About “Ath Athuru Sevana”
The Department of Wildlife Conservation initiated a major step towards the welfare and conservation of orphaned baby elephants in 1995. This resulted in the establishment of “Ath Athuru Sevana” (Elephant Transit Home) at the Udawalawe National Park.
Elephant Transit Home (ETH) takes care of orphaned elephant calves – until they are independent and able enough to be released back to the wild. Although, a majority of the general public enthusiastically supported this endeavour, at the inception many conservationists doubted its feasibility. Some openly opposed the initiative and tried to stop the conservation programme. However, Dr Nandana Atapattu, the former Head of the division of Wild Animal Health at the Department of Wildlife Conservation in Sri Lanka, worked bravely towards the establishment ETH, together with fellow officers at the Department of Wildlife Conservation. With minimum resources and manpower, ETH has successfully grown to be a successful entity in a short period. It has been recognised as one of best wild animal rehabilitation centres in the world.
Situated in the western border of the 33,000 hectares of Udawalawe National Park, ETH is adjacent to the “Udawalawe reservoir”. The elephant calves have no boundaries in the area and have freedom to roam wherever they want. Similarly wild elephants also visit the ETH premises. Seasonal fluctuating water level of the reservoir creates a diverse environment for both the baby elephants and wild elephants.
The first orphaned baby elephant taken care of at the Ath Athuru Sevana was a one year old female. She was found wandering alone in the forest near Meegalawa area in the Anuradhapura District. Dr. Nandana Atapattu, took in the baby elephant to ETH and registered her as the first resident – naming her “Komali”. Since then to date, more than 250 elephants have been taken care of at the ETH. All these orphaned wild elephants are re-introduced to the wild to their natural habitats at the age of five, when they are able to take care of themselves.
The Transit Home is a lively place. Feeding milk to the calves every three hours is a recurring job on all 365 days of the year. Elephant calves at ETH are fed once every three hours. ETH turns into frenzy if the feeding times are delayed; the pathetic cry and the charges of elephants for milk is agonizing to hear. Getting the orphaned elephant calves adapted to milk powder and a whole new environment requires utmost patience and care, as there is still no special milk formulae that has been introduced for elephants.
In general the calves are fed human baby milk formulae. After the initial milk feeding sessions of finding out the best milk formulae for elephant calves – to suit them individually, the elephants are at a higher risk of falling sick with digestive problems or milk intolerance. In those instances special preparations like soya milk, rice broth or jeevanee (a rehydration solution) are provided in place of milk to bring them back to normalcy.
It is rare that a day go by without one or more elephant calves falling sick. Post-illness treatment, in general is a long process in elephants as their recovery is slow. Likewise, separating the sick ones with contagious diseases, from the healthier ones is also a tedious task. Managing the health and well-being of elephant calves with a very minimal support from the laboratories and lack of medical knowledge and expertise in the country is also another challenge faced by the officers at ETH.
“The primary objective of the Elephant Transit Home is the rehabilitation of orphaned baby elephants and their release back to the wild.”
Prior to the release the caretakers/wildlife officers ensure the ability of the elephants to live on their own. As a result the officers make great efforts to minimize human contact of the elephants during the rehabilitation period and encourage them to develop bonds with the fellow elephants in ETH. This is helpful for elephants when they are released back to the wild in groups as they will have more chances of survival in the wild. The responsibility of ETH Officers doesn’t end there. Even after release, the health and movement patterns of these elephants are monitored by the officers on a regular basis.
Feeding times and upkeep at ETH
The Transit Home is a lively place. Feeding the calves with milk happens every three hours throughout the 365 days of the year. Public viewing of the feeding is permitted daily at 9 a.m., 12 noon, 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.