Saturday, 7 June 2014 00:00
The great titan known as “Enigma” is a giant tusker who graced the open glades of Kaudulla National Park for a few days during some years searching for potential mate. This mammoth of a tusker sports five-foot long curved tusks which might easily be the largest on record of any tusker in Sri Lanka.
Spending only a few days of the year in Kaudulla, this tusker is not very tall, standing around 8.5 feet tall which is average for a bull, but is very stocky and well-built, accentuating his size. His key features are his massive shafts of ivory, which are a sight to behold.
First sighted around 2002, I have yearned to see and photograph him for many years. Several attempts to venture out there failed and many people I made inquiries from in the area were vague as well. “He was here last year,” “He was here few weeks ago,” “Never heard of” and “He wasn’t seen in four years” were some of the stories I heard. After many years of searching I gave up thinking he’s no more. This realisation made me sad and disappointed that I didn’t get to see him before he died (which I thought was his plight).
Many years later I got information through Facebook that he had been sighted yet again. I regained my hope and ventured out once again, to be disappointed yet another time. This mad chase finally bore fruit in 2012 when he appeared during mid May. I had informed the game rangers to call me as soon as he was sighted and I made arrangements to go there as soon as possible.
My commitment and years of searching paid off when I came face to face with this behemoth. In the height of musth, which is a heightened state of testosterone experienced by bull elephants during a certain time of the year, he was in search of a potential mate.
Musth results in the elephants secreting from their temporal glands, giving out a strong odour. They are also more aggressive and have a constant drive to find females and mate. Walking from female to female, the tusker passed our jeep. Pausing for about a minute right by our vehicle, he turned towards our jeep and looked straight at me. Fearing his next move would be to charge, we braced ourselves, but he was more interested in the females in the herd and moved on, leaving us speechless.
Since then he wasn’t seen thereafter and did not appear in 2013. It is thought that the tusker spends the rest of the year in the vast Somawathiya Chaithya National Park.
This year I yet again got news that he had arrived in the beginning of May. Yet he remained only for a few days and by the time I ventured out there, he was gone. Witnesses claim he was seen moving towards the main Habarana-Trinco road. Being sceptical we kept our hopes up that he would come back to Kaudulla before he disappeared for the rest of the year.
After a few weeks of waiting, I gave up and focussed on other ventures. While out in Yala, deep inside the park I got a few calls claiming the big tusker has been sighted in Minneriya National Park. Being sceptical I made a few calls and got confirmation that he truly has moved to this park and is seen patrolling the herd of females. Being always ready to see and photograph this amazing force of nature, the decision was made to drive all the way from Yala to Minneriya to try our luck.
After a drive of over 380 km and eight hours, we finally reached Minneriya. Eager to have an early start, we chose a central location and waited for the elephants to come out. After a few hours the call arrived telling us the big guy has appeared with a herd in the far corner of the lake.
Driving there in excitement we came across a big herd of elephants of around 100 strong. Among this group was the big boy patrolling and sniffing for receptive females. Most females not interested moved in haste away from the approaching tusker. The news of his arrival has attracted many wildlife enthusiasts from Colombo who were all awestruck by the might and majesty of this tusker.
Being seen on a daily basis even now, the tusker bears the scars of his conflicts with man in the hundreds of gunshots all over his body. Life has not been too rosy for this tusker and spending a few days of the year in Minneriya and Kaudulla gives him a chance to spread his genes, which would be unique among elephants.
I encourage the guardians of these national parks to be more proactive in their approach to protect and conserve such rare national treasures which can be lost forever with a single bullet. The public too needs to be more vigilant in providing information which will protect this tusker and all other tuskers for future generations.
(Read more from Rajiv at www.wildlifediaries.blogspot.com. You can view his photography portfolio at www.flickr.com/photos/rajivw and contact him via email on email@example.com.)