The Daily Mirror a few days ago noted that in a bid to ease the growing human-elephant conflict in the country, the Wildlife Conservation Department had undertaken moves to restrict the habitat of rogue elephants to a 2500 acre jungle area in Veheragala, Lunugamvehera and Horawapathana. Quoting the Wildlife Conservation Department’s Director General, Chandrawansa Pathiraja, the paper noted that rogue elephants from other areas would be trans-located to these locations, which will be bordered with electric fencing.

Similar efforts, however, in the past have failed. Jayantha Jayewardene is the Managing Trustee of the Biodiversity and Elephant Conservation Trust shared some thoughts on the human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka on a televised interviewed.

We begin our conversation by looking at precisely why there is a human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka, looking at the issues over land use (framing) and demarcation (fencing and other means). Giving a detailed explanation of the nature and extent of the home range and the size of the herd that inhabits it, Jayantha looks into the reasons why elephants are increasingly attacking villagers, and damaging villages.

This is a serious issue. Over 10 years, there have been over 1,300 elephants that have been killed and on average, over 60 humans a year for the past 15 years are killed by elephants.

Jayantha makes the point that there is no guarantee of success when translocating an elephant or herd, and gives the example of one tusker who travelled back over 100 miles, crossed a river and went back to the area he was moved from. Jayantha also speaks about the problem of habituation, when elephants become more aggressive over time and get used to the means to drive them away, like bright lights and firecrackers.

Another challenge he points out is the almost complete lack of coordination and collaboration between various line ministries responsible for the environment and wildlife. Countering the assertion of the Wildlife Conservation Department’s Director General, Chandrawansa Pathiraja that electric fencing is enough to keep elephants within their new territory, Jayantha submits that over time, these fences are often neglected and that on occasion, the villagers themselves take the wire away for their own use. Tragically, he also notes that some drunk villagers also decide, in a moment of bacchanalic bravado, to take on the elephants, with predictable consequences.

Noting that much could be learnt on how to tackle the human-elephant conflict by looking at examples from South and South-East Asia, also stating that even those most affected by the violence are against culling them, and just want a clear demarcation of territory.

Jayantha ends by sharing some thoughts on the future of elephant conservation, and how what is a very emotional issue needs dispassionate, pragmatic solutions.

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  • sr

    Who looks after the ecology of the oppressed?

    When the war-ravaged are denied denied human dignity and basic needs, they are sent orphaned elephants? pigs?

    Orphaned elephants to be sent to Mullaiththeevu, 10 January 2011
    Sri Lanka orders cuts in aid work, 9 July 2009: ‘’The Sri Lankan government has told international relief agencies to cut back their activities in the country. … But it(ICRC) says an estimated 300,000 displaced people still need food, medicine and help to return home.’’
    No funds to meet needs of nearly 200,000 Northern IDPs due to govt refusal to endorse 2010 action plan, 13 March 2010: ”The funding crisis follows the government’s refusal to endorse the 2010 Common Humanitarian Action Plan (CHAP)…. The UN and other humanitarian agencies are running out of resources to meet the urgent needs of internally displaced persons in the North. …”
    Suspicion slows aid work after Sri Lanka war, 15 December 2010:
    ”Sri Lanka’s 25-year war is over but aid groups on the Indian Ocean island say strict government controls are hampering their ability to help hundreds of thousands of survivors rebuild their lives. …..”

    Pigs of HSZ harm crops, youth electrocuted in Jaffna, 30 December 2010

    The owners of the land in High Security Zone are languishing in camps or staying with relatives/friends.

  • georgethebushpig

    Thanks for highlighting this issue.

    As I understand most animals revert to a high-risk/high-gain strategy when their natural foraging habits are disrupted. In Sri Lanka’s case plumping human communities and sugar cane plantations in the middle of elephant territory has been disastrous for the elphant population. Then we wonder why there’s a Human-Elephant Conflict!

    An interesting alternative that the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society (SLWCS) has been pursuing is a reversal of the fencing paradigm and have been fencing-in human habitations rather than protected areas. It is a lot less fencing and in terms of maintenance it is probably more manageable.

    In any case, the electric fencing approach needs to be considered probably only as an interim measure until a good 30 meters of thick tree cover is established as a physical barrier between the elephant route and the village.

    Here’s an interesting little video about Sri Lankan elephants:

    • Anne Williams

      The chief reason for this conflict is the 20 million population of this little island, the size of Wales and until this problem is tackled the conflict will worsen. During the Colombo Perahera I witnessed an elephant being hauled in a lorry for this event. I noticed violet dye on its legs and worse, around its hind legs there were huge weals with the pink flesh of the poor beast showing underneath its skin where it had been tethered. Having been entranced by the Kandy Perahera as a child watching over the balconies of the Queens Hotel, I took my young children to witness this fascinating part of our culture.My father used one beast to pull down rubber trees to plant paddy in answer to Govt. requests. It was common to see them in the Nuwara area but never did I see such a cruel sight. Furthermore, I was told that an old blind beast at the elephant orphanage had been speared to death. Both these seem to be nothing now but circus acts and simply there to attract tourists.
      Now, it seems the Hambantota area of very dear memory will suffer a terrible fate.
      When all the precious gems in Lanka have been mined its only attraction will then be the precious possession of all, its natural beauty, we expats remember, long for and encourage folk to see.There is a native north American saying, ” Man belongs to the earth and not Earth to Man. This puts matters in perspective. I salute, all environmentalists in Lanka who strive against the odds to halt the human tide from encroachment into wildlife domains, remembering that the Lord Buddha taught respect for all life and Christians to be guardians of this Planet. Support should come from the topmost echelons. One wonders if our grandchildren will ever see the natural wonders of Serendib as I have encouraged them to visit one day.We will never forget the wonders of Yala,Wilpattu and the unspoilt beaches of Kuchiveli and Nilaveli where the jungle met the beach and leopards still roamed the little coastal road. Trips to Hambantota were magical but what of Wirawila when the new ‘Colombo’ rises?