First Reconnaissance to check out the study area

On the 5th of October, the prospective “Find Raja” team gathered together at a
make shift base camp just outside the Uda Walawe Park to plan out our first
reconionsence to check out the lie of the land.

My friends from Uda Walawe, some who worked with me on my original research
project in the park in 2003 were there. Nishantha, Kapila and Sameera and I
studied a large scale detailed map of the area and set off at about 9.00am along
the Uda Walawe Thanamalwila road, eastwards towards Thanamalwila.

On the way, we met the famous bull elephant „Rambo? by the side of the electric
fence, awaiting for sugar cane from passersby, in his customary way.

After passing the south eastern most corner of the park boundary around the
27th kilometer post, we turned left to a by-road and headed north. We passed
through village hamlets and negotiated the bund of the Maha wewa ( tank or inland
lake) and then joined the Thanamalwila -Hambegamuwa road and continued
traveling north, skirting the north east side of the park.

We stopped at several village hamlets and inquired about wild elephants and in
particular, about Raja. Almost everyone said that Elephants roam the area at dusk
and night. This was evident by old dung on the side of the road.

Our spirits rose when a group of young men said that they have seen a tusker
about three weeks ago, but we were disappointed when they said it was not
Raja. We showed them several photographs, laminated and ready with us for photo
identification of Raja. They however seemed to be quite familiar with Raja and
knew about him. They promised to let us know if they hear anything about him.

We realized that this was another good strategy, to have small cards with a hot
line number for anyone to call if a sighting is made. We made a note to get some
“Find Raja” cards printed in English and Sinhala.

We travelled further and came to the designated elephant corridor between the
16th an 17th km post which links the Uda Walawe National Park to Lunugamwehera
Park. We found some reasonably fresh dung in this area (see video clip). We made
a note that during our study at least one visit should be made to the
Lunugamwehera Park to ask around about Raja. Who knows? He may have suddenly
decided to move to a different park?

We reached Hambegamuwa, and again heard the same story, Elephants „yes? – Raja
„no?.

We passed the new Dahayiyagala sanctuary and were planning to take the turn off
westwards towards Pokunutenna, which is a point on the boundary, north east of
the park. However, we missed the turn-off, and went along the road along the new
causeway that had been built instead. We drove along the bund westward, passing
through some spectacular scenery and scrub jungle.

The water which had been dammed was on to the left of us, where trees, which had
been submerged, stood sentinel, devoid of any foliage. It reminded me of the Uda
Walawe reservoir about 15 years ago, where there were many old trees stumps
sticking out of the water. Overtime in Uda Walawe, these trees have decayed and
toppled over.

We drove for another 45 minutes and then decided to get back after a pit stop in
the middle of nowhere. There were isolated village huts and one person told us
that the night before elephants had damaged some of his plantation. We saw many
look-out posts constructed on tree tops, where villagers keep vigil to chase away
elephants in the night.

The return trip was uneventful and tiring. We briefly stopped to see the very
picturesque Hambegamuwa tank and returned to base at Uda Walawe for a very
late lunch around 3.30pm.

Although I hoped to utilize a new local GPS system, I was unable to do so. We
tried out the IT connectivity from several locations. Although there was basic
connectivity, uploading speeds were very poor. Therefore, uploading even a low
resolution photographs was a problem while in the field. We need to work on this
with our service provider Dialog.

All in all, it was interesting first trial run, where we covered the north east and a
part of the northwest boundaries of the park. The team was able to learn and

understand what needs to be done during their field work. So a part of the
training aspect was also covered.

My observations are –

Certainly there are specific areas, where elephants are moving across, in
this side of the park.
More intense inquiry will have to be done in these areas and we will have to
go off-road, deeper into some isolated villages.
It is not going to be easy task by any means.
It is going to be slow tiring, somewhat monotonous and un-interesting
work. But it will be surely be worthwhile in the end I am sure.
Certainly, we can hope to sensitize the people and create interest and
awareness.
We need to improve our IT facilities
We have to get hold of a good up-to-date GPS system ( I used my „ancient?
but Garmin which I used for my project way back in 2003…and I find that
the COM port 1 to download the data on the Garmin is now not available in
today?s laptops ! I am trying and hopefully I should be able to download
something of our track log in a few days)