UDAWALAWE, July 16, 2008 (AFP) – After years of being bottle-fed formula milk, eight orphaned baby elephants appear reluctant to leave their temporary home, but mahouts heave-ho them onto trucks for a journey back to the wild. The elephants are enticed with milk and coconut palm to climb the ramps into the trucks — the time has come to leave Sri Lanka’s Elephant Transit Home.
The trucks head deep into the Udawalawe wildlife sanctuary where the freed orphans will fend for themselves for the first time in years.
With luck the babies, aged between three and five years, will join herds among the park’s estimated 400 wild elephants, some of them also former transit home inmates.
“This is the eighth batch of baby elephants we are releasing since we started this programme in 1998,” said veterinarian Tharaka Prasad.
The 22 elephant keepers have developed bonds with their charges and the parting is difficult, said Prasad, who treats the wounded babies. “But we all accept that this is the best thing for the elephants.”
Sri Lanka has been rescuing orphaned baby elephants for more than 35 years with state help, and the transit home is part of a drive to save the island’s endangered elephant species.