K. David worked as a wildlife tracker for Sri Lanka’s Department of Wildlife for 30 years. He was near Yala National Park when the tsunami hit.
What happened the morning the tsunami hit?
We set out at about 6 a.m. on the morning of December 26. At about 7:30 a.m. we noticed the elephants started to run. Not a single animal would stop. They had their tails raised up and some were running very close to our jeep. We were traveling very slow. All the elephants and wild boars and other animals were all running away from the sea towards Galkanda. I could not imagine what was the cause. Others in the group were asking what was the reason for the animals to run, but we did not know what was happening. By the time we reached the turnoff to Patnamgalla bungalow, we saw a huge wave of water coming from the sea. It was about 30 feet high and was rushing through the trees and uprooting some of them. The huge wave was rolling along very fast. I stopped the jeep and turned it around. We waited for about 15 minutes. Then another wave came. I started the jeep and drove along the road. By this time the wave had receded. There were a lot of fish on the road. We moved them aside with sticks. At that time we heard a hoot from the direction of the bungalow. A jeep that was taking two tourists had toppled by the force of the wave. The driver was clinging onto a branch of a tree. There was no sign of the tourists. The bungalow had been flattened and there was no sight of the occupants. We brought down the driver. He had injuries all over his body.
We put him in a jeep and since that road was impassable, we sent him to Yala through another road. All the traffic that entered from this side had to go through Katagamuwa and Situlpahuwa. After that we hurried away from the place and reached Katagamuwa. Only at Katagamuwa we learned about what had happened. There was no trace of the occupants of the bungalow. Their bodies were never recovered. My brother had a son. His body was recovered the following day, but the body was decomposed. In that water, a body turns black and decomposes immediately.
Why did you think the animals were running away?
I thought that a large number of hunters had come and therefore the animals were running away. There was nothing else I could think of. Every day when I take this route, the animals are there and they don’t pay any attention to us. The visitors in the jeep were … asking whether it was normal for the animals to run away like that. I said it has never happened before and that they must have been disturbed by something. It is my belief that they sensed or felt something, like getting some news. Although we humans did not feel or sense anything, the animals felt it; they smelled something. I have been here more than 40 years; but never have I witnessed anything like this.
How do you think they knew when to run?
It is my belief that the animals either sensed something or felt something. Otherwise they never run like that. Because of this special quality in animals, not a single animal died or was injured. Whatever the scientists may say, the animals were able to sense something or they smelled something. Otherwise they would have perished like the humans. But not a single animal perished in this Yala sanctuary. We go everywhere and we know if there were animals dead. Not a single deer, sambhur, wild boar, tiger, bear, or elephant died here. We saw many dead humans, but we did not see a single dead animal. There were rows of people dead, hundreds of them. Sri Lankans and tourists were among the dead. We stacked the bodies in the vehicles and took them.
Whatever the specialists or experts may say, I say that the animals sensed something. All the animals escaped because they went up towards the hills, the higher land. Towards Sithulpahuwa.
Do you think animals have a “sixth sense?”
It is like this: when it is going to rain, the peacocks, pheasants, and other birds, they sense it, but we humans have not the slightest indication. So similarly, here also they sensed something. You can inquire and see. Not a single animal perished. Human beings, vehicles, and all others were washed away, but no animals were washed away. … I do not know how it happened. It may be they sensed something, they felt some vibration or something. But somehow they knew something was going to happen.