On the railway track last week in Chettikulam there was a horrible elephant tragedy which needs to be a trumpet call as to how serious Sri Lanka is in its commitment to protecting and promoting biodiversity -- the world environmental theme for this year.
On August 18, three baby elephants and a mother elephant were killed when they were hit by the Mannar night mail train heading towards Colombo. Reports say a herd of about twenty five elephants had attempted to cross the railway track and seven elephants were hit by the train which was apparently running faster than the speed permitted in such areas where engine drivers have been told to go slow because elephants may cross the track. Three mutilated bodies were found around the same place while fourth had been dragged for about 400 metres along the track. Villagers say three other injured elephants had run into their jungle homelands.
With last week’s slaughter the number of priceless elephants killed by trains this year has risen to 11. Environmental investigators say that elephants killed on rail tracks are mainly those deprived of both homelands and food and thus roam around just to survive in the conditions that wickedly selfish people have created for them.
In a report published in the
yesterday out investigative journalists pointed out how selfish people had grabbed the habitats of the elephants -- the priceless treasures and long time sacred kings of our jungles. Therefore it is not surprising that the fight for space has become a key factor in the human-elephant conflict, and it has tragically led to the deaths of about 200 elephants every year.
Marauding elephants also claim the lives of about 50 people annually, mainly by roaring and raging through villages built near their habitats. According to the latest census the number of Sri Lankan elephants has drastically dropped to about 7,000 compared to about 12,000 some hundred years ago. Obviously the elephants cannot provide a solution to this crisis. The government and the people especially movements committed to the conservation of biodiversity need to act urgently and effectively to find the solution and save our precious elephants from possible extinction.
As for elephants killed on rail tracks, the Railway authorities have said they have a plan to install thermo-cameras where through the heat emitted by the elephants, the driver would get a warning.
Jayantha Jayewardene, Managing Trustee of the Biodiversity and Elephant Conservation Trust, says elephants panic when they hear high speed trains. By tooting the horn from a distance the elephants are alerted and can move away. Mr. Jayawardene says, sometime ago the Wildlife Department deployed an official in the train driver’s cabin to prevent the driver getting drunk and being careless. But eventually it was found that both were getting drunk and the victim was the elephant.
Deadly drunken jokes apart, for a long-term solution the government needs to move faster than the drunken driver’s train and strictly implement the laws on deforestation. World environment crusaders insist that in the battle against climate change and the destruction of the eco-balance and biodiversity, priority must be given to stop deforestation. The government must not allow any housing or other projects in habitats which belong to the elephants. Without such an eco-friendly policy and commitment to diversity there cannot be sustainable development.
Besides the killing of elephants in train accidents or in the human elephant conflict there are also the heartless poachers. In Africa these wicked gangs are going after rhinos whose tusks are known to be more valuable than gold. In Sri Lanka also we see such poachers, many of them with political patronage. They kill the majestic tuskers to make a huge profit not realising or caring that they are destroying one of our great treasures.
We hope the government will act fast and firmly against all these elephant killers and make it clear to them that the trumpet has sounded and at judgment they stand.