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'Ath Athuru Sevana': The elephant transit Home
The Transit Home for Baby Elephants of Sri Lanka
 
 
Since its inception a total of 83 baby jumbos had found a home at Ath Athuru Sevana. Thirty-nine had died subsequently due to serious illnesses and disabilities. Some were gifted to temples, others to public institutions and to the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage managed by the Zoological Gardens.
 
© CDN
 
The elephant transit home was set up in 1995 as a pilot project by the Department of Wildlife Conservation to look after the abandoned baby elephants till they are able to take care of themselves.

The warmth the baby jumbos are denied by their mothers was afforded to them to the fullest at the Ath Athuru Sevana by the Conservators and Veterinary Surgeons who look after their "charges" with love and devotion until the time is ripe for them to be sent back to their natural habitats. 

The Elephant Transit Home was established on 6th October 1995 at the Udawalawa National Park under the 29th Amendment of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance Part II. 


"I just can't go” - Conservators and Vet. Surgeon Suhada Jayewardena trying to pursuade a protesting baby elephant to get into the truck.

The Elephant Transit Home is the only home belonging to the Department of Wildlife Conservation where they take in jumbo babies found abandoned, stranded or orphaned in the jungles from all parts of the island. Some babies are found sick and wounded. They are kept and treated at the Elephant Transit Home and looked after till they are ultimately fit enough to be released back to the wild.

Since its inception a total of 83 baby jumbos had found a home at Ath Athuru Sevana. Thirty-nine had died subsequently due to serious illnesses and disabilities. Some were gifted to temples, others to public institutions and to the Pinnawela Elephant Orphanage managed by the Zoological Gardens.

Foster Parents

The Department of Wild Life Conservation (DWLC) introduced a Foster Parent Scheme for baby jumbos to enlist the support and participation of the community in their mission. The scheme, which saw daylight partly due to the high cost, incurred in the upkeep of the "babies" and secondly to afford an opportunity for nature lovers to participate in the conservation of wildlife, has steadily gained ground. 

The DWLC usually spends about Rs. 10,000/- per month to feed one baby elephant.


Environment and Natural Resources Minister Rukman Senanayake feeding a baby elepahant with a last drink of milk before departure to the wilds. 

The foster parents who join the scheme support the DWLC in the costs incurred in feeding and providing medical facilities to baby elephants. Among foster parents who adopted these "babies" were foreigners and schoolchildren. The Students of Kiribathgoda Vihara Maha Devi Vidyalaya collected a sum of Rs. 10,000/- to upkeep a baby elephant whom they have named as "Vibavi" in honour of their school.

Foster Parents are also afforded special concessions at the Elephant Transit Home. They are allowed to name their proteges, take photographs with them and finally personally release them to the wilds.

Baby Elephants who came of age had been released thrice to the jungles. The first batch of four elephants was released on the 21st March 1998 and consisted of three males and one female.

They were Gamini, Panduka, Anuradha and Anusha. The second batch of five, released on 1st July 2001 consisted of four females and one male. They were Komali, Isuru, Sandamaali, Maatali and Emaline. The third batch released on 18th January 2002 consisted of five females and three males. They were Tamali, Mihiri, Hema, Threema, Madara, Padavi, Jayendra and Mahesh. 

Before being released to the wilds, baby jumbos are fitted with Radio Collars to help wildlife officials to monitor the movements, behaviour and progress of the elephants. I also observed how they were given a traditional "ducking" of their own diluted dung to help them achieve a "jungle smell"and to erase any human smells that they might have developed during their stay at the at the Elephant Transit Home at Udawalawe. 

In June 2000 the Biodiversity and Elephant Conservation Trust offered its assistance to the DWLC to monitor the movements and the progress of the radio-collared elephants. Director of the Trust Jayantha Jayewardene said that, “The preliminary round of monitoring had shown that two radios were not sending out signals.” 

“One radio collar had been fitted on to a baby tusker but neither the tusker nor the collar was found. The other was on a female, which too was not found. The study had tracked the other four animals radio collared at the time of release. Radio telemetry was then used to track the movements of these elephants and to determine their ranging patterns, habitat use, social organization and other past-dispersal activity.” 

“All animals were located and observed for five days each week and their ranging pattern and positions including positions in relation to the nucleus herd and other animals were recorded. The positions were overlaid on a base map giving land use, topographical features, protected areas and infrastructure (roads, settlements etc).” 

Jayantha Jayewardene said that one interesting feature that emerged out of the study was that the four elephants, which were monitored, had linked permanently to a particular group or herd.

The other baby elephants that were not collared when released also stayed close to each other and joined the two herds together. He further explained that normally in the wild, when male elephants reached maturity, they were ejected from the herd and went off on their own or join other males.

This was nature's way of ensuring that there was no in-breeding within the herd. These males go out and breed with females in other herds, thus ensuring a gene flow. Mr. Jayewardene said it would be interesting to observe whether the newly released male baby elephants would also be ejected from the herd after they had been accepted.

 

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