Is Rambo  of Uda Walawe dead?


Text and Pix By Srilal Miththapala

It was about 10-15 years ago that a large bull elephant was sighted regularly along the electric fence bordering the Thanamalwila Road that runs adjacent to the Uda Walawe National Park ( UWNP) and he was named Rambo. His demeanour was far from the Rambo in the movies, in that he was quite a docile animal, who just wandered up and down the fence peering at the passers-by, who for their part often stopped their vehicles to watch this magnificent pachyderm. It was only a matter of time before people started feeding Rambo with sugar cane and fruits bought from the vendors along the road.

Very soon, many other male elephants began emulating Rambo and started frequenting the fence, and it resulted in some 15-25 elephants at any given time staying close to the fence, with the hope of getting some tasty tit-bits, from tourists passing by. Efforts made to prevent passers by from feeding the elephants were not successful. Eventually the electric fence became a major attraction, providing unique photo opportunities with wild elephants in close proximity.

There were many debates over this and there were suggestions, that if it were properly controlled, this would be a good tourist attraction. However, all this changed about a year and half ago, when the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC)realized that they could not properly enforce the no- feeding rule along the Thanamalwila roadside, and erected a second electric fence behind the existing one. A large amount of money was spent on this second deterrent barrier, which extends from the end of the reservoir bund, right up to the park boundary on the Thanamalwila road up to the 25th Km post. This has proven to be quite successful, and today there are no elephants along this stretch of the road.

However, the authorities had not bargained for Rambo. Unable to indulge in his favourite past time, he then started swimming across the reservoir and would get on to the steep embankment along the reservoir bund, to access the roadway ( where there was only a single fence) to solicit food from vehicles passing by.

While this is quite an amusing and intriguing sight, which attracted lot of attention, there was concern that Rambo was getting too dependent on this type of food. He seemed to be quite content to stay along the bund, eating whatever little vegetation there was and looking out for the additional favourite tit bits given by passers-by.

Dr Vijitha Perera, Senior Wildlife Veterinarian, DWC told this writer that Rambo more or less spends most of his time on the bund, which means that he may not be getting adequate nutrition from anywhere else. In fact, a closer look at Rambo revealed that his body condition was not what it should be. No doubt, he was advancing in age (he would be about 40 years now), but we still felt that the deterioration could be because he is not getting enough proper food. The DWC had tried on several occasions to chase him back into the park, by lighting elephant deterrent fire crackers (aliwedi), but apparently, he swims back across after the authorities have left.

Last week Dr Vijitha told this writer that he had noticed another very disturbing observation where Rambo’s legs and belly were swollen and distended. He felt this was because Rambo was not getting any sleep, or proper exercise by staying on the bund continuously, and that his body weight was causing fluid to collect in his lower extremities.

Immediately Dr Vijitha had begun treating him, and also had tried feeding him more nutritious food.

However last Saturday we received a call from him that Rambo was missing. Efforts to locate him have been so far futile. If he has gone back into the park, then on the one hand it may be a good sign but the veterinary surgeon needs to monitor him and continue the treatment. On the other hand, he may have gone back into the park and collapsed somewhere.

The search continues, with all the trackers having been alerted to keep a look out for Rambo. But given his demeanour and the behaviour he has learned over many years, it is difficult to imagine that he will suddenly stay away from his favourite haunt for so long, unless he is badly ill, or something more serious has happened to him.

While certainly everyone will hope and pray that we are all proved wrong, the prognosis is not good, and all logical evidence indicates that Rambo may be no more in the land of the living.

It is indeed, sad that we do not pay enough attention to such iconic animals and make special efforts to safeguard these gentle giants, who roam this island of ours.

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