Dala Poottuva: the victim of a bloody curse | Sunday Observer

Dala Poottuva: the victim of a bloody curse

At a time when the human- elephant conflict contributes to the deaths of 250 elephants and 60 humans a year, the crossed tusker of Galgamuwa, known as Dala Poottuwa served to be a symbol of peace. The appearance of this partially blind giant, in their home gardens, was no surprise to villagers of Galgamuwa. The tusker roamed the hedges, at times liberally enjoying the vegetation. When it reached nearby farms, it was chased away by lighting crackers. However, the appearance of the tusker, at the festival of Aluth Sahal Mangalya was a welcome sight to villagers, who believed the tusker to bring the blessings of God Aiyanayake, since it was a common belief of the area that the crossed tusker was the vehicle of God Aiyanayake.

With the arrest of two suspects attempting to trade off a pair of elephant tusks and elephant pearls, by the Walana Anti-Corruption Unit on Thursday (23), a suspicion arose as to the identity of the tusker. Coupled with the disappearance of the Galgamuwa crossed tusker from the area, the aligning and markings of the tusks taken into custody lead to the speculation that they belonged to the famous Dala Poottuva. Following public outcry, search parties comprising the Special Task Force(STF), Police and the Department of Wildlife Conservation(DWC) officers combed the nearby sanctuaries, looking for the tusker.

A carcass of an elephant believed to be of Dala Poottuva was discovered from the Kahalla – Pallekelle area by the STF. DWC, Wayamba Region, Assistant Director, A. H Sumanasena told the media that initial identification from a gunshot injury sustained by the tusker indicates the carcass belongs to Dala Poottuva. Meanwhile, Minister of Sustainable Development and Wildlife, Gamini Jayawickrama Perera and DWC, Deputy Director, Manjula Amararathna confirmed that the pair of tusks taken into Police custody from Walana belonged to Dala Poottuva.

They said, this conclusion has been reached based on the curvature and the unique markings found on the tusks. Police sources said, the post mortem confirmed that the cause of death of the elephant carcass found was due to a gunshot injury. Minister of Law and Order and Southern Development and Prime Minister’s Chief of Staff, Sagala Ratnayaka has instructed the Criminal Investigation Department( CID) to further probe the incident.On Friday (1), Police arrested five suspects connected to the killing of DalaPoottuwa.

Concerns raised

Speaking of the incident, Enviornmentalist, Sujeewa Chandana said, this has been a crime well planned and executed. “ Whoever did this has observed the behaviour pattern of the tusker for a while. During this season of the year, Dala Poottuva usually migrates towards Kala Wewa from its home range in Galgamuwa,”he said.

Sujeewa added, this is probably the tusker, the DWC has spent most on, in terms of treating the injuries. According to him, the tusker has sustained several trap gun injuries in the past, including injuries to the leg and forehead. Veterinary officers believe it was a gunshot within close proximity to the eye which has resulted in the blindness of the tusker, said Wildlife Activist, R. M. J. Bandara. He said, Dala Poottuva was only 50 years old and was in good health, except for blindness.

“ The uniqueness of Dala Poottuva was in the curvature and the crossing of its tusks, which is a descendant of the Daduru Oya line. The tusks are large and point downward, which makes crossing of tusks rare. Also, Dala Poottuva had a longer left tusk and a shorter right tusk. The right tusk rubbed off on the left, creating a small indenture on the left tusk,” Sujeewa said.

Another concern raised in relation to conserving these animals, is the lack of a DNA bank of wild elephants in the country.

“ Despite treating this animal multiple times, the officials at the DWC have not acquired a sample of DNA. This has made the identification of tusks and the carcass difficult,”said Bandara.

Vanishing of the tuskers

Sujeewa further said, Wayamba Wildlife Zone has few tuskers of the Daduru Oya lineage, and that seven percent of the elephant population of this zone are tuskers, compared to the four percent found in other regions of the country.

