The Sri Lankan elephant population is now largely restricted to the dry zone in the north, east and southeast of Sri Lanka. Elephants are present in Udawalawe National Park, Yala National Park, Lunugamvehera National Park, Wilpattu National Park and Minneriya National Park but also live outside protected areas. It is estimated that Sri Lanka has the highest density of elephants in Asia. Human-elephant conflict is increasing due to conversion of elephant habitat to settlements and permanent cultivation.
The size of wild elephant populations in Sri Lanka was estimated at
Elephants and humans are not getting along and in Sri Lanka, it is more apparent than anywhere else.
The Human Elephant Conflict is a term that defines a growing problem in Asia. Habitat is shrinking daily and humans are encroaching on the territory of elephants. At the same time, many poor farmers haven't changed their daily lives for hundreds of years but their crops and villages are being threatened. As urbanization takes hold, the elephants have nowhere else to go and end up in fields searching for food.
In villages, elephants are considered as pests; as huge and dangerous pests. They raid crops and devastate and entire year's harvest. Like any wild animal that is losing its habitat, elephants are becoming more aggressive and people are losing their lives.
The human elephant conflict dates back centuries, as historical records by Robert Knox reveal. According to data gathered by the Elephant Conservation Unit of the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), around 2,844 elephants were killed by farmers and 1,138 people were killed by elephants between the years from 1991 to 2010, while a total of 3,103 homes in Sri Lanka were destroyed by elephants (from 2004 to 2007).
Because of these statistics Sri Lankans are mobilizing and fighting back. Elephants are being shot, poisoned and electrocuted. As many as 100 – 150 elephants are being killed each year and it doesn't seem as if anyone can come to a solution. Some statistics have stated that over 200 elephants were killed in Sri Lanka in 2009.
Sri Lanka is home to 10%, 20% of the Asian elephant population, more than any other state in this region. A land area of nearly five square kilometers per elephant is needed to ensure that the natural balance that exists between the elephant and its dry zone habitat is not disturbed.
According to this data, the current population of 3,500 elephants requires around 17,500 square kilometers or 27% of total land mass while the protected areas in Sri Lanka cover only 12.5% of the land (or 8,200 square kilometers). This indicates that nature parks and reserves are unable to ensure the sustainable conservation of these beings. Long term solutions are sorely needed and political will is the deciding factor.
These numbers of Elephant deaths are heartbreaking. The elephant is endangered and it is illegal to kill them, but villagers are desperate. Sadly elephants are dying in other ways as well, they are being hit by trains, falling into wells, blown up with explosives and have become casualties of years of conflict.
Recently the famous tusker, “Dala Puttuwa” of Galgamuwa was killed by poachers, renewing the public discussion around the ongoing human -elephant conflict in Sri Lanka. Investigators found that “Dala Puttuwa” was killed to sell its tusks and for coveted ‘elephant pearls’ as they are known.
Reasons for the Conflict
With a 1.1% of a population growth makes so many thing complicated as human are in a big challenge to survive. Demand for the food has been increased due to population growth so the harvesting new lands are a must. Construction of new areas and urbanizing also demands the need of wooden products and it will deprive elephants of their habitat, forcing them to roam about in search of basic needs such as food and water. These elephants then have to face various violent deterrents put in place by the villagers to protect their paddy, ranging from gunshots to poisonous pumpkins.
Matara highway, for instance, has progressed through the MER. Many factories, including solar power generation plants have been constructed within MER, with the result that the human-elephant conflict is worsening day by day, as the land allocated for elephants shrinks.
To fulfill the demands of human being forests are rapidly decreased. We have taken the lands which were belonging to the wild life. Recently human were set up in a part of Wilpaththu national park, government should have a national view on conserving the remaining forest areas and make the biological stabilization in the country.
Steps to Reduce the Human Elephant Conflict
What we need is a sustainable solution for this matter but to achieve a sustainable solution implementing short term and long term plans is what governing bodies must do.
We must preserve the remaining forests in order to maintain the required land area for wild life. Electric fencing is a method of dividing the areas where elephants live. As an alternative to electric fencing, Practical Action came up with an innovative, low cost, sustainable bio-fencing technology to protect elephants and humans.
As a solution to minimize the killing of elephants enforcing the law or strengthening the remaining law should be done and destroying the remaining forest by human should not be taken as a small issue. Law must be implemented to fine the muggers.
Human should have well-planned towns, villages, reservoirs and transport system. At last we should keep in mind that this world belongs to every living creature.
Leo Saliya Pathmabandu
Leo Club of Colombo Host, Sri Lanka
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