The full unedited version of the Sunday Times article on 8th Sept 2013 – Finding Rambo
Having kept daily contact with the Uda Walawe National Park, and with no news about Rambo, hope seemed to be receding the he was alive. However deep down I was still not convinced, and decided to take a quick drive to the park to do some intense reconnaissance along the western side of the park, abutting the reservoir, which was possibly the area that the sick Rambo might have gone to. I felt that I should be able to even perhaps pick up the smell of a decaying carcass, if he had died in the area.
I set off very early in the morning, and reached the park by 8 am and I picked the four wheel drive and my regular driver and tracker, and I proceeded to the park. Just as I passed the barrier at the further end of the bund, along the spill way before the Wildlife Society Bungalow, I spotted what looked like a large boulder in the water far away. Unfortunately I had forgotten my binoculars and had to resort to my 400 mm zoom lens to identify it as an elephant. Only its upper torso was exposed, and it was not moving. Something told me it could be Rambo, but the tracker and driver were sceptical saying that it was ‘just another elephant’.
I drove on into the park and spent about three hours without too much luck in finding anything. As I was returning around 11.30 am, I found that the elephant was still in the same place. My gut feel was that this was Rambo. Injured elephants usually spend a lot of time near the water since they are unable to move around that well. I called Dr. Vijitha Perera, the veterinary surgeon at Uda Walawe, and he also said he just received news about this elephant and that he had sent a crew to go into the park, to get closer to make a positive identification.
So I went to the Elephant Transit Home (ETH) and waited with Dr. Vijitha, and watched the orphaned elephants being fed, while awaiting news. He soon got a call saying that his staff had made a positive identification that it was definitely Rambo. Both Dr. Vijitha and I were thrilled, and I urged him to immediately go and see the condition of Rambo. However he suggested that we should wait until evening, when it was cooler, by which time he felt that Rambo will come out of the water.
Hence I decided to stay around at Uda Walawe, had a late lunch and around 4pm went to the spill way to wait for Dr. Vijitha. As he had predicted I saw Rambo slowly begin to move towards the shore. He was walking very slowly, in a laboured manner, and he gradually came onto land and walked towards the shade of trees. He was still a good 50 meters away and I couldn’t really assess his condition, although I could see clearly the protrusion at the base of his belly. He seemed very lethargic. By around 5 pm Dr. Vijitha arrived with his assistants. He had brought along a large stock of fruits, including water melon and banana, into some of which he had introduced antibiotic medicines.
We crept through the first electric fence and then through the second, when Rambo spotted us. Dr. Vijitha started quietly calling to him by name, and soothingly ‘talking to him’. He immediately responded by flaring out his ears and slowly advanced towards Dr.Vijitha.
Quite contrary to what I had imagined, Dr. Vijitha warned me that Rambo can be aggressive, and told me to be alert and ready to run, in case he decided to charge us. However, in his current weak condition he seemed to be quite placid, and in some ways, even happy to see us.
Dr. Vijitha and the staff got quite close to Rambo and rolled the fruit towards him, which he started eating with some reluctance. While he was being fed, Dr.Vijitha went around him making a careful inspection of his condition, always keeping a wary eye on him.
He reckoned that Rambo seemed to be responding to treatment, but the problem was that he was not getting enough nutrition. The protrusion in the belly was possibly the collection of fluid either due to an infection or due to lack of exercise.
Dr. Vijitha also noted some gunshot wounds on the left side of Rambo. Closer inspection revealed that there were multiple pellet holes in a circular pattern which seems to indicate that he had been shot at close range with an old fashioned pellet gun. Thankfully this wound was not festering and with treatment should respond well. The close proximity of the shot indicates that in all probability due to his familiarity with people, Rambo may have wandered close to some villagers, who, not knowing his benign nature may have shot at the poor animal at close range.
I also managed to get a very close look at Rambo, and was surprised to see how old and emaciated he had become. Dr. Vijitha seemed confident that he may recover well enough, but the long-term issue was that he has got completely acclimatized to being fed now, and that it would be very difficult to rehabilitate and get him back to the jungle.
It was indeed sad to see this once majestic elephant, now stooped, pre-maturely old and gaunt, primarily due to over dependence on the food given by people.
Another sad case of foolish human interaction with a wild animal, for their own personal satisfaction and entertainment, which eventually is seriously detrimental to the animal and wildlife.
A Pictorial of the episode…