“ A few more tuskers from this region have vanished in the recent past, including the tusker Walagamba who has been missing for five years. Currently, there are about 10 large tuskers in the area, all of whom are under threat of falling victims to poachers ,” he said.

There are rumours of an illegal racket where tusks are being traded from the area, said Bandara.

Meanwhile, Minister Jayawickrama Perera said information has reached of Ivory necklaces being discovered in the house of a suspect.

“ We are trying to find whether the killing of Dala Poottuva is part of an Ivory racket that has been going on for sometime.

This is going to be a large scale investigation and persons who committed this crime will not escape justice,” he assured.

Why tuskers are killed

At the same time, there remains the question of the tusker to whom the confiscated elephant pearls belonged to.

Tuskers serve as an iconic symbol of Sri Lankan culture, where a tusker is entrusted with the task of carrying the relics of the Buddha, in Pereharas. These tuskers serve as a religious and cultural symbol and are looked upon with respect and sometimes with fear. However, the irony is that tuskers in the jungle are killed for the selfish act of obtaining ivory and elephant pearls.

The tusks belonging to Dala Poottuva was priced at Rs 2 million.

The ivory is used for making ornaments, jewellery, piano keys, etc. There are many myths surrounding ivory, which is believed to bring prosperity to the owner.

Elephant pearls are considered good luck charms that bring good health to children and victory to its bearer.

Blinded by these myths, little does the wearer consider that the atrocious act of killing an elephant could hardly bestow any blessings upon the bearer.

Where does the fault lie

Many fingers have been pointed at the DWC for not knowing that Dala Poottuwa was dead until the tusks were found, and consider the incident to highlight the weaknesses and failure of DWC.

Bandara accuses the DWC of taking no efforts to investigate the incident until the media reported it.

An anonymous source informed the Sunday Observer that the Wildlife officers in this region display a high affinity to alcohol and are drunk during office hours.

“ Anyone can bribe them with alcohol and then proceed with nefarious activities,” the source said.

The source added that the Dala Poottuwa lived in an unprotected area.

“It needed extra protection since it was blind. DWC should have taken it to a sanctuary and made more efforts to keep track of Dala Poottuva.”he said.

Legal protection

Sections 12 to 24of the Flora and Fauna Protection Ordinance of 1937, affords legal protection to elephants, said Environmentalist and Attorney- at – Law, Jagath Gunawardana.

“Under section 12, it is an offence to kill or injure an elephant. Provisions on section 22A state it is an offence to keep tusks of elephants or parts of tusks illegally.

This is also considered an offence under Public Property Act,” Gunawardana said.

Also, the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species (CITES) of 1989 has banned the trading of ivory.

Sujeewa said, it is important to use radio collars to conserve elephants, and to have a count of all wild elephants in the country.

“ We will be conducting an extensive survey of wild elephants in the country, in August 2018,”he said.

Ministry of Wildlife and Sustainable Development, Secretary, R M D B Meegasmulla admitted that there are shortcomings on the part of the Ministry, and they are taking steps to counter these.

Meegasmulla said, radio collars are being used to monitor certain wild species, including elephants, but this is still at experimental level. Speaking of the issue, Minister Perera said, monitoring elephants is a difficult task since they roam up to 20 kilometers in the jungle, and these elephants cannot be kept in custody.

However, the Minister said, a compensation scheme will be introduced to farmers, to discourage them from shooting at elephants feeding on the farms.

The radio collar dilemma

Practical difficulties in monitoring elephants via radio collars has been raised, alongside concerns on potential risk to the animal in installing these collars.

“Once,I heard that an elephant with a radio collar went missing, but there was a signal from a certain area. The officers who followed this signal discovered the radio collar from a nearby farmers house,”the Minister said.

Without a conservation mechanism, these tuskers, which are national treasures and a symbol of national pride, will be lost forever.

Without immediate action, the death of the last tusker of this land will not be far away.