World Elephant Day

From Christina: I’m guessing that most readers aren’t aware that today is World Elephant Day.  For author Devika Fernando from Sri Lanka, the majestic pachyderms are part of the culture. I was delighted when she offered to share a few thoughts about these magnificent animals. 

World Elephant Day

by Devika Fernando

The role of the elephant in Sri Lanka

Elephants were presumably brought to Sri Lanka by the first Indian settlers and left to their own devices. Some 5,000 years ago, the Sinhalese kings discovered their enormous potential and had them captured. The elephants were used as an advantage in wars and fights, had a ceremonial value during religious rites, and played an important role in construction work. During these times, if you killed an elephant you had to face death penalty. Sri Lankan elephants were considered so valuable that they were bought by rulers from the Indian mainland. The Sinhalese kings sold their best stock even to countries as far as Egypt or Myanmar. With the arrival of the European (especially English) colonial masters, the protection status on elephants was lifted and most animals were set free.


Elephant 1

Over the centuries, some of the magnificent beasts were hunted and killed for sport, others taken advantage of as mere sources for ivory. But to date, thousands of elephants roam the island. On top of that, you have those kept for official matters, with approval from the government. They are often bought and trained when they are still small calves, with ideally one mahout (caretaker) for a lifetime. The majority of the captive elephants do temple duty. During celebrations like the Buddhist New Year in April or the Esala Perahera in Kandy in August, richly caparisoned tuskers (male elephants that have tusks) are part of processions. With their colourful silk clothes and glittering sequins, they are a sight you will never forget.

Elephant 2

(Caparisoned elephant at the Kandy Esala Perahera)

As the Sri Lankan population grows and encroaches on the natural habitats of the elephants, conflicts abound. Often, you have lone bulls full of anger charge hapless humans, even injure and kill them. At other times, whole herds will destroy the vegetable and grain crops over night or wreak havoc in a village, trying to get to the stored food and grains and destroying houses as if they were cardboard boxes. Some people scare them off with loud noises and crackers, others resort to shooting, traps or poisoning. There is no feasible solution in sight.

The Pinnawala Elephant Orphanage

In all this, there is a light of hope shining brightly: Sri Lanka’s Elephant Orphanage in Pinnawala. Allow me to let the heroine from my WIP “Saved in Sri Lanka” take the stage and introduce this marvel to you:

“Founded in 1975 by Sri Lanka Wildlife Department, the orphanage off Rambukkana has been a home to nearly 150 elephants up to now, some of them born here. The National Zoological Gardens reserves this sanctuary on 24 acres of land for wounded elephants, unprotected females with their offspring, orphans and the occasional troublemaker who has been caught and transferred to be part of this ever-growing family. Pinnawala also serves as a breeding place, and it holds more captive elephants in one place than anywhere else in the world. More than 60 elephants have been born here over the course of time, and the orphanage currently shelters between 70 and 80 elephants. Simulating conditions in the wild, the animals can roam more than 10 acres of grassland freely most of the time, adhere to a herd structure and are well-fed. Every day at 8 o’clock in the morning, the baby elephants are bottle-fed with special milk formula. There are two bathing breaks at 10 o’clock and at 2 pm, where the herd is led to the nearby river and washed for two hours.
The elephants eat unimaginably huge amounts of grass and leaves. They really love coconuts and bananas, too. Rice bran, corn, jackfruit, as well as the logs and branches of the kitul palm tree are also added. Altogether, they need to feed on about 75 kg of green matter daily, plus the rest of the food I have mentioned, sometimes with seeds and minerals added in for good health. As you will see in a short while, they are almost always eating—or sleeping. Sounds like the perfect life, doesn’t it?”

Elephant 3

(Bottle-feeding of a baby elephant at Pinnawala)

Thank you, Devika for sharing!

About Devika

devikaAlmost as soon as Devika Fernando could write, she imagined stories and poems. After finishing her education in Germany and returning to her roots in Sri Lanka, she got a chance to turn her passion into her profession. Having lived in Germany and in Sri Lanka with her husband has made her experience the best (and the worst) of two totally different worlds – something that influences her writing. Besides being a romance novel author, she works as a German web content writer and as a translator. When she’s not writing, she’s reading or thinking about writing. Her debut romance novel, When I See Your Face, is now available at Amazon, as is her newly-released paranormal romance, Playing with Fire.


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