Rambo, hale and hearty at Uda Walawe

Saturday, 31 January 2015 00:05 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

I had the good fortune of being invited by Mahoora Tented Safari Camps to visit them at their Uda Walawe camp site recently. I had not seen their operations after they were forced to relocate their campsites outside the park about two years ago. The camp site is situated about 35 kms from the park, bordering north eastern boundary of the park on the Tanamalwila-Balangoda road in the Hambegamuwa area. This camp site is much more spacious and has 16 tents which can accommodate about 40-50 people. It has the same high quality of accommodation and food as before, and the staff were very attentive. It has a good view overlooking a water body, and it was nice to sit in front of a bonfire and have a drink in the cool night.  

Elephant Transit Home

Before I checked into the campsite, however, I made a quick stop over at the Elephant Transit Home (ETH) to meet my friend the Chief Veterinary Surgeon, and head of the ETH Dr. Vijitha Parera. As always it was great to see the 40 odd orphans coming in for their 12 noon milk feed. I was surprised to see how Namal, the juvenile whose hind leg had to be amputated due to a snare injury, had grown. He stood almost up to my shoulder now and was doing well, quite boisterous and gregarious, in spite of his disability. They had just fitted a newer and bigger prosthetic limb which he was trying out. Several of the larger juveniles had radio collars fitted around their neck, as they were being readied for release to the wild next month.  

Evening safari drive

From the campsite, I managed to get in a quick evening safari drive to the Uda Walawe National Park with the Mahoora naturalist, which is included in the package offered by Mahoora. As always, the park lived up to its reputation, as one of the best wild life parks in Sri Lanka for viewing wildlife. We saw many bird species, quite a few of which were not so common, such as the Sirkeer Malkoha, Blue faced MalKoha, Hoopoes and Chestnut headed Bee-eater. Of course there were abundantly good sightings of elephants, which the park is famous for, and they seemed to be well-fed, although the park looked quite dry, in spite of the recent heavy rains a month ago. Very unusually we spotted a large number of jackals all over the park, and quite honestly the jackal sightings seemed to be more that elephant sightings!  

Looking for Rambo

However, as always, I looked forward to meeting up with Rambo, the famous Uda Walawe elephant who patrols the reservoir bund, soliciting food from the passers-by. I was disappointed that he was not anywhere to be seen in his regular haunts, on my way up. With the recent rain, the water level of the reservoir has increased considerably, and I was wondering whether Rambo had found it difficult to come across to the reservoir, on to the bund from the park (where he occasionally goes back into) due to high water level. However on my way back, I was thrilled to see Rambo there, large as life, up to his old tricks, standing by the electric fence and soliciting food. Valiant efforts were made by the authorities to stop Rambo being fed by people. LTL Projects Ltd., in association with the Department of Wildlife Conservation came forward and put up signs warning people not to feed the elephant. However, as is evident, there is hardly any improvement and feeding goes on. I spent about 20 minutes inspecting him at very close quarters and found that he was in prime body condition. I reckon Rambo must be a good 45+ years now, having seen him as a well-built young elephant back in the early 1990. I could not recollect seeing him in such good condition in the recent past, and obviously whatever is going on is not affecting him. Most of us elephant enthusiasts and researchers now believe that Rambo should not be disturbed. He has become an icon for the Uda Walawe National Park, and also for wildlife tourism in Sri Lanka. So many of us believe that in the twilight of his life, he should be allowed to continue his vigil on the bund, as long as he does not cause any major disruptions.