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The prestigious village of Panamura is located in the Kollonna area of the district of Ratnapura, which is towards the south-central portion of Sri Lanka. The property belongs to one of the most dominant families of the province or region that is known as Sabaragamuwa, which today encompasses the district of Ratnapura. This particular family is known as the Maduwanwela family and the area of Panamura is closely attached to the history of this family. Panamura is known as a "nindagama" of the Maduwanwela family and this can be translated as a land owned by the Maduwanwela family.

It is stated that the Panamura estate once comprised a land area of 31,000 acres. This land was filled with woodlands and the area was enlivened by a vibrant array of fauna of Sri Lanka and it also included the iconic animal of the land - the elephant. The flora of Panamura was that of a wide variety of trees and it predominantly included atamba, kolong, madhan, burutha, and milla. According to the local stories, by 1912 A.D. the Panamura and its woodlands harboured a total of 2,300 elephants, including the majestic tuskers.

Furthermore, by this time every single entity that was found in Panamura as well as the entire area of Panamura was owned by the Maduwanwela family and these were considered as the property of the family. Hence, the only person that has the authority or the right to establish an elephant ranch at Panamura, without the explicit permission of the government, was "Maduwanwela Rate Mahatthaya" - the landowner of Maduwanwela.

Another prominent politician and member of the society of Sri Lanka, Sir Alfred Francis Molamure, was the officer-in-charge of the elephant ranch of Panamura. Sir Molamure was a member of the early Parliament of Sri Lanka and the first Speaker of the Parliament. Due to his high ranking position in Sri Lanka, the story that is mentioned in this article received high popularity and he played a pivotal role in this incident.

Accordingly, elephants were captured and sold to external parties once every five years. The final elephant ranch and the final auction of elephants at Panamura took place in 1950. The story that occurred during this period enhanced the popularity of Panamura. It is said that a total of 27 wild elephants were captured and brought to the elephant ranch. A steep majority of these elephants were female tuskers and their calves.

Author: Piyasena Kahadhagamage
Book Title: Panamure Atha Raja
ISBN: 978 955 573 733 3

  • Part 2

  • Part 3

  • Part 4

  • Part 5

Panamura Elephant Ranch – Part 2

The process of capturing and domesticating wild elephants in this region takes on a subtle yet magnificent form. A resplendent and to some, a peculiar process, occurs during the capture of wild elephants in this area. Elephant mahouts as well as fourteen other tamed elephants are used to trap and capture wild elephants. It should also be mentioned here that there were several other people who assisted in this process. The term "Panniththalayan" was used to refer to these personnel and they were engaged in capturing wild elephants. Capturing untamed elephants that languidly roam the expanse of Panamura was carried out just adjacent to the elephant ranch.

A special location was created with the use of the terrain and geographical features of the area. This special area at Panamura was designed with the elephant fence surrounding two pathways that led to a water body. The water body was adjacent to the pathways but it was not surrounded by the fence. These wild elephants will be alarmed due to the actions of mahouts and a “kadulla”, the local term for the compartment used to close the fence, will be used to trap the elephants within the confines of the elephant fence.

Two people act as informants of any approaching wild elephants and any information is relayed to the Sir Molamure. These two people are safely hidden within a large tree along the pathway. According to the number of elephants that approach the water body, the personnel carry out a number of different tasks. The wild elephants are then chased and persuaded to move to the elephant ranch and this process alone could consume several days.

Fire was also utilised in order to coax the elephants to move towards the confines of the ranch and in addition to this, drums were also used. After the elephants have been driven in to the elephant ranch and enclosed by the fence, fire will be ignited around certain areas of the fence. As the elephants are afraid of fire, the elephants will not get close to these areas and this is also used to ensure the protection of the people involved in this process. It is said that separate fires were ignited at intervals of just ten yards.

Between these fires, a mahout would be operating with his tool in order to fend off any attacks or any attempts of escaping from the elephant. One fact should also be mentioned here and this fact is that the fences alone would be insufficient to contain the elephants as these fences can be easily destroyed by elephants, especially the wild elephants that are unaccustomed to the elephant ranch.

Author: Piyasena Kahadhagamage
Book Title: Panamure Atha Raja
ISBN: 978 955 573 733 3

Panamura Elephant Ranch – Part 3

The methodology of taming wild elephants is carried out by introducing these elephants to already domesticated and tamed elephants at Panamura. Thousands of people flock besides the elephant fence in order to witness these processes. It was even proclaimed that rewards will be provided for those who assist in capturing the elephants and these people also gave a hand in tying elephants to trees.

The elephant referred to as the Panamura Tusker or the “Panamure Ath Raja” was the leader of the wild elephants that were caught at the Panamura elephant ranch. The Panamura Tusker would vehemently protect its herd of wild elephants and also fend off any threats from the officers and tamed elephants. Mahouts and their tamed elephants moved along with the wild and newly captured elephants in order to subdue them. Afterwards, these wild elephants were trapped with the help of the tamed creatures. Each wild elephant were then tied to a suitable tree after it is being caught via a rope to one of its leg.

