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Who Fired Guns and Injured the Iconic Elephant at Yala National Park Known as “Gemunu” to Visitors?

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Srilal Miththapala

On the evening of August 17 (Saturday) news began to filter in that Gemunu, the iconic and infamous elephant of Yala National Park had been shot by someone, and was injured. Subsequent reports, confirmed by the DWC, said that a group of unknown persons carrying firearms , had come across Gemunu inside the park, and when the tusker had engaged in his ‘usual antics’, they had panicked and shot at him.

Now Gemunu has earned quite a reputation of late, for raiding visitors’ vehicles and looking for food. This has now turned into a tourist ‘attraction’, with most jeep drivers subtly encouraging the animal for a more exciting, and ‘adrenalin pumping’ experience for their clients. Having got used to people over the years Gemunu, has been very docile and has so far not been aggressive. However many of us wild life enthusiasts have been highlighting the fact that this is a disaster waiting to happen.

Subsequent to this incident on Saturday, the Minister of Wild Life confirmed this fact on Hiru news (http://www.hirunews.lk/65298) that gun shots had been fired by some ‘unknown’ party at the tusker, with,supposedly one shot hitting the animal.

On Sunday, reports received from the park indicated that Gemunu had been sighted, and that there were no superficial injuries to be seen on him, which was indeed good news, although further confirmation is still being sort.

However the most serious and concerning fact is that the authorities, and even some of the general public now seem to be dismissing this incident as ‘just a few shots fired in the air to scare the animal away’and that the ‘animal was not injured’

This incident cannot be dismissed off so flippantly. What many people unfortunately do not realize is that there are several serious questions that need to be answered urgently by the DWC and other relevant authorities

Who are the perpetrators who carried firearms into the park?- According to my knowledge it is only DWC officials who are usually permitted to carry firearms into the National Park according the National Flora and Fauna Act. In extreme circumstances, like when the civil war was on and there was a terrorist threat within the park, certainly these laws had to be superseded. But now there is no such security situation prevailing, and hence someone has broken the laws of the country, and the public needs to know who they are?

With whose authority did they fire the weapons? Even putting aside the first serious issue of carrying firearms into a National Park, how can someone open fire, indiscriminately, and that too inside a National Park? It is reported that the DWC personnel had tried their best to prevent the guns being fired. The National Parks are protected areas by law, as the last few refuges for the wild animals to live in peace. So how dare we encroach into their territory and wreak such havoc?

Will these perpetrators be punished?- Very clearly the law has been broken. Records of these ‘visitors’ should be available with the DWC . All vehicle numbers and other details including NIC numbers are recorded at the entrance to the park, and there are witnesses to the incident. So it will indeed be a simple matter to identify these miscreants. However given the track record of many, other more serious incidents in the country , I wonder whether one poor animal will be able to stand up for its rights!

Who will be responsible if Gemunu now turns violent due to this incident? As many visitors to Yala will vouch, Gemunu is quite placid and calm, and has so far never shown any aggression. This does not in any way condone his behaviour, but what if he turns violent now as a result of this traumatic experience he has had? Scientists have clearly established that elephants are very intelligent animals and have a good memory. So the question is not whether the shot was fired in the air or at the elephant. The Yala National Park is the home that this animal knew, from his very young days. He has learned to trust humans, albeit a little too much. Now suddenly, he has had a very traumatic experience at the hands of the very humans he trusted, at his own doorstep. No one can really predict how he will react in the long term.

These burning questions need answers. Every wild life and nature lover, and in fact, every single Sri Lankan, who is proud to call this land which is endowed with such a vast diversity of natural beauty, should stand up and say enough is enough.

“The greatness of a nation, and its moral progress can be judged by the way it’s animals and environment are treated” — Mahatma Gandhi

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