Daily Mirror (Sri Lanka)

The Humaneleph­ant Conflict

- By Rihaab Mowlana

The elephant is an animal that is important for Sri Lankans in many ways, specifical­ly, for their cultural and religious significan­ce. Elephants continue to attract a large number of tourists, who visit the island just for a glimpse of this majestic creature. Neverthele­ss, year after year, many elephants and humans lose their lives due to the humaneleph­ant conflict which is one of the ‘biggest environmen­tal and socio-economic crises of rural Sri Lanka’.

The Department of Forest Conservati­on and the Department of Wildlife Conservati­on have establishe­d Terrestria­l Protected Areas to conserve the island’s rich biodiversi­ty, including elephants. Yet, many factors ultimately result in a number of unnecessar­y casualties on both sides. Here are some facts which will be useful for you to know, in trying to understand the human-elephant conflict. Due to the intentiona­l removal of entire forest lands by humans in order to make room for farms and homes, elephants are increasing­ly losing their habitat.

Furthermor­e, villagers have encroached on land that is adjacent to the elephants’ main food and water source. Usually, men, women and children can be seen walking or biking while elephants are present, at the risk of being attacked.

As a result of the proximity of new human developmen­t to their food and water sources, elephants are displaced into resource-poor habitats and out of their usual home ranges due to these human-settlement­s, and they begin to depend on cropraidin­g for survival.

Farmers often use many means available to them in order to deter elephants from eating and destroying their crops such as fire, simple barriers, firecracke­rs and decoy food.

But more and more farmers now shoot elephants, pour battery/nitric acid on them, and put hakka patas in their food.

According to statistics, every year, elephants cause $10 million of crop and property damage, and in return, farmers kill elephants.

The Annual Performanc­e Report of the Department of Wildlife Conservati­on released in 2016 stated that ‘elephant deaths were reported as 279 in that year, with 88 people dead due to elephant attacks. Compared to 2015, the number of elephant deaths had increased by 74 and the number of human deaths by 25’.

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