Elephant Conservation Diary - Sri Lankan Elephants

Elephant Conservation Diary - Sri Lankan Elephants

Posted by Sam Hopkins on 11th Feb 2014

We have been fortunate enough to receive this diary entry from the Field Projects Manager of the SLWCS (Sri Lankan Wildlife Conservation Society), Chandima Fernando. The studies he is conducting at the society's project site in Wasgamuwa National Park is providing insightful and enlightening information to understand human and elephant behaviour in a landscape that both people and elephant use for their survival. Through the elephant conservation Diary, he hopes to provide a window into this world of people and elephants - the focal point of 'The Great Elephant Project'.

"September 08th 2013: We were at the Weheragala Tank and the time was around 6:30pm. A dominant bull elephant that we had named Sinha ("the lion") started to move towards water, frequently glancing at us. We noticed that he was in musth (a periodic condition in bull elephants, characterized by highly aggressive behavior and accompanied by a large rise in reproductive hormones. Testosterone levels in an elephant in musth can be as much as 60 times greater than in the same elephant at other times). The discharge from his temporal glands was a dark stain on his face. He started to drink water and then another bull that we had named Bahu appeared suddenly from the jungle and started walking towards Sinha. We noticed that Bahu was also in musth. My guess was that the strong musky odour from Sinha must have attracted Bahu.

When Sinha noticed Bahu he started to walk towards him, but there was a waterhole between them. So they stood on opposite sides of the waterhole. Initially they both pretended that they were drinking water, but they were actually trying to intimidate each other by splashing and hitting the water, especially Bahu who started rubbing his incisors against a dead tree trunk nearby.

After this initial display of non-violent aggression Sinha started to walk towards the forest and Bahu followed him. They walked with their heads held high and ears spread wide to show off their physiological state. This is what is called the "Musth Walk." Shortly they both disappeared into the jungle.

In the meantime we were observing another lone bull that was not in musth when suddenly Bahu appeared from the jungle and came towards us followed by Sinha. It was obvious that they were chasing each other. Once again they stood on opposite sides of another waterhole displaying threatening gestures towards each other and then again they disappeared into the jungle.


Bulls in musth are extremely aggressive; however, serious fighting between two bulls in musth is actually very rare. In general they show agonistic behaviours towards each other like threat displays (similar to the ones these two bulls displayed) and resorting to chasing each other – quite an incredible sight! It is amusing how sometimes the bull that is been chased pretends to maintain a dignified deportment while trying its best not to break into a run to prevent an inglorious and undignified exit."


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