A battle for lady love at Kala wewa | Sunday Observer

A battle for lady love at Kala wewa

The herd pays respect to the fallen giant
The herd pays respect to the fallen giant

News reports of an epic battle between a tusker and a large adult male on the banks of Kalawewa came flooding in at the turn of the week. According to the reports, the large male fell after being injured with multiple wounds from its opponent’s tusks. A number of elephants were then observed gathered around the carcass, a feat both international and local media interpreted as paying last respects to the fallen giant who was considered the leader of the herd.

However, experts argue that some of this is far from the factual, pointing at the scientific findings that clearly indicate elephants have matriarchal societies.

“The leader of an elephant herd is a female matriarch, generally the oldest and the most experienced of the herd,” says Environmentalist, Sujeewa Chandana, adding that the adults in an elephant herd consists of females, while the males in the herd are no older than 15 years of age. Once the males reach sexual maturity, 13 to 15 years, they leave the herd, or are chased away by the rest of the herd. This, he says, is a behaviour pattern of elephants to prevent inbreeding within the herd.

The male adults, live a solitary life and are referred to as lone elephants. At times, two to three of these loners get together to form a small herd, for example, when they enter villages to feed on crops.

“Otherwise, they roam in solitude within their respective range along the migratory path during the daytime, and gather at the place where they drink water, in the evening,” Sujeewa says.

These male adults reach a state known as ‘musth’, during which they become aggressive, agitated and roam in search of a female to mate. “Elephants reach musth three times a year and remain in this state for approximately two months. During the months of August and September, which fall in the dry season, elephants reach musth,” Sujeewa explains. However, reaching musth does not enable the male elephant to mate with a female. The female also has to enter the musth period, which only lasts three to six days. When the female reaches musth it releases a secretion, which the male can smell. Then, all the males within a certain distance follow this smell to find their mate, sometimes travelling for periods of time, without consuming food or drink.

Speaking of the battle between the two giants on the bank of Kalawewa, Sujeewa says it is an instance where the two males reached the vicinity of their potential mate, and clashed to win her love. “The winner gets to mate with the female. However, the unfortunate fact is sometimes the fights last for up to three days at a time, by which time the musth period of the female is over,” he says.

At times three or four males fight before one winner emerges, the fittest and the strongest elephant, Sujeewa says, a process by nature to ensure passing down of good genes from generation to generation. Although rarely observed by the elephants, these fights are a regular occurrence in the wild, when more than one male vie for the same female for mating.

In this instance, as the opponent of the fallen was a tusker, it had a better advantage in power, Sujeewa says.

The fallen hero was then surrounded by about 10 elephants, who sniffed and inspected the body, as shown by a footage that went viral in the social media. This, according to Sujeewa, is the typical behaviour of the elephants, when they come across a dead elephant. He adds that this is common in the wild although not frequently observed by humans. “When they see a carcass, elephants gather around and touch it with their trunks. They do this even if they come across an elephant bone while roaming in the wild. This is very normal,” Sujeewa says.

He added that the Kalawewa area is a transit point for elephants who gather around it at this time of the year, due to water availability. After a period, they will migrate from this point, he says.

Conservation Biologist of the Colorado State University, George Wittemyer, has told ‘National Geographic’ that “ Elephants have a fascination with death which is difficult to interpret.”

Although elephants have respect for their dead, the intreraction is currently not fully understood. Everytime, the interaction is different and this, says Wittemyer, indicates deeper emotional lives the elephants have, which cannot be explained in evolutionary context and cannot be easily studied.