13 August 2023

Problem-elephants and problem-humans

I do not know how Galgamuwe Chandi earned his nickname. Maybe he was aggressive by nature or due to circumstances; a creature inclined to be playful but who was sometimes or even frequently over enthusiastic, perhaps. Who renamed him 'Chandi,' for he was first known as 'Eka Danthaya' or ‘Single Tusked One’? Is he a rogue elephant? Was he always a rogue elephant? Did he become a rogue elephant? Was belligerence foisted on him and if so by whom? 

Rogue elephants. Academics don’t use that term these days.  They talk instead of ‘problem-elephants,’ those who are ill-tempered, who  destroy crops and houses almost willy-nilly, and attack and kill humans.

I don't know Galgamuwe Chandi’s track record, but this is what Supun Lahiru Prakash had to say of him.

‘This is Galgamuwe Chandi’s final journey! The Eka Danthaya of Galgamuwa is about to undertake another fateful journey. On each of the three occasions he was captured in the Ehetuwewa area of Galgamuwa and relocated elsewhere, Chandi returned to his home. This time, slated to be relocated in the Maduru Oya National Park, the chances of Chandi not returning are extremely high.

‘In 2009 Chandi was taken to the Somawathi National Park but within 28 days he returned to his home territory having walked 243 kilometres. Twice thereafter, i.e. in 2015 and 2018, he was taken to the elephant holding ground in Horowpathana. He returned on both occasions.

‘He is old now. His sight is weak. Therefore his is a fateful journey undertaken not because he destroyed corps or property; he had consumed the illicit liquor of rogue brewers. This is elephant protection in Sri Lanka. It is clearly unscientific and outdated.

‘Can you and I, knowing all this, look askance and remain silent?

‘His repeated returns clearly show that there is no territory more suitable for Chandi. So let him spend his last years in the land of his birth. I appeal to those responsible that if this is not possible then place a GSP collar and keep track of his movements.’

Chandi is not an exception when it comes to the behaviour of relocated elephants. A study conducted on this issue a little over 10 years ago by Prithiviraj Fernando, Peter Leimgruber, Tharaka Prasad and Jennifer Pastoring (‘Problem-elephant translocation: translocating the problem and the elephant?’) published in the PLOS ONE journal revealed that of 12 translocated elephants monitored, 2 were shot dead within the parks to which they had been released while the rest had left the area, almost all of them moving towards the captured sites.

The research team, while observing that over 70% of the approximately 6,000 elephants in Sri Lanka live outside protected areas and that the human-elephant conflict (HEC) claims the lives of over 70 humans and 200 elephants annually, advocate, ‘advocate phasing out problem-elephant translocation, for which public awareness is key,’ based on findings. They recommend, in the interim, that ‘translocations should only be undertaken with monitoring through GPS-telemetry, and contingency plans to address unintended outcomes, [pointing out that] problem-elephant translocation without either amounts to reckless disregard for the safety and welfare of people and elephants.

In the long term, they say, ‘attention needs to be shifted towards preventing the genesis of ‘problem-elephants’. Such a strategy requires eliminating elephant management and crop protection methods that promote elephant aggression and increase HEC, and implementing land-use plans that minimize crop raiding.’

It is a complex problem, clearly. Translocating the problem is not a sustainable solution. Whether or not relevant decisions in this regard are informed by science is something we need to know. I shall leave all that, as any lay person should, to authorities and scientists.

My worry is that we, as humans, while being quick to pin the ‘problem’ label on elephants, are loath to turn the mirror on ourselves, our species and the problem-creatures and rogues among us. Of course we are human-centric. We don’t know the language of elephants and can’t really sit down, discuss and come to a mutually agreeable solution with them. That said, there’s nothing to stop us from acknowledging that we are an invasive and destructive species. When an elephant damages crops or a house, we use the term ‘rogue.’ However, when we invade and annex the habitats of elephants we don’t admit ‘we are bloody rogues.’ Instead we say ‘this is for development.’  

