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The Exploding Elephant
Jungle Stories

The case of the exploding elephant is from 1974 and happened in the remote village of Dambarawa near Mahiyangana. You will need a one-inch-to-the-mile map to locate this village. We were the only doctors for miles. Ranji and myself were newly married young doctors.The major local hazards were Malaria and the local MP. Those who have read the previous story would know about Mahiyangana.

One of our friends was the local Public Health Inspector a man by the name of Bandara Pallekumbura who was in charge of the Anti Malaria Campaign. He saw the incident first hand and Ranji attended to the victims. I was away at that time.


This part of Srilanka is so remote that there are wild elephants. As long as they are in a herd they are pretty harmless and leave human beings severely alone but occasionally they get separated from the herd or sustain non-fatal injuries from ivory poachers. This, not surprisingly, changes their outlook on life. They become rather aggressive and are then known as "rogue elephants".

The village of Dambarawa was about five miles from the hospital and was at that time terrorised by an injured rogue elephant. The villagers requested permission from the Government Agent to put the animal down, permission was granted and the huge beast was duly shot dead right in the middle of the village!

It is one thing to kill an elephant but another thing to bury it. Bury it? How do you dispose of an elephants carcass? Digging a grave was out of the question for two reasons. Firstly this was the dry zone of the country and the ground was hard baked. Secondly there were no bulldozers or earthmoving equipment.


Meanwhile, in the hot tropical sun the recently deceased elephant underwent the usual post-mortem changes with unexpected rapidity. Very soon the carcass started to smell a bit. Then it began to smell a lot. There was only one thing to do and that was to cremate the elephant. As the Public Health Inspector, our friend was involved with the disposal. Old tyres and firewood were collected and heaped up on the carcass. Diesel fuel was added to get the whole lot going. Everything would have worked well if at this stage, a rather vociferous village know-all had not insisted on adding petrol (gasoline) for good measure.

By this time there was a rather rowdy carnival atmosphere and villagers from several nearby villages had gathered for the animal's last rites. Afterall it is not everyday one gets the chance to attend an elephant's funeral and this was well before the days of television. Even on telly you do not often see an elephant's funeral but sorry ...I digress.


Mobs rule! The protestations of our friend fell on deaf ears and a generous quantity of petrol was poured on the pyre. In the hot tropical sun the petrol vaporised rapidly creating a mirage-like shimmering effect. His protestations having had no effect our friend withdrew to a respectable distance. The next minute a match was struck and there was an almighty woosh and a flash--the sort of explosion seen in Hollywood blockbusters.

Although I refer to this story as the case of the EXPLODING ELEPHANT in reality the elephant was largely unscathed. The same could not be said of the villagers! A large number of bystanders sustained nasty flash burns and were brought to the Mahiyangana hospital. The severely burnt were despatched to the General Hospital at Badulla using our only ambulance as well as private transport. Some eventually died. Ranji had a busy day.

What about the elephant? Well, later it had a proper funeral without the use of petrol.

©Copyright Gyan Fernando 2000
Dog bites Ranji | Exploding Elephant | Modern Fables | Incense & Candlewax | Gamarala stories | Punchi Borella | My Father The Ghost

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