Kandula – the little elephant of the Army

When the Light Infantry Regiment marched at the Victory parade to mark the military defeat of the LTTE, at Galle Face recently, there was a void in their ranks. Kandula - their mascot had retired a few days earlier with a special military march held in its honour. Now, another Kandula is being trained to do the honours.
By Malaka Rodrigo

Remember the little elephant that marched to the beat of the drums at Independence Day parades? Remember the way it lifted its trunk to salute the commanders? Kandula, the mascot of the Light Infantry Regiment of Sri Lanka Army was a conspicuous absentee when regiments of the Sri Lanka Army marched at Galle Face on June 3 to commemorate the Forces’ victory over the LTTE. Like all servicemen, this elephant too had to retire, not because of old age, but because it had reached adulthood at the age of 12 years.
Inspecting the guard of honour for last time

The Light Infantry Regiment has had an elephant as its mascot since 1961. This elephant is always named Kandula as a tribute to the royal elephant of King Dutugemunu, who fought many battles to protect the sovereignty of Sri Lanka. When an elephant reaches maturity, it can become difficult to control and as the mascot has to be a male, the times when it is in musth can be dangerous. So the regiment has to periodically retire its mascot and train a new calf to take its place.

Kandula-VI was retired after seven years in the army. A special retirement ceremony was held at Panagoda army camp on May 20, with military honours. One hundred soldiers were in attendance for Kandula’s farewell testifying the importance of the mascot to the Light Infantry Regiment.

“The regiment considers Kandula as one of its members,” said Lt. Colonel Jagath Kodithuwakku, who is in charge of Kandula.

During its years of service, Kandula VI decorated many parades including many Independence Day ceremonies and even had the honour of taking the torch of the SAF games held in Sri Lanka in 2006.
The retirement ceremony started with Kandula-VI making its final march together with a formation of soldiers.
Getting to know each other: Kandula VI and Kandula VII

Then the Centre Commandant of the Light Infantry Lieutenant Colonel Kodithuwakku read the farewell order to officially release Kandula VI from its duties. It was the time for Kandula-VI to inspect the parade and true to his training, the jumbo slowly walked past the uniformed soldiers for the last time.

The final part of the retirement ceremony included the transfer of duties to the new apprentice elephant – Gamunu who had been chosen from Pinnwala Elephant Orphanage. Kandula has a dedicated position to the right of the soldier formation. Symbolizing the handing over of duties, Kandula-VI moved away from that position and the apprentice took its place, becoming the seventh elephant to become the mascot of the Light Infantry Regiment. Kandula VI was seen grunting to the new elephant, perhaps wishing it ‘Good Luck’.

It was not an easy parting for Kandula VI. It refused to get into the lorry to go back to Pinnawala, after all the Panagoda camp had been its home for seven years. But at Pinnawala, Kandula received a grand welcome – reunited with parents – Sukumali and Neila after a long time. Kandula-VI was called Arjun while it was in Pinnawala.

The making of a mascot

The new mascot is five-year-old ‘Gamunu’, now known by its service name as Kandula-VII.
It is no easy process to train an elephant to become a mascot of an army unit. The process begins with a lot of paper work between the Army and the National Zoological Gardens Department with special Cabinet approval having to be obtained for its release from Pinnawela.

The next step is to select a healthy elephant qualified to become the mascot. It is also a rule that the elephant should be more than five years old and not dependent on its mother’s milk.

The ownership of the elephant however, remains with the National Zoological Gardens Department thatadministers Pinnawala orphanage. Veterinarians from the zoo inspect the elephant from time to time and have the right to recommend everything for the welfare of elephant. “We are releasing an elephant to be the Light Infantry’s mascot considering it as a national duty,” said Dammika Malsinghe, the Deputy Director of Zoological Gardens.
Duty done Kandula-VI hesitantly steps into truck to go back to Pinnawela

The training of a new apprentice began months ago in Pinnawala. Mahouts attached to the Light Infantry Regiment visited Pinnawala and spent time with Gamunu to familiarize themselves with the jumbo. Gamunu has learned a few tricks in Pinnawala itself, already marching to the beat of the drums and saluting.

The apprentice will undergo further training at Panagoda camp and learn the disciplines of the service. It will have a specific timetable like a normal soldier and will be trained under the special unit. Parading at a noisy ceremony, being exposed to the sun is not easy, but a well-trained elephant, like any other soldier, takes it in its stride.

Elephants were part of Sri Lankan armies from ancient times and Kandula is the last link to remind us of that legacy.

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