There are problem elephants. There are 'problem human beings.' That’s a problem we need to acknowledge in the first instance. Then we can and should talk about co-existence.

Galgamuwe Chandi. Where will he be tomorrow? And the day after, will he turn back if he could? Would he be shot? He is weak, visually impaired and old. The next time we hear of him it could be about Eka Danthaya having been shot. He would most likely be moving in the direction of ‘home.’  

If I find myself in a strange land, it would be in the direction of home that I would want to be walking or looking when death arrives. That much I can say. How about you?


['The Morning Inspection' is the title of a column I wrote for the Daily News from 2009 to 2011, one article a day, Monday through Saturday. This is 192nd article in the new series. Links to previous articles are given below] 

Other articles in this series: 

Songs from the vaekanda

The 'inhuman' elephant in a human zoo

Ivan Art: Ivanthi Fernando's efforts to align meaning

Arwa Turra, heart-stitcher

Let's help Jagana Krishnakumar rebuild our ancestral home

True national anthems

Do you have a friend in Pennsylvania (or anywhere?)

A gateway to illumination in West Virginia

Through strange fissures into magical orchards

There's sea glass love few will see 

Re-residencing Lakdasa Wikkramasinha

Poisoning poets and shredding books of verse

The responsible will not be broken

Home worlds

Ownership and tenuriality of the Wissahickon

Did you notice the 'tiny, tiny wayside flowers'?

Gifts, gifting and their rubbishing

History is new(s)

Journalism inadvertently learned

Reflections on the young poetic heart

Wordaholic, trynasty and other portmanteaus

The 'Loku Aiya' of all 'Paththara Mallis'

Subverting the indecency of the mind

Character theft and the perennial question 'who am I?'


A degree in people

Faces dripping with time

Saji Coomaraswamy and rewards that matter

Revolutionary unburdening

Seeing, unseeing and seeing again

Alex Carey and the (small) matter of legacy

The Edelweiss of Mirissa 

The insomnial dreams of Kapila Kumara Kalinga 

The clothes we wear and the clothes that wear us (down) 

Every mountain, every rock, is sacred 

Manufacturing passivity and obedience 

Precept and practice 

Sanjeew Lonliyes: rawness unplugged, unlimited 

In praise of courage, determination and insanity 

The relative values of life and death 

Feet that walk 

Sarinda's eyes 

Poetry and poets will not be buried 

Sunny Dayananda 

Reunion Peradeniya (1980-1990) 

What makes Oxygen breathable?  

Sorrowing and delighting the world 

The greatest fallacy  

Encounters with Liyanage Amarakeerthi 

Beyond praise and blame 

Letters that cut and heal the heart 

Vanished and vanishing trails 


A forgotten dawn song from Embilipitiya 

The soft rain of neighbourliness  

The Gold Medals of being 

Jaya Sri Ratna Sri 

All those we've loved before 

Reflections on waves and markings 

A chorus of National Anthems 

Saying what and how 

'Say when' 

Respond to insults in line with the Akkosa Sutra 

The loves of our lives 

The right time, the right person 

The silent equivalent of a thousand words 

Crazy cousins are besties for life 

Unities, free and endearing 

Free verse and the return key

"Sorry, Earth!" 

The lost lyrics of Premakeerthi de Alwis 

The revolution is the song 

Consolation prizes in competitions no one ever wins 

The day I won a Pulitzer 


Ella Deloria's silences 

Blackness, whiteness and black-whiteness 

Inscriptions: stubborn and erasable  


Deveni: a priceless one-word koan 

Enlightening geometries 

Let's meet at 'The Commons' 

It all begins with a dot 

Recovering run-on lines and lost punctuation 

'Wetness' is not the preserve of the Dry Zone 

On sweeping close to one's feet 

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California

To be an island like the Roberts... 

Debts that can never be repaid in full

An island which no flood can overwhelm 

Who really wrote 'Mother'? 

