Featured Image Credit: Dailymirror Sri Lanka via Youtube
By Eva Gruber
An amazing story this week out of Sri Lanka, where an Asian elephant was rescued out of the Indian Ocean by the Sri Lankan Navy. Navy personnel say that the animal was likely crossing the Kokkilai lagoon, a large stretch of water between two jungles and was caught in a riptide or current that swept it out to sea.
Many people are shocked to hear about swimming elephants, but swimming is not unusual behavior for elephants. In fact, elephants are very good swimmers and in fact sometimes even swim up to 6 miles across straits between islands.
However, 10 miles is much farther than an elephant can normally swim, and after being spotted by a patrol boat the Department of Wildlife in Sri Lanka dispatched vessels to the area to help save the animal.
The rescue took over 12 hours, and involved multiple efforts and a high level of coordination. Scuba divers aided by wildlife officials first approached the distressed elephant to tie ropes to it in order for the vessels to be able to tow it gently back to shallower waters.
Photos taken by Navy and Department of Wildlife personnel show the elephant keeping its trunk above the water for use as a snorkel while its eyes are below the surface of the water. Elephants are the closest land relatives to manatees and dugongs, and actually have unique lungs in that they can withstand pressure variations above and below water. For a terrestrial mammal, they are exceptionally well pre-disposed for life at sea.
It is unknown how long the animal had been swimming, but it is likely that it wouldn’t have been able to keep its trunk above the water for much longer, and the effort it takes to keep afloat is tremendous. Eventually the elephant would have simply tired and drowned. After the elephant was towed back to shore, it was released, where hopefully it made a full recovery.
A tremendous success for the team involved, and a happy ending for this incredible story!