Back in 2004, a male calf was born to the young female elephant, 458. The calf had baby tusks and this made his birth all the more special. He was named Therapuththa, or T458. We named him Therapuththa but labeled him as T458, following his mother’s ID, this is because it helps us keep track of him in the future when we catalog his movements, features and characteristics. His name, Therapuththa, was taken from ancient history: it is said that King Dutugemunu had 10 giant warriors protecting him and Therapuththa was one of the most loyal and endearing ones. The mother, 458, was often spotted with two other female elephants, who we have labelled as 040 and 041. After tracking this herd for so many years, we have unfortunately not seen any calves after Therapuththa. So he was quite special, besides being a tusker, which is rare in Sri Lanka.
He had a good mother, who gave birth to healthy calf and nurtured the calf throughout his life. T458, Therapuththa, grew up to be a majestic and healthy elephant. We noticed that his growth was slower than other elephants his age, but given the fact that he was healthy and his tusks were growing, he turned out to be a beautiful elephant. His herd, along with Therapuththa, was always on the move. One week, we spot them near the 5th mile post Udawalawe and the next week we spot them near another location, for example near places like Mankada lake ground and Pokkunuthena lake ground.
In our work, it’s absolutely important to recognize elephants through photographs, which allow us to follow their lives and behavior. With time, we noticed Therapuththa’s features were also changing. As he grew up, he started moving out of the herd as most male elephants tend to do. He was spotted all around the Udawalawe forest during this period. On one such occasion, around the month of January in 2014, he seemed to have got his leg injured by a rope or snare. We couldn’t help him, due to the fact that he kept roaming all around the forest and we couldn’t keep track of him. However, in March, we noticed that nature was healing his leg. Over the years Therapuththa has encountered similar situations, but fortunately, he has managed to survive and heal.
This past November he faced he yet another problem. This time he had gotten wire (mostly used as fences) wrapped around his trunk. It’s not clear whether this is by accident, or due to a snare like the ones hunters illegally use. Injuries to the trunk are more severe than in the leg and could impede his feeding. We have been in search of Therapuththa hoping to get help to him. We received information from farmers and goat herders that he was spotted around Balaharuwa, Kalavelgala, Habbegamuwa, Pokkunuthenna, and Galpaaye.
Below are some photographs from our own collection as well as those shared to us by Dr. Malaka Kasun Abeygunawardene (Veterinary Surgeon at the Elephant Transit home Udawalawe). He had received these photos from a visitor to Udawalawe National Park (thank you for reporting this, whoever you are!). Ever since Dr. Malaka got to know about this situation with Therapuththa and his injured trunk, his team, along with us has constantly been on the lookout for any clues to T458, Therapuththa’s whereabouts.
This search has brought together many like-minded and caring well-wishers. With everyone’s help we still find it difficult to locate him. There are many hindrances in looking for Therapuththa, the rainy season has flooded the rivers, lakes and small potholes, this makes it all the more difficult to traverse the area in search of Therapuththa. With the rain and the mud, it is difficult to identify Therapuththa among other elephants, and it always feels like it we are 10 steps behind when we search for him.
Message to Theraputha –
We know you are suffering and walking around with pain. We know you overcame this in the past but we want to find you and help you. We hope we are not too late. We hope you hang in there longer. We want people to help us find you. As each second goes by, we fear we might lose you. Even if we don’t find you, we pray you get out of this dilemma and we spot you healthy and alive soon.
We hope we can find Therapuththa, we know many elephants have suffered similar fates, but we pray this is not the end to his life and that the story of Therapuththa will continue. I am writing this story in hopes that many tourists will visit the Udawalawe National Park in the coming days and weeks and I am humbly requesting them to help us find him and save one elephant from this park. Please contact us or the authorities if you find any information about him. We pray for his safety.
Udawalawe Park Office: 0473475892
Field Manager, Udawalawe Elephant Research Project.