Very few animals are capable of inspiring awe and majesty much like an impressive bull elephant with tusks. Known as “tuskers” locally these are absolute rarities, as only around 7% of bulls in the wilds of Sri Lanka are blessed with the genetics to carry such impressive ivory.
Among the small population of tuskers left in Sri Lanka, there is one which holds special significance. This is none other than the one named Gajaba, the king of all tuskers.
This giant roams one of the most fragile and fragmented habitats on the island. In the region of the North Central area of the island, once was countless swathes of forests and open grasslands.
Over the last three to four decades these areas were cleared and destroyed for human settlement. Thus cornering the remaining herds of elephants to smaller and smaller patches of forest and shrinking habitat. The forest patches as of now are so small, that one patch could be a mere two to three acres, and the next patch could be as far away as 25-30 km apart. Thus over 250-300 elephants are stuck in this endless ocean of human settlement, and having their home destroyed on a daily basis for the sake of a growing human need for expansion and growth.
In this sad setting is where we find our protagonist, Gajaba. By far the most physically imposing and largest tusked bull elephant on the island, he towers over other elephants with a estimated shoulder height of 10.5 Feet making him one of the largest bull elephants in Asia.
His tusks are impressive as well, with an estimated length of 3-3.5 feet, are long and point straight down. His most impressive feature is his large bulk and muscular build which makes him a formidable and much loved elephant.
Despite his imposing frame, he was for many years known as a shy and elusive animal. Many a photographer attempted to locate him , but he managed to elude them quite a many times, and often only awarding a slight glimpse or appearing only after dark.
He usually moves with a large herd during the time hes in musth, and has been observed by many villagers to be mating with most of the females who clearly desire him due to his superior genetics and looks.
Over time, it would not be surprising to know that most of the young tuskers and elephant calves in the region were sired by none other than this mighty bull.
Despite years of visitation by many photographers, and wildlife enthusiasts, Gajaba remains shy and elusive even when hes out in the open.
Usually hiding behind the main herd and rarely showing himself out in the open, this might actually be the secret to his survival in such a volatile area.
On a daily basis, Gajaba’s life is constantly at stake, with threats from poachers who have uncontrolled access to him being the fact that he is found in a habitat outside the official national parks or forest reserve protection. But the primary threat would be due to one of the main threats to elephants in modern Sri Lanka. This is none other than illegal electric fences using the main power lines which villagers illegally tap to protect their crops.
It is heart breaking to see many giant tuskers and elephants falling to the deadly electric current which passes through these wires, causing instant death. In the past two years two of the largest tuskers remaining in Sri Lanka , Revatha and Bharana both fell to these illegal fences.
This fate could very much be the end of Gajaba as well if he is unlucky to touch such an illegal wired fence which are surprisingly quite common and even more shockingly quite prevalent across this region despite the fact that they are threats and hazards to people as well. A bigger shock would be the fact that the authorities do not seem to be interested in cracking down on these fences, which are a hazard to wildlife and people.
It is a bleak story but one that deserves being told nevertheless, given how special and unique this mighty tusker is. Our only home is that he is able to spread his genes to many more future generations and is able to live a long yet precarious life in the last remaining habitats of his fragmented Kingdom.