Thursday, August 8, 2013
Tusker Adventure in Galgamuwa
Few weeks ago I went to Galgamuwa in search of its resident tusker. We stumbled upon him, but in our haste, didn’t get the encounter we wanted, as the giant bull retreated into the forest. Therefore, determined to find him again, I set off to Galgamuwa once again. I was joined by my friends Romesh, Nandika and Dilan. We departed at 3.00 am on a Saturday morning, taking the route through Kurunegala, we reached Galgamuwa town by 6.30 am. We met up with my friend and Galgamuwa resident Bandara, who welcomed us to his home. After a good breakfast hosed by Bandara and his family, we took off through the village roads in search of clues to find the giant tusker. Bandara told me that this peaceful giant was disturbed by some rowdy teenagers few days earlier, where the bull was feeding along a lake when these boys had surrounded him and fired "Ali Wedi" which is very loud explosives. Such actions is very bad, mainly because the elephant was not eating off any cultivations and was doing the "right" thing by eating wild grasses on a lake, and such attacks would merely confuse the animal. Most of the older villagers we spoke to scorned this action, and spoke of this tusker with a mild fondness.
Driving along these small roads, I suddenly came across a Blue Faced Malkoha, which is a very difficult bird to photograph. Finally with a photo of this bird we continued along the lonely roads, talking to villagers and trying to get information on the tusker’s whereabouts.
We came across an old farmer, who confirmed that he chased out the tusker the night before from his chena cultivation. He asked us to follow him, and we ended up in a village temple, from where onwards we took off on foot across miles of abandoned paddy fields. Bandara and the old farmer went ahead and gave a call, confirming that the tusker has been found. I was elated, and mentioned to the other boys to stay silent while we approached the location.
Bordering a forest patch we saw the massive bulls head and top of his back towering over the bushes and trees. He was facing us, and sniffing the air. Not wanting to alarm him we kept a good distance, sat down and waited with the expectation that he would come out into the open. After about an hour of waiting, we suddenly noticed the tusker is not to be seen. Bandara climbed a tall tree to get a better look, but there were no signs that he was there. Fearing that he has eluded us once again, we took a detour, and circled the forest patch, expecting to see the tusker emerge from the other side. Despite our expectations, the bull did not make an appearance. We were puzzled where he would have gone, and walked along the paddy fields and forest patches looking for signs of his presence such as footprints and sounds. We came to a dried up jungle tank, where we saw several trees where the elephant has rubbed his back. The wood was well polished and there were signs of dried out mud on the bark of the tree. Yet these were old, and there were no fresh footprints around.
Lying in wait
Bandara trying to get a better look from a higher vantage point
Bandara suspected that the tusker would have returned to his earlier location, and thus we walked back to where we last saw him. Approaching this area, I heard a soft thudding noise. With my experience I knew this was the sound of an elephant flapping its ears. We slowly walked towards the site, and we saw the big elephant once again in the same location we last saw him. We settled down again, and waited for more than an hour. I noticed the big bull suddenly sinking down and disappearing from sight, which made us realize that he didn’t move away at all and rather was lying down and sleeping.
The sun was getting really hot, and we had left our hats and water bottles in the vehicle. We sent Nandika and Dilan to fetch them, and they returned with much needed hydration and some banana’s to fill our hunger. We waited a few more hours and realized the tusker is going nowhere, and expected him to come out in the evening when the sun is less hot. Thus we decided to head back to Bandara’s house for lunch. His mother and wife have prepared an amazing spread for us, and fully refreshed we headed back to the site by early evening.
When we arrived we saw the tusker slowly emerging from the forest. We walked towards him, as he slowly approached us. The light was perfect, and this magnificent pachyderm was a sight to behold. He was one of the largest tuskers I have ever seen, with his immense size and beautiful crossed tusks. He spent some time looking at us, throwing some dust, and thereafter slowly walked along the forest into the adjoining abandoned paddy areas. We got our share of photographs, and enjoyed this majestic sight, after which we left him alone to be in peace and headed back home.
Contemplating on our encounter, we realized that this area has very little land for elephants to roam, and yet they are living side by side with people, in eternal conflict. This is a problem to which I see no end, and both parties from the poor villager to the elephants suffer.