Sri Lanka seeks harmony between elephants and humans

LUNUGAMWEHERA, May 17, 2010 (AFP) – In the early hours of a hot dry day, four orphaned elephants begin a bumpy truck ride back to the jungles of southern Sri Lanka where they had been rescued from near certain death. The four baby jumbos — now aged five and six — are ready to leave the Elephant Transit Home where they have been treated and cared for since they were less than a year old.

The state-run home is refuge for dozens of baby elephants who are separated from their herds, fall into wells or ditches or are shot at by angry farmers as they raid banana, rice and sugarcane farms for food.

A one-hour drive takes Ollie, Toledo, Zicasso and Rani to the release site deep inside the Lunugamwehera national park. To rid them of human odour, they are hosed with elephant dung mixed in water.

The wildlife department staff clasp their hands in prayer while a saffron-robed Buddhist monk chants blessings for the elephants’ future.

At first they seem surprised by the lack of fences, but soon lumber off into the undergrowth.

The release is a special day for the carers and conservationists, who hail the programme as a successful method of re-integrating animals into the wild and saving Sri Lanka