Longest surviving tusker in Yala National Park – Thilak dies (Sri Lanka)


The Times Online

Date Published
See link for photo.

The longest surviving tusker in the Yala National Park, fondly called “Thilak”, died last afternoon following a tussle between another elephant named “Thani Dalaya” in Sithulpawwa.

Here Wild Life Enthusiast Srilal Miththapala pays tribute to Tilak, the iconic and senior-most tusker of the Yala National Park who died yesterday.

Late last afternoon telephone lines of few elephant enthusiasts were humming as the sad news of the sudden death of Tilak, the iconic, senior tusker of Yala filtered through.

Unlike his erstwhile, and notorious young‘friend’ Gemunu, Tilak never hogged the limelight. In fact Tilak was the exact antithesis to Gemunu.

Tilak’s amiable and sedate temperament allowed thousands of visitors the wonderful opportunity to observe a one of the largest tuskers in Sri Lanka, at close quarters, and his pictures are abundant, as seen on the many posts on Facebook after his death.  There is not one incident on record of any hostile interaction with this gentle animal, to my knowledge.

Tilak seemed to have been around in Yala ‘forever’ as most of us regular visitors to Yala can remember. He must have been about 55 years old and was possibly the largest and oldest tusker in the park. His massive tusks were curved inwards, the right slightly more than the left.With advancing age, Tilak has been frequently sighted in the outer periphery entrance area of the park, close to the main road, possibly because he had less competition from other elephants in this area rather than inside the park.

Due to the elephant’s mild disposition, many of us who interact and study wild elephants are intrigued about this incident.

Firstly it is rather rare for adult elephants to have serious altercations, given their high level of intelligence and well developed social life.  Secondly given the usual respect for hierarchy in the wild elephant kingdom, it is very rare that another ‘junior’ elephant will take on such a big tusker like Tilak. Thirdly it must have been a brutal and swift attack for such a massive animal to succumb so quickly to his injuries.

He had been sighted by visitors going into the park in the early afternoon of yesterday (14th June 2017), and was found dead when they were leaving the park around 6.30 pm.

Reports indicate that the attacker could be a less known, single tusked elephant who has been sighted occasionally in the area outside the park habituated by Tilak. There were, I am told, about three deep wounds (single puncture marks which indicated it could be a single tusk that has caused the damage unlike the tell-a–tale double puncture holes of twin tusks), one or more which could have proved fatal.

After the post mortem, as is customary at  the  a death of a tusker in a remote location, the Wild Life Authorities have severed the head of the elephant and taken it to the main office for it to be buried in a secure place. If not unscrupulous persons would dig up the remains and steal the very valuable and unique tusks of Tilak. The balance part of the body will be buried where the elephant died itself I guess.

Usually after about 6-8 months the grave can be excavated and the bones can be retrieved, from which the entire skeleton of the animal can be re- constructed.

There are already calls from many that some form of monument in memory of Tilak should be erected at the park entrance. I would think instead of mounting a unrecognizable skeleton, the authorities should attempt to re-create a large life size model of this magnificent elephant to be displayed at the park entrance in remembrance of him.

Maybe it would not be too late to explore avenues urgently to try have a proper taxidermist to help preserve the remains in a proper manner for future display.

So the Gentle Giant of Yala is no more. The park will be lonely without him and future visitors to the park will no doubt miss the opportunity of seeing this magnificent elephant anymore. But the ways of nature is sometimes cruel and brutal. Life in the wild continues in its relentless cycle.

We can at least take solace that Tilak lived to a ripe old age (wild elephants live to about 60 years), and met his untimely death at the hands of another of his kind, and not from some poachers bullet.

Sleep peacefully our dear friend, thank you for the wonderful times you have given us, and may the soil of your home Yala, rest lightly on you…