A Sri Lankan navy ship was patrolling the country’s north-eastern coast when it came across an unusual sight: a lone elephant paddling nine miles away from the shore, clearly in distress. As Michael Safi reports for The Guardian, the poor pachyderm appears to have been caught up in a current and swept out to sea. After a 12-hour rescue mission, navy personnel were able to tow the animal safely to land.
The dramatic scene played out in the waters off Kokkuthuduwai, Kokilai, according to a statement from the navy. After the elephant was sighted, a second ship was called in to assist with the rescue, and Department of Wildlife officials were also dispatched to the area to provide instruction. Video footage of the rescue shows divers gently tying ropes around the elephant, which is then tugged gently back to shore.
The team dubbed the elephant “Jumbo”—an apt choice not only because of the animal’s size, but also due to the scope of the mission to save it. In its statement, the navy described the rescue effort as a humongous task.”
Generally speaking, it isn’t unusual for elephants to swim miles away from land. They are strong, skilled swimmers, with a unique lung structure that helps them withstand dramatic differences in pressure above and below water. They are also equipped with trunks that act like anatomical snorkels, allowing the animals to breathe while their bodies are submerged beneath the waves.
But human intervention was “probably” necessary in Jumbo’s case, Avinash Krishnan, a research officer for the conservation group A Rocha, tells Safi. “[Elephants] can’t keep swimming for long because they burn a lot of energy,” he says. “And the salt water isn’t good for their skin.”
Once the rescue mission was complete, Jumbo was handed over to wildlife officials. The elephant is reported to be in good health.