half elephants is elephant and a baby elephant !

In 1940s, She had her younger brother who was going to Kingswood College at that time, suddenly disappeared. He was not found. Later came to know, has gone with elephant catchers who tame wild elephants in Northern and Eastern Province. He came back home after 30 years. We used to call him Lanka Attha ( Lanka grand father) because he knew all jungle areas of Sri Lanka so well working with wild elephant catchers and knew all tactics of taming an elephant. He loved elephants.

We as a nation, never killed elephants. We protected them. Some were tamed and used for heavy works. Other tamed wild elephants and tuskers were used for Perehera possessions. The tusker carrying Lord Buddha’s Tooth Relic during Kandy Perahera had an unique place and respect from public.

We are a nation which trained War elephants during ancient times. They were being trained and guided by our trainers for combat.Elephantry is a term for specific military units using elephant- mounted troops.

War Elephant Kandula

Pliny the Elder, famous Roman author stated that in Mediterranean markets, that Sri Lankan elephants had higher demand. For example, Sri Lankan elephants were larger, fiercer 

and better for war than any other type. This superiority,as well as the proximity of supply to seaports, made Sri Lanka’s elephants a lucrative trading commodity.

When Arahat Mahinda thero arrived Sri Lanka to preach Buddhism in Sri Lanka , under the aegis of the great Indian Emperor Asoka, our King Dewanampiya Thissa, (r. 247 BC – 207 BC) invited Mahinda thero to preach to his wives and staff also. The ancient Dipawansa, the oldest record of Sri Lanka explained due to limited space in King’s house for larger crowd expected, the Elephant Stable was cleaned and prepared for Arahat Mahinda to preach the large gathering. This shows even King Dewanampiya Tissa had temed elephants and elephant stable.

The famous battle between king Dutugamunu ( r 101 – 77 BC ) and Chola king Elara, the final battle at Vijithapura, where King Dutugemunu’s elephant ‘Kandula’ killed king Elara’s elephant “Maha Pabbatha” was vividly recorded in Mahawansa, the chronological ancient history of Sri Lanka written by Buddhist monks.

My article to Island newspaper on 29th August 2020, “Protecting Mogul Emperor Aurangzeb’s silver coin ship”, even in 1703, Mughal Commander at Coromandel, Daud Khan Panni spent 10,500 silver coins to purchase 30 to 50 war elephants from Sri Lanka. This purchase was approved by our king then, Wimaladarmasooriya II in Kandy, according to the book, “Mughal Warfare: Indian Frontiersto Highroads to Empire 1500 to 1700” by Jos JL Gommans Leiden University in Netherlands ( page 122).

The great Mughal Emperor Akbar ( r . 1556- 1605 AD) had 32,000 elephants in his stables, more than one third imported from Sri Lanka! Mogul Emperors were elephant lovers.

Elephant shooter in British time

It was British who invaded our country and introduced elephant killings in 1820s .

Nuwaraeliya Golf Club

Due to Covit-19 pandemic my movements are restricted to NuwaraEliya for months. I have no complains. Cool weather and fresh air being enjoyed by my family and myself, specially my son, who drive up to NuwaraEliya Golf Club which is deserted and play nine holes everyday. No crowd and on his own phase.

Headstone of late Major Rogers

A small board next to Golf Club board drew my attention few days back. It gives directions to the head stone of late Major Thomas William Rogers grave, who killed more than 1400 elephants in eleven years, until he died of a lightning strike at Haputale Rest House on 7th June 1845. 1400 elephants killed by one person in eleven years! What a crime!

Sir Samuel Baker

Sir Samuel Baker of early British time (who was famous for Nile river expeditions in Africa), was a notable elephant hunter in Sri Lanka (then known as Ceylon). One day he killed 11 elephants before breakfast and 104 elephants in three days . Colonial Office papers indicate that rewards were offered for killing of 5500 elephants during this time. Further Colonial records show that Baker complained when Colonial Secretary reduced his rewards for killing elephants.

It is recorded that Major Skinner and Captain Gallewy has killed 700 elephants each , but they were no match to Major Rogers.

There is a connection in elephant killing and Golf ! Those days if you have a Golf bag made out of skin of penis of a bull elephant, you are an important man. You become further important, if you are the hunter who killed that bull elephant! Such a cruelty !

Wikipedia article says, King Edward VII owned a Golf bag made from an elephant’s penis, an gift by Indian Maharaja who has heard of king’s fondness for Golf and big game hunting. Elder son of Queen Victoria, who waited 60 years as Prince of Wales to become king. King Edward VII laid a Golf course in Windsor and was a keen golfer.

Our elephants gone through so much of cruelty under British. The Major Rogers’s crime not gone well with Sri Lankan Buddhist and Tamil Hindu estate workers who believe on God Ganesh. (Elephant headed Hindu God). They cursed him and was killed by lightning, a punishment people believed came from heaven.

King Edward VII playing Golf when he was Prince of Wales 

Story says even now lighting struck his grave time to time.

I asked how true these stories from old worker at NuwaraEliya Golf club. He confirmed, yes ! Once lighting had struck and even workshop of Golf Club had caught fire. The poachers who killed and dismembered innocent elephant in Yala block 3, closer to God Skanda temple and God Ganesh temple in Kataragama deserve punishment from God like Major Rogers.

Please raise your voice to protect our Elephants.

I am failing in my duty if I do not acknowledge research support of my son Ravi junior ( keen Golfer) for this article.

(The Writer, Retired from Sri Lanka Navy, and Former Chief of Defence Staff in Sri Lanka )

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