The technique utilised to tie elephants to trees is mesmerising and peculiar. Two tamed elephants will stand beside the wild elephant and then subdue it. This will be followed by the actions of mahouts and these actions include the "Nawa Pota Weluma", a technique that uses nine "weluma". Typically, six wild elephants will be tied over a period of two days. Calves that need feeding will be taken care of during this period. These baby elephants will be untied if necessary and each female elephant of the ranch will be used to feed them if the necessity is generated.

The leader of the herd of wild elephants was nine feet tall and about 25 years old and its dimensions will be greater than the other elephants. Due to the unique method used by mahouts to tie wild elephants to trees, any struggles to escape by the elephants are generally futile and painful. Wounds will be created on the leg of each elephant and these are later treated if necessary. Due to the immense pain, the wild elephants will even shed tears. The wild elephant will typically attempt struggling for several days.

The elephant that was identified to be the leader of the herd is extremely ferocious and would attack all of the fourteen tamed elephants that were used to domesticate the wild elephants. This particular elephant was, as mentioned earlier, known as the Panamura Tusker and its ferociousness increased day by day. The "Punchi Korale" of Maduwanwela, a person of authority of the area, would lead the activities of the mahouts to subdue the leader of the captured herd.

Author: Piyasena Kahadhagamage
Book Title: Panamure Atha Raja
ISBN: 978 955 573 733 3

Panamura Elephant Ranch – Part 4

It is said that even the Sir Molamure officer saved his own life from an extreme close encounter with the leader of the wild elephants. It was the belief of Sir Molamure that the other elephants cannot be freed or untied unless the leader is subdued. After several days of attempting to deal with the leader of the elephant herd, Sam Alapana led the fourteen domesticated elephants in to the area where the wild elephant was present. After a dangerous encounter with the leader of the wild elephants, Sam Alapana saved his life by jumping in to a nearby lake.

Finally, the decision was made to open the gates of the area in order to left the wild elephant escape. However, even after this was done, the wild elephant, who was, as mentioned before, referred to as the Panamura Tusker, did not leave the fenced area. Instead of escaping, the elephant attacked the trees to which its companions were tied to and it protected its herd. The wild elephant also attacked the tamed elephants from time to time and this led to the decline of the courage of these tamed elephants and their mahouts. The courage and ferocity as well as the formidable attacks from the Panamura Tusker developed with time and this story spread to all parts of Sri Lanka. People flocked to Panamura to witness this unique experience.

There was a stir of opinions against the elephant ranch as according to the government's rules and regulations regarding captive elephants, the elephants should be untied after a certain period. The Governor of Sri Lanka asked for information on the current situation from Sir Molamure via a telegram and Sir Molamure replied that the elephants are still tied up at his ranch. During the discussions between Weerawardena Bamunusinghe and Sir Molamure, the latter had stated that no law was broken and that no regulation of the Department of Wildlife and Conservation as the elephants were at his property.

Author: Piyasena Kahadhagamage
Book Title: Panamure Atha Raja
ISBN: 978 955 573 733 3

Panamura Elephant Ranch – Part 5

Dr. N. M. Perera, who was a political leader of the Lanka Sama Samaja Party (LSSP) of Sri Lanka and an influential politician of Sri Lanka, got to know about this debacle and he decided to protest it. He questioned about the illegal activities of the Parliament Speaker, Sir Molamure. Protests against the activities conducted at Panamure, which were attended by a considerable number of people, were held by Dr. N. M. Perera. The government as well as other officials underwent a certain degree of fear due to these protests. The revolutionising views and endeavours that made Dr. N. M. Perera famous had created certain scenarios in Sri Lanka and these were seen as a threat to the government of Sri Lanka.

Due to the vehement protests by Dr. N. M. Perera, it is said that an area of up to 25,000 acres, the breadth of the Panamura and the surrounding area, were filled up with his talks. Weerawardena Bamunusinghe, a prominent medical personnel, presented his opinions on this particular scenario, especially after a period of several days after this became a nation-wide issue. According to Weerawardena Bamunusinghe, the protesters directly criticised the actions of Sir Molamure and voiced their disgust with the incident of torturing the wild elephants.

The officers in charge of the elephant ranch were forced to react due to the vociferous protests of Dr. N. M. Perera and silence was no longer a viable option for the officers. Facing the questions of the protesters without a proper legal platform was the opinion of the officers. Sir Molamure, due to his politically unbiased position of the Parliament of Sri Lanka and his integral role at the elephant ranch, was considered to be ideal person to reply to the questions posed by Dr. N. M. Perera. At this particular time, Sir Molamure temporarily resided at a nearby bungalow and according to Weerawardena Bamunisinghe, Sir Molamure was placed in much discomfort due to the protests.

At the end a choice had to be made - should all of the captured wild elephants be released or should the Panamura Tusker be put to death. Therefore the decision was taken by the officials at Panamura to put the Panamura Tusker to death by one single bullet. In order to accomplish this, Sam Kadiragama, the then Commodore of the Sri Lankan Navy, was selected to carry out this task. Sam Kadiragama was the champion of target-shooting and he was able to successfully slay the Panamura Tusker. This is the story of the Elephant Ranch of Panamura and the story of the formidable Panamura Tusker who strived to safeguard its herd against captivity and domestications.

Author: Piyasena Kahadhagamage
Book Title: Panamure Atha Raja
ISBN: 978 955 573 733 3