A month ago I wrote in about the non-appearance of Walawe Raja (the Uda Walawe National Park’s (UWNP) most prized exhibit) in the park, as is customary during this time of the year (Sunday Times Plus September 12).
A majestic tusker in the prime of his life, “Walawe Raja” frequents the park every year. Raja is usually sighted during the drought period, from around June to September, when he appears suddenly, to spend about three-four months in the park. Often he is in musth, and spends most of his time searching for receptive females in herds. During the rest of the year no one really knows where he disappears to. In all probability, he wanders out of the northern side of the park towards Balangoda and Hambegamuwa regions.
|The majestic Tusker in 2005
The article generated quite a lot of interest both locally and internationally, and a few wildlife enthusiasts decided to try to find out what could have happened to this icon of UWNP.
Inquiries from trackers, wardens, and villagers on a recent visit elicited no news, except that Raja has not been seen this year. We have now planned out a month long, concerted action plan to try and locate Raja with the following objectives-To undertake a quick search and investigation in the surrounding regions of the north eastern and north western side of UWNP to find out whether there have been any recent sightings of Raja. We hope to focus on the plight of wild elephants in Sri Lanka and the urgent need to take some cohesive action immediately to halt the demise of these animals in the wild.
The area north-east/ north west of the UWNP surrounded by village hamlets and dense forests is where Raja is always sighted during his periodic visits, which leads many to believe that he uses these ‘corridors’ to move in and out of the park.
Research has indicated that home ranges for Sri Lankan male elephants can be in the order of 100-200 sq km (Fernando. P; Wickramanayake.E ; et al 2007). However it must be borne in mind that home range fidelity is dependent on varied factors such as weather, food resources, and most importantly in this case, sexual condition. ( Raja is a fully grown male in the prime of his life and regularly comes into musth). Hence, there is a fair amount of ‘guess-timation’ in deciding on the study area.
Since a considerable quantum of the study area will be forest, it will be difficult to embark on a physical ‘track and search’ operation. Therefore, we hope to initially hone in on some sightings of Raja by villagers of the area. Daily visits will be made to the different village hamlets on a systematic basis to cover the whole study area. Villagers will be asked about any possible recent sightings of Raja (supported by good photos for identification). The field team will have considerable IT facilities (Internet, GPS, notebook computer etc.) for real time connectivity.
The project is planned to begin mid-October. We are hoping that there will be financial support forthcoming, from some private sector companies, who support environment and wild life, as well as help in kind, by some of the IT service providers, for the basic equipment that will be needed. Already there are pledges of funds from several foreign donors.
More information can be obtained from the web site www.findraja.srilankaelephant.com
Phone +94 115588700 ;e-mail : firstname.lastname@example.org.