Hundreds of wild elephants roam the tropical landscapes of Sri Lanka. However, with limited space on the island, these gentle giants sometimes veer into human territory where it’s easy for them to get hurt or lost. And that’s exactly what happened to this baby elephant. Fortunately, though, some men were quick to jump to its rescue.
In May 2016, wildlife officials were called to the Sri Lankan town of Hambantota. It seemed that a young elephant had fallen down an uncovered drain and was unable to escape on its own. In fact, the calf was completely wedged in the concrete drain and clearly in distress.
Indeed, video footage of the rescue shows the elephant stuck vertically in the small drain. Its eyes wide in terror, the elephant claws at the sides of the concrete hole in a bid to free itself. In fact, it seems as if the elephant knows that it is in danger, as it tentatively explores its surroundings with its trunk.
In the video, as a team of rescuers are planning on how to get the calf out of its predicament, an adult elephant appears in the distance. Keeping a watchful eye on proceedings, the adult animal also seems to be distressed. In fact, some witnesses said that the creature might have been the calf’s mother.
Without a second to lose, then, the rescuers begin to chip away at the calf’s concrete prison in order to make the opening big enough to pull it out. But as dust and rock debris fall on its head, the little elephant starts to look even more concerned. So, after some effort, the men decide that it is time to try and drag the animal out of its prison.
In order to do so, though, the rescuers attach ropes to the elephant’s front legs and prize the animal out of the hole as gently as they can. But after freeing him, it appears as if the little baby is unable to stand on its own. Therefore, the rescuers lie him on the ground to recover. Later, the elephant is taken away for medical care.
After this extraordinary video of the calf’s extraordinary escape was published on YouTube, it received international attention. In fact, when the BBC posted it to its Facebook page, the video received over 10,000 reactions. It also drew a number of comments.
“Excellent work by the rescuers. But he looked exhausted I hope they can keep the leg, but doubt he will be reunited with his mother. Stupid people left the drain uncovered but good people rescued him,” wrote one Facebook user.
“Poor little guy looked so frightened,” commented another. “When I read that he very likely had a broken leg, I realized that there was pain in his eyes too. Does anyone know what happened after they got him out?”
The calf had indeed injured its leg. Therefore, the baby, which was nicknamed Jumbo, was unable to be released back into the wild without first having his injuries attended to. So he was taken for treatment at the Udawalawa Eth Athuru Sevana Elephant Orphanage.
Unfortunately, the facility’s only veterinary surgeon was out of the country. In addition, the replacement vet had yet to arrive as he had already been called to the aid of another elephant elsewhere. It soon became clear, then, that little Jumbo would not be able to get the treatment he so desperately needed.
But on top of his leg injury, the poor creature was also suffering from diarrhea. And gradually Jumbo’s condition worsened. Becoming desperate, then, staff at the orphanage reached out to the Sri Lankan wildlife department.
Sadly, though, by the time a vet had finally reached the facility it was too late to save Jumbo. Yes, the little calf passed away on the June 22, 2016. Unsurprisingly, the elephant’s plight sparked outrage throughout Sri Lanka.
However, chief authorities have pointed to a lack of vets in the country as a whole. “Our real issue here is there are no veterinary surgeons,” said Suhada Jayawardena, secretary of the Sri Lanka Veterinary Surgeon’s Association. “We have continually been telling authorities for years to recruit veterinary surgeons. But authorities are not much interested in recruiting veterinary surgeons.”
“At present, the wildlife department has only nine veterinary surgeons island wide,” Jayawardena continued. “However much we work, we cannot save all the elephants, because we have to care for other animals too. The Eth Athuru Sevana alone will need two more veterinary surgeons.”
“The Eth Athuru Sevana has a large number of baby elephants on court orders and under rehabilitation,” Attanayake, president of the Sri Lanka wildlife officers association AMPP, added. “A veterinary surgeon is needed 24 hours of the day to treat these animals, because we don’t know when they will fall ill. Because no attention is paid to such matters, elephant deaths do occur at Eth Athuru Sevana.”
In fact, the region of Hambantota, where Jumbo was found, is known for being home to wild herds of elephants that wander the land. Plus, an estimated 2,000 to 3,000 wild elephants are believed to live in Sri Lanka. This number is actually down from the 19,500 that were thought to exist at the beginning of the 1800s.
But with the industrialisation of agriculture in Sri Lanka, most elephant herds have been pushed into the south of the island. Another problem is the human-elephant conflict. For instance, when food and water is sparse, elephants wander onto farmland, destroying crops in the process. Because of this, some Sri Lankans consider the animals as a destructive nuisance.
In fact, farmers will often shoot elephants found on their property. In the last 10 years, for example, more than 1,000 elephants have likely lost their lives after wandering onto farmland. Still, in the same decade, more than 500 humans have also died as a result of the elephant conflict. To tackle this problem, the Sri Lankan Department of Wildlife Conservation has set out a number of elephant conservation strategies.
Therefore, little Jumbo’s rescue provides a positive example of elephant and human relations in Sri Lanka. But his subsequent death proves that the country still has a long way to go to prevent unnecessary elephant losses. However, one of the most tragic aspects of Jumbo’s story regards his mother. After all, she has since visited the spot of his rescue on numerous occasions, apparently unable to understand why her baby never returned.