Rogue Elephants of Sri Lanka – Filming the documentary “Elephants of Paradise”.
Our Secure Elephant “Lets Loose”
Tugging and twisting, we felt safe that the 4-ton Asian elephant was securely tied to nearby trees. After all, the wrist-thick ropes had been tested before and held well. Our film crew and 100 or so villagers were within 50 feet of this rogue elephant – one that was blamed for trampling numerous villagers. This majestic animal had at least 10 bullet holes in its hide from over the several years that villagers had shot at it with homemade guns. All these spectators laughed aloud when the elephant let loose with a blast of digestive gases.
Like out of a cartoon, and as if dishonored, this proud beast abruptly turned its head toward the crowd, making a grunting noise, while bursting forward with a huge charge. Strangely, the charge continued, as the ropes seemed to stretch like rubber bands. The startled crowd likewise scrambled in every direction, but mostly along the only trail that led from the area. Knowing that elephants hate thorny brush, and being one of the nearest to the elephant and in direct danger, I leapt into the thorny brush of the Sri Lankan forest.
We Live to Tell The Story
We all survived the charge. I returned to the scene of the near-carnage with red polka-doted clothing – evidence of the blood from uncounted thorn piercings. We discovered that the ropes were merely secured to brush, not to trees, as the ropes weren’t long enough to reach anything so secure. People laughed at my clothing, and I was not so proud, as I knew I was nearly trampled – feeling the ground quake, as the elephant had been only feet behind me.
It took the entirety of the day to load up and transport our poorly secured and gaseous elephant to a distant national park. Over the next several weeks we continued filming our documentary about these rogue elephants of Sri Lanka, and a year later released the film in European markets.
Tracking Raiding Elephant with Sri Lanka’s Director of Wildlife
Our partner in this film was Dr. Atapattu, Sri Lanka’s Director of Wildlife. Dr. Atapattu and his elephant tracking crew of 15, including his chief assistant, always carried an emergency elephant rifle with slugs, and a tranquilizer gun with darts. We were told at the time that the rifle was powerful enough to take down an elephant. This gave us an apparent false sense of security however; as we later discovered that the assistant himself knew the rifle wouldn’t fire.
We had spent days, weeks, tracking elephants by day and spotlighting for elephants by night – trying to catch them in the act of raiding villages for their stored harvests. The excitement of spotlighting the Sri Lankan forests and villages, usually by car, sometimes on foot, is thrilling beyond measure because you never know what you’ll find. Many animals move at night and you artificially enter that nocturnal world.
We’d come across two bull elephants in a nearby village, while patrolling on foot and filmed them from the seeming safety of unreinforced brick buildings. Unlike the villagers, we weren’t about to challenge the elephants while protecting our grain stores, but would flee respectfully.
Over the course of the year we heard that Dr. Atapattu’s assistant was trampled and the Doctor himself injured by a stampeding elephant. In his attempt to escape, the assistant had thrown down his elephant rifle, knowing it was no more than a prop.
Asian elephants are becoming ever more rare, with only about 14,000 left in the wilds – only 10% the number of African elephants. We hope this film brings much needed publicity to their plight and helps to save the species. Elephants of Paradise by Stefan Quinth is available for sale through Amazon.