‘Electric fences, the only effective solution’ | Daily News
Rise in human-elephant conflict cases

‘Electric fences, the only effective solution’

A herd of wild elephants attempting to break through an electric fence. Picture by Nimal Wijesinghe, Anuradhapura Additional District Group Corr.

Environmentalists and wildlife conservation experts have told President Maithripala Sirisena and the Wildlife Conservation Ministry that it was not advisable to test the feasibility of various strategically-designed solutions for preventing the growing human-elephant conflict.

They said that the only effective solution was to continue the erection of electric fence systems with the support of villagers. They have explained that cutting trenches; as well as growing jute, palmyrah, lime, and bougainvillea in certain areas as protective fences; have also proven to be futile at preventing wild elephants from invading human settlements.

According to the environmental protection agencies and the Centre for Conservation and Research (CCR), around 70 to 75 people and about 250 to 300 wild elephants lose their lives due to the human-elephant conflict. Between 2013 and 2017 alone, the death toll of wild jumbos reported from the Anuradhapura, Central, East, North-west, Polonnaruwa, Uva, Kilinochchi, Vavuniya, Trincomalee, and Puttalam wildlife zones stood at 1,180, whereas its corresponding human casualties number 375. The number of wild elephant deaths in the aforementioned wildlife zones in 2018 was recorded to be 250.

The economic as well as other losses incurred as a result of the spike in the human-elephant conflict have increased poverty and impeded socioeconomic development. The CCR said that for over 60 years, solutions to the issue had been based on limiting elephants reserves under the jurisdictions of the Wildlife Conservation Department.

That approach has failed and, currently, over 70 percent of wild jumbos are roaming in areas outside the jurisdiction of the department. In fact, this method has resulted in an increased number of casualties in the conflict, the CCR added.

It has also been reported that the human-elephant conflict was prevalent in almost the entire dry zone. Various measures undertaken to resolve the human-elephant conflict; such as elephant translocation, elephant dives, electric fence systems, and the use of firecrackers; have hindered many elephants.

Environmental protection agencies highlighted that successful mitigation of the issue could not be executed by conservation agencies alone. The Centre for Conservation and Research had told authorities that the HEC should primarily ensure the well-being of the elephants, as they were helpless, and deprived of their habitats and security.

They added that while electric fences were the most effective tool for preventing wild elephants invasions, its use as a Wildlife Conservation Department jurisdiction boundary marker, has resulted in failure.

Currently, over 60 percent of over 4,300 kilometres of the department's electric fences are between the areas that come under the jurisdiction of the Wildlife and Forest Conservation departments, the Centre for Conservation and Research Chairman Dr. Prithiviraj Fernando said.

“There are elephants on both sides of most electric fences. Such fences are ineffective in mitigating the ongoing human-elephant conflict as there are no barriers between the elephants outside the fences and the villages. Furthermore, the fences are difficult to maintain and easily malfunction,” he added.

Dr. Fernando said, “Electric fences should only be used to protect settlements and crops. Hence, they should be constructed at the boundaries of developed areas or cultivated lands. Such fences can be easