Elephants

“A king who always cares for the elephants like his own sons is always victorious and will enjoy the friendship of the celestial world after death.” – Kautiliya

 

Last winter I fond myself in XXX and was delighted to visit the elephant orphanage there. All my life I have found myself drawn to elephants, so wise, caring, majestic. So when I was invited to a screening of the documentary film highlighting the special relationship between Sri Lankan elephants and the humans upon whom they rely for their survival, I knew I had to go.

 

The film, Common Ground, was screened by the Permanent Mission of Sri Lanka to the United Nations, along with the International Ecological Safety Collaborative Organization and the Hotel Emporium. A sold-out crowd including, diplomats, U.N. staff, civil society, friends and members of the public attended the event at the U.N.

 

H.E. Dr. Palitha Kohona, the Permanent Representative of Sri Lanka to the U.N., emphasized the importance of the survival of wild elephants during his opening remarks to the audience:

 

These majestic animals are an integral and intrinsic part of the cultural fabric of Sri Lanka. It is therefore absolutely crucial that the relationship between humans and elephants in Sri Lanka continues to reflect this vital bond, and that all of us, not only Sri Lankan, make every effort to ensure their survival, especially in the wild.

 

The Asian elephant (Elephas maximus) has been listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) since 1986.

Today there are only about 5, 000 wild elephants in Sri Lanka versus an estimated 12,000-14,000 in the early 19th century. As the total number of elephants in the wild continues to fall, conservationists like the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society (www.slwcs.org) and the World Wildlife Fund (www.wwf.org), are developing some innovative solutions to preserve this legendary animal.

 

Despite the decline in numbers, Sri Lanka still boasts the highest density of elephants in all of Asia. Sri Lankan elephants (Elephas maximus maximus) are one of 3 recognized subspecies of Asian elephants (the Indian elephant (E. m. indicus) and the Sumatran elephant (E. m. sumatranus) are the other two). The Sri Lanka elephant is protected under the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance of Sri Lanka (FFPO) and can be observed in protected areas and National Parks such as Yala, Wasgomuwa, Udawalawe, Minneriya and Kaudulla. Despite the increasing demand for farm land by a rapidly expanding population, the elephant habitats have remained protected.

 

Land conversion for farming or settlements displaces the elephants and competition for land and food between humans and elephants has become an issue. The elephants are now mostly restricted to the dry zone areas of Sri Lanka. During the dry season in Sri Lanka, the elephants enter farmland in search of food and water. These highly intelligent animals have developed a taste for sugar cane, bananas and rice. Today, the law imposes severe penalties for the killing of elephants, but nonetheless farmers will shoot invading elephants to protect their livelihood. The resulting conflict between people and elephants leads to deaths on both sides. The FFPO Organization has built a refuge for the treatment of injured elephants; and “Udawalwe National Park” has a rehabilitation center.

 

There is an important symbolic link that exists between humans and elephants in Sri Lanka that dates back thousands of years. No religious or public event was complete without the participation of elephants. The Esala Perahera, a pageant honoring the tooth religion of the Buddha, is held annually in Kandy, Sri Lanka. The festival goes back to the 3rd century BC and a magnificent tusker elephant leads the parade. Large Buddhist Temples of Sri Lanka tend to have their own elephants. The Hindu God Ganesh is represented with an elephant head and a four armed human body. The elephant surpasses religion and is revered by nearly all cultures. It’s survival in the wild is intertwined with the survival of humanity’s sense of wonder, imagination and responsibility to future generations.

 

 

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The Stewardship Report on Connecting Goodness is the communications platform of The James Jay Dudley Luce Foundation (www.lucefoundation.org). There are now more than 100 contributors around the world to this publication.

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