When Pinkie first arrived at Sri Lanka’s Elephant Transit Home (ETH) in July 2003 she was small, weak, and covered in grazes. Rescued by a villager after days trapped in a flooded gem-mine shaft, her injuries were treated by the ETH staff with gentian violet, giving rise to the name Pinkie. Despite her ordeal, the baby elephant recovered well and over the years became a gregarious and nurturing member of the little ETH herd of orphans.
Then on Monday 23rd April, an exciting day dawned. Grown healthy and strong, Pinkie was ready to be returned to the wild. ETH manager and vet Dr Suhada Jayawardene decided nine other orphans were also ready to be released with Pinkie, into Udawalawe National Park. Each had been rescued by the Department of Wildlife Conservation after losing their mother, each was too small to survive on their own without her milk. But lovingly treated and cared for by Dr Suhada and his dedicated team, they had been saved from a slow and miserable demise and given the gift of life. At one time such unfortunates would almost certainly have been trained, tamed, and forced to live in servitude as working or ceremonial animals. Now, thanks to this government-run project supported by Born Free since 2002, they were ready to return to their natural habitat. But could they cope with life on the wild side?
A few days later Pinkie and her friends were still doing well. They’re sticking close together near the release site as the long process of integrating back into their natural life begins. A careful eye will be kept on their progress. Meanwhile the younger orphans at the ETH are adjusting to losing the older, dominant and most nurturing members of their group.
For a day or two they rarely left the main compound, and little Ollie refused milk for a day, staring at the place where his companion Florence used to stand. Gradually, however, they are adapting to the new order, with the eldest remaining animals taking on the responsibility of leading the group and caring for the youngsters.