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Tragic elephant deaths mount, calls for swift action

05 Dec 2023 - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}      

  • 449 Elephants and 169 Human deaths so far this year 
  • Main causes of Elephant deaths are gunshot injuries
  • Human-Elephant conflict has been going on for decades

By Kelum Bandara 

With as many as 449 Wild Elephants and 169 people  killed in the human-elephant conflict by December 1, this year, the  relevant authorities are still at a loss to work out a practical  solution to the problem.  

According to the latest statistics released by the Department  of Wildlife Conservation, gunshot injuries have claimed the lives of 81 Pachyderms. Besides, 60 jumbos perished due to electrocution. Hakka  Patas (jaw bombs or explosive-laden bait) killed 44 elephants, train  accidents 22, poisoning four, road accidents one and other forms of  accidents 14. Four Elephants drowned after falling into agro-wells. The  wildlife authorities cannot vouch for the reason for the remainder of Elephant deaths because carcasses have decomposed by the time of  discoveries.  

The Human-Elephant conflict is not a phenomenon that  occurred in recent times. It has been going on for decades, but the  intensity of the problems has increased by leaps and bounds due to  enhanced encounters between people and elephants.   
A 2019 study says that people live in nearly 70 per cent of  the elephant range in Sri Lanka. It means people encounter elephants  more frequently. The problem is severely found in the Anuradhapura,  Polonnaruwa and Eastern Forest Ranges. With the latest statistics, this  year appears to be the worst in terms of the number of deaths on both  sides.   
 People expand further into wild space for agricultural  activities, resulting in herds of Elephants marauding croplands at the  end. Nutritious crops like maize, rice and bananas are enticing for  gentle giants.   

Farmers are used to install electric fences, but the  solution has not yet been effective. Then President Gotabaya Rajapaksa  formed a high-level committee consisting of experts from different  fields who came up with a National Action Plan. This committee was  headed by Elephant biologist Prithiviraj Fernando of the Centre for  Conservation and Research (CCRSL), and submitted its report in December  2020.   

Current President Ranil Wickremesinghe, has recently  directed authorities to enact the action plan, in line with the elephant  conservation policy adopted in 2006. An action plan is needed. In most  regional countries afflicted with the Human–Elephant conflict, farmers  use common tactics to drive away wild elephants from their lands,  according to affected farmers.   
According to the International Fund for Animal Welfare,  Elephants are mega-herbivores that eat up to 150 kilograms of forage and  drink up to 190 litres of water a day. It says they must navigate  across large areas to find enough food and water to survive. But, the  land is shrinking, making co-existence harder. An action plan has to be  evolved with practical approaches, as otherwise both Humans and Elephants  will continue to perish.