Tsk tsk, a tusker! | Daily News

Tsk tsk, a tusker!

Inescapable guest in Kumana

The whirring noise of the made-in-India Mahindra Bolero stood out. The jeeps, three in all, filed one after another leaving only a little gap in between. The steady journey suddenly came to a standstill.

Then came forth our guest - unexpected but a tad welcome.

The tusker appeared from nowhere. He seemed to smell rainfall on dry ground. The distance between the first jeep in our line and the majestic tusker was less than one kilometre. The sight of the jeeps behind him disturbed the elephant. He did not want to let go of it. The sandy path is wide enough to accommodate Bolero jeeps, but not an elephantine creature. So it was not easy for our guest.

A tusker is a photographer’s trophy. The photographers driving ahead in the Kumana sanctuary were vying for such a prized moment. The moment appeared right before the eyes, but certainly at a cost. The trophy, however, treasured it may be, was not something to be underestimated. The guest proved his mettle before long.

He took a few steps back before turning around to keep the jeeps in face-to-face sight. The guest’s tusks were unconcealed now. Projected horizontally forward from the head in a cylindrical shape, the guest showed off his ivory tusks. Slow, but steady, he walked forward lessening the gap between him and the jeep. He stood stationary, as his tusks almost touched the front end of the jeep.

The tusk incisors soon entered the jeep’s front: right tusk penetrating the radiator and left tusk the right headlight. He did not wish to keep the jeep in the air for so long. The Bolero returned to the ground with both the radiator and the headlight damaged. Our guest was done with his warning and moved aside. But the presence of more jeeps in tow disturbed him.

As the tusker moved aside, the first two cabs dashed past him, leaving the last one in the lurch.

Now the real adventure began: maybe a game for our guest, but a kind of a battle for us in the third cab. When the tusker came forward, our driver had no option but to shift the gear into the reverse. Turning the vehicle would only irritate the tusker and provoke him to charge towards us. Perched not so comfortably on the stead elevated at the rear end of the jeep, I began to gaze into the scene with four others. Ruwan was busy photographing almost every moment of the approaching tusker. Nilushan, the other photographer, even asked the jeep driver to silence the engine. The driver heeded all our requests but that.

“It’s Sando, right?” Nilushan inquired from the driver.

“Most possibly.”

Nilushan enlightened us about 35-year old Sando whose territory is Yala. He wondered aloud how and why the mammoth creature migrated to this area.

Mammoth he looked from distance. But our guest was somewhere in the middle between the large and small composure.

The driver had to keep the vehicle in reverse motion for over 10 minutes. He was quite adept at it. He had a closer glance at the approaching elephant and recalled how sweat trickled along the elephant’s ears. Oka mada kipuni taniya, the driver elaborated in Sinhala referring to the elephant’s solitary roaming and musth.

Soon, the photographers had to limit their operation, as our adventure was not going to be over anytime soon. Capturing every moment in this expedition over 10 minutes was virtually impossible, but the photographers were passionate enough to take shots of all the unique moments.

Then the tusker seemed fed up and turned back. That gave our driver time to turn the vehicle. If our guest chose to chase behind us, we are now positioned safely. The driver no longer has to drive the vehicle in reverse. As some of us forewarned, the tusker was back in the scene – following us, this time.

While all this drama ensues, the first jeep’s driver informed the Wildlife Post. The Wildlife jeep responded a few minutes later, but at the right time. A functionary alighted the vehicle and checked if anyone was injured. We responded in the negative.

“You take the lead, we will let him follow us,” the functionary gave us instructions.

The scene then shifts into the wildlife jeep between us in the front and the tusker behind. The wildlife functionaries tried to warn the elephant away to no avail. They had a Plan B though. The three of us journeyed ahead until we reach a fork. The byroad on the right led to a turtle sanctuary. While we drove a few metres ahead, the Wildlife jeep took that byroad luring the elephant away from us.

The tusker was now charging behind the Wildlife jeep, but our path was clear.

(The video of the tusker’s encounter is available on YouTube in the writer’s channel as 'Close Encounter with a Tusker'.)

Pictures by Ruwan de Silva


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