A melody faint and yet not beyond hearing 

Heart dances that cannot be choreographed 

Remembering to forget and forgetting to remember 

On loving, always 

Authors are assassinated, readers are immortal 

When you turn 80... 

It is good to be conscious of nudities  

Saturday slides in after Monday and Sunday somersaults into Friday  

There's a one in a million and a one in ten 

Gunadasa Kapuge is calling 

Kumkum Fernando installs Sri Lanka in Coachella, California 

Hemantha Gunawardena's signature 

Pathways missed 

Architectures of the demolished 

The exotic lunacy of parting gifts 

Who the heck do you think I am? 

Those fascinating 'Chitra Katha' 

The Mangala Sabhava 

So how are things in Sri Lanka? 

The most beautiful father 

Palmam qui meruit ferat 

The sweetest three-letter poem 

Buddhangala Kamatahan 

An Irish and Sri Lankan Hello 

Teams, team-thinking, team-spirit and leadership 

The songs we could sing in lifeboats when we are shipwrecked 

Pure-Rathna, a class act 

Jekhan Aruliah set a ball rolling in Jaffna 

Awaiting arrivals unlike any other 

Teachers and students sometimes reverse roles 

Matters of honor and dignity 

Yet another Mother's Day 

A cockroach named 'Don't' 

Colombo, Colombo, Colombo and so forth 

The slowest road to Kumarigama, Ampara 

Sweeping the clutter away 

Some play music, others listen 

Completing unfinished texts 

Mind and hearts, loquacious and taciturn 

I am at Jaga Food, where are you? 

On separating the missing from the disappeared 

Moments without tenses 

And intangible republics will save the day (as they always have) 

The world is made of waves 


The circuitous logic of Tony Muller 

Rohana Kalyanaratne, an unforgettable 'Loku Aiya' 

Mowgli, the Greatest Archaeologist 

Figures and disfigurement, rocks and roses 

Sujith Rathnayake and incarcerations imposed and embraced 

Some stories are written on the covers themselves 

A poetic enclave in the Republic of Literature 

Landcapes of gone-time and going-time  

The best insurance against the loud and repeated lie 

So what if the best flutes will not go to the best flautists? 

There's dust and words awaiting us at crossroads and crosswords 

The books of disquiet 

A song of terraced paddy fields 

Of ants, bridges and possibilities 

From A through Aardvark to Zyzzyva  

World's End 

Words, their potency, appropriation and abuse 

Street corner stories 

Who did not listen, who's not listening still? 

The book of layering 

If you remember Kobe, visit GOAT Mountain 

The world is made for re-colouring 

The gift and yoke of bastardy 

The 'English Smile' 

No 27, Dickman's Road, Colombo 5 

Visual cartographers and cartography 

Ithaca from a long ago and right now 

Lessons written in invisible ink 

The amazing quality of 'equal-kindness' 

A tea-maker story seldom told 

On academic activism 

The interchangeability of light and darkness 

Back to TRADITIONAL rice 

Sisterhood: moments, just moments 

Chess is my life and perhaps your too

Reflections on ownership and belonging 

The integrity of Nadeesha Rajapaksha 

Signatures in the seasons of love

To Maceo Martinet as he flies over rainbows 

Sirith, like pirith, persist 

Fragrances that will not be bottled  

Colours and textures of living heritage 

Countries of the past, present and future 

A degree in creative excuses

Books launched and not-yet-launched 

The sunrise as viewed from sacred mountains 

The ways of the lotus 

Isaiah 58: 12-16 and the true meaning of grace 

The age of Frederick Algernon Trotteville 

Live and tell the tale as you will 

Between struggle and cooperation 

Of love and other intangibles 

Neruda, Sekara and literary dimensions 

The universe of smallness 

Paul Christopher's heart of many chambers 

Calmness gracefully cascades in the Dumbara Hills 

Serendipitous amber rules the world 

Continents of the heart
The allegory of the slow road