Saturday Magazine
Mass massacre of elephants in Sri Lanka

elep.jpg (18093 bytes)by Godwin Witane
The three European nations who one after another grabbed this island of paradise, gamboled gleefully in exploiting and plundering the wealth of this land in utmost liberty and callousness. The Western countries like Portugal, Netherlands and England are yet to compensate peoples of this land for all their robbery and destruction they were engaged in during their colonisation periods. The agreement or convention made between the British and the Kandyan Chiefs, whose kingdom was never under the sovereignty of an alien nation, they the British violated with gay abandon. There was formidable public resent most and repugnance to this entirely alien people who were involved in a series of acts of vandalism to bury the historical past of a proud nation with scintillate heritage and culture. They took great delight in blemishing our shining Eastern culture and religion which was accepted as supreme by India and the far Eastern countries of the world. They traded in the unexplored virgin forest coverage land of the Hill Country covered with thick foliage all too far for detail. They sold parts of it to the European immigrants at 20 shillings an acre for the planting of coffee.

In the year 1847 there came a gentleman of the British fraternity, whom I may a man without a heart. He was a person gifted with extraordinary wealth and money, the son of a rich father who was engaged in commerce in a West Indian company. Enticed by the flamboyant tales related by visitors to this resplendent island, then called Ceylon. He came here to satisfy an inborn desire in him to hunt or kill as many as possible the lords of the forests of this country, the elephant that were enjoying the undisbuted right of living in the jungles of Sri Lanka, their own paradise. These tragedies have left an indelible impression of a man’s perverted habits that are inconsistent with traditional religious feelings of a nation associated with "Ahimsa" steeped in abstaining from harming any living being. Sri Lankans are some of the kindest and friendliest people living in any part of the world. When Buddhism was introduced into this country in 3rd Century B.C. by Arahat Mahinda, the reigning Monarch Devanam Piyatissa embraced Buddhism while on a deer hunt in the wilds of Mihintale jungles. The essence of Buddhism being "Ahimsa" namely compassion and abstaining from hurting any living being, the noble Monarch soon after proclaimed by an Edict that taking the life of any living being of the jungles was an offence. He gave "Abaya Dana" or undisputed freedom of living to the denizens of the forest and the birds of the sky.

From olden times the elephants of Sri Lanka were used as a vehicle of transport both by the King and lesser folks. History records that Hannibal used elephants in the Gallic wars in Europe. Likewise the Singhalese Kings too rode on elephant back in combat. It was while riding the dauntless Royal Elephant Kandula that Price Dutugemunu killed Elara the Tamil King in single combat while Elara himself was riding his equally strong elephant. We gather from history that King Kasyapa of Sigiri fame rode on the back of an elephant in the war against his brother Moggallana. The elephant from the time it was tamed was used to haul heavy loads and draw vehicles. The ancient Kings of Lanka who were the architects of the large tanks that supplied water for paddy cultivation used elephants to build the gigantic tank funds. The ceremonial elephant is all prominent in Buddhist processions. The Holy Dalada is annually carried in procession on the back of a lordly tusker. Samuel Baker the elephant hunter of the early British period in Ceylon having studied the wealth of the fauna in this country went back to England for a short period with the express purpose of equipping himself with the necessary weapons of destruction in the form of guns and rifles and ammunition to suit his purpose in declaring war on the elephants and other animals of the forests of Ceylon. These weapons were manufactured by the gun smiths according to the specifications and dimensions as directed by him to his needs. The invention of the bullet and the cartridge was not in vogue then but came later. It was the Muzzule loading gun with a spring that was available at that time. This gun needed the packing of gun powder and shot rammed in with a rod every time a charge was expended for a fresh shot. Thus the time taken for this enabled an animal to gain its escape. For this purpose the hunter had several guns ready at hand loaded with a charge. The hunter also had the advantage of deciding on the capacity of the charge according to the size of the animal he wished to target. If the present day metal bullet and the multi barrelled gun and cartridges were available to him no animal would have been spared to service for the propagation of the species to adorn our forests. The sight of an elephant in the wilds or in captivity is a pleasing object. I have seen many a tourist enjoying rides on elephant back when they visit our country. The elephants both small and large cared for at the Elephant Orphanage at Pinnawela is a great attraction enjoyed alike by both the locals and foreigners. This haughty hunter Samuel Baker having returned to England in 1855 after living 8 years in Ceylon had the audacity and vanity to publish a book titled "The Rifle and Hound In Ceylon" describing the wantom destruction of our elephant populace by him illustrated with captivating drawings his mass massacre. The one shown on this page will amply convince the reading public the brutish force rained on the innocent elephant packs.

According to the description in his book he had spent days and weeks in the unfriendly jungles enjoying homely comfort in well furnished spacious tents stocked with imported tinned meat, fish and fruits and also an assortment imported spirits to mellow the bodily strain undergone during a day’s outing in the unexplored forests of the dry zone. It had been an army of servants and helpers such as carriers, cooks, trackers and horse keepers numbering sixty to seventy he had employed at each safari. A day’s success at hunting was measured by the number of animals killed in one day not sparing even an orphaned destitute baby elephant that strode behind hugging the mother’s heel. Sometimes this figure reached thirty or forty in number. In his narrative he has shamelessly admitted that when a lactating she elephant was killed he and his brother did not fail to enjoy the spilling milk from the animal’s udder sucking the nipples with their mouths as it was deemed wholesome. The picture on this page clearly illustrate the heartless cruelty practised by this alien hunter on freely roaming herds of the champions of our forests. Besides elephants he had killed other game for his food and that of the host of employees that accompanied him throughout his stay in the wilds. A century and half after the massacre the elephant population at the present day has swelled to such numbers that the ever declining forest coverage no more sustain the hungry herds that they intrude into village plantations in search of food. Many an elephant have become victim to angry villagers’ guns. The country’s Wild Life Laws namely the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance prevents the destruction of the denizens of the jungle.