Jumbo ‘Rambo’ safe in Udawalawe

  • DWC attempts to translocate to Horowpothana foiled


Following protests from various environmental activists against plans to translocate the elephant “Rambo” from the Udawalawe National Park to the Horowpothana Elephant Holding Ground (HEHG), the elephant is set to be kept at Udawalawe for the time being.

Justice for Animals and Nature organisation Chairman Ven. Dr. Omalpe Sobhitha Thera told The Morning yesterday (31) that elephants suffer from starvation and experience loneliness when translocated to HEHG, and that the protests have been successful in putting off the translocation plans.

The Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) attempted to translocate “Rambo” due to allegations that the electric fence is broken, and would allow the animal to wander into adjacent farmland.

Civil Defence Force (CDF) authorities in Kataragama told The Morning that they would be investigating the allegations that one of the electric fences in the National Park is not being maintained properly.

Attempts by The Morning to contact the DWC Director General Chandana Sooriyabandara proved futile.

“On 30 March, the DWC tried to take Rambo from the Udawalawe National Park to the Holding Ground at Horowpothana because farmers in the area have complained that he is tame enough to wander into their sugarcane cultivations and eat the sugarcane,” Sobhitha Thera told The Morning.

“There are two electric fences bordering the Park. One is near the main road, and the other is approximately 100 metres behind it. However, the one at the back is not maintained properly and this enables elephants to come near the road, where visitors to the area often feed them. This is a problem with the authorities,” claimed Dr. Sobhitha Thera.

Conservationist Pubudu Weerarathna expressed similar concerns with The Morning, highlighting that the authorities have not attempted to stop the elephants from coming near the main road for a long time.

The Morning learnt that the CDF maintains 36 electric fences in the Kataragama area, spanning a total distance of 456.5 km. However, it is also learnt that while electric fences alone are only a temporary measure to stop elephants, the digging of a trench just before the fence increases its effectiveness.

The HEHG was constructed in 2013, with the aim of translocating elephants who were caught in the human-elephant conflict (HEC). According to the last elephant census done in the Holding Ground in 2019, only nine elephants were remaining from over 50 elephants that had been translocated there.

According to the “Performance of the HEHG” National Audit Report for 2020, although the HEHG was originally constructed to retain 30 rogue elephants as a solution to the HEC, 52 elephants had eventually been released into the Ground by 2019. 

However, at the time the elephant census of the report was conducted in June 2019, only nine elephants were remaining as 12 had died and the report claimed that the DWC lacked information on whether the other 31 elephants had also died or fled.

The Morning reported last week that elephant fences, covering a total distance of 1,500 km, would be constructed within 2021 as a solution to the ongoing HEC.

The last official elephant census carried out in 2011 estimated Sri Lanka’s elephant population at a minimum of 5,179 elephants, while 2020 recorded 400 elephant and 122 human deaths due to the HEC.