Sri Lanka's elephant ambassador to China

Updated: 2007-02-02 20:07

PINNAWELLA -- Apparently not aware of its important diplomatic mission, five-year-old elephant calf Migara was playing happily with other elephants in Maha River opposite the Pinnawella Elephant Orphanage, about 90 km north of Sri Lanka's capital Colombo.

The Sri Lankan government has decided to present Migara as a gift to the Chinese people in February to mark the 50th anniversary of inaugurating diplomatic relations between the two countries.

Established in 1975 by the Sri Lankan government, the elephant orphanage was primarily designed to afford care and protection to the many baby elephants found in the jungle without their mothers.

In most of these cases the mother had either died or been killed. In some instances the baby had fallen into a pit and in others the mother had fallen in and died.

The 25-acre-orphanage is also a breeding place for elephants and 35 elephants were born here since 1984. With 84 elephants being kept, it has the greatest herd of elephants in captivity in the world.

Migara is the second generation of its family born in the orphanage. Its mother, Menika, was born here in 1989 but its grandparents Vijaya and Komali are both wild born elephants.

"Migara is a naughty but lovely boy," said Chandana Rajapaksa, the Veterinary Surgeon of the orphanage.

Rajapaksa said one of Migara's favorite things was to steal other elephants' pellets, a kind of special nutritious food prepared for pregnant elephants, baby elephants and sick elephants.

Migara also likes to wander in the orphanage and sometimes fight with other elephants of the same age.

"But he is very friendly to people," said Rajapaksa.

His remark was proved by Migara who raised its trunk for about two minutes to say hello to me when we first met.

Rajapaksa said the orphanage decided to give Migara to China because it is very healthy and very friendly with people.

He also said elephants play a very important role in Sri Lanka, which has about 5000 wild elephants and around 200 elephants kept in captivity.

"In ancient times, elephants were tamed for war. Later, they were used for transportation but now elephants are mainly used to celebrate festivals," said Rajapaksa.

He said rulers in the country often present elephants to Buddhist temples to express their respect for the religion.

"Sending elephants to other countries is a special way to express our friendship," the surgeon said.

The orphanage's chief mahout Sumana Banda said that during Migara's trip to China he will take care of it.

"Migara is very healthy and there will be no problem for him to do the trip," said 49-year-old Banda, who has been working in the orphanage for 26 years.

But Banda was worried about China's climate, which is unpleasant for animals used to live in tropical zones.

"It is very cold in winter in China. They have to put a heater for Migara," said Banda.

Officials from Sri Lanka's Ministry of Foreign Affairs said arrangements have been made for the trip, hopefully before the end of February 2007.

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