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The BBC's Alastair Lawson in Colombo
"Officials say the scheme works if the animals are kept in as natural environment as possible"
 real 28k

Monday, 10 July, 2000, 16:53 GMT 17:53 UK
Orphaned elephants go wild
Elephant being fed
The elephant population has fallen in recent years
By Alastair Lawson in Colombo

Wildlife officials in Sri Lanka have embarked on the second stage of a pioneering scheme aimed at releasing orphaned elephants back into the wild.


Elephant on ramp
Some doubt the project will work
They hope that the project will increase the number of wild elephants in Sri Lanka, which is now estimated at about 3,000.

Sri Lanka's elephant population has fallen in recent years due to human encroachment, poaching and the destruction of their habitat because of the civil war.

For these five young elephants in Udawalawe in the south of Sri Lanka, it was a last meal before freedom.

As the animals drank jumbo-sized buckets of water, all the preparations for their release into the wild were complete.

The elephants were specially scented with their own dung so that all trace of human odour was removed before their return to the jungle.

Domesticated

Such elaborate precautions are necessary, because some of these young elephants are so domesticated that they need much human persuasion before they respond to the call of the wild.

It took 20 men more than 40 minutes to get some to board the trucks that took them to freedom.


Van with elephant
Every movement will be monitored
But officials say that the scheme has so far proved successful.

The release of elephants in to the wild has confounded some critics who argue that beasts raised by humans would never be able to adapt to life in the jungle.

But officials say the scheme works if television cameras and interested crowds are kept at arms length, and if the animals are kept in as natural an environment as possible.

As these elephants go to the jungle and say good-bye to the media circus, their every movement will be monitored by officials who have tagged them to check their progress.

The authorities hope another batch of elephants will be released soon.

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See also:

25 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Lives of neglect and misery
06 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Indian minister's elephant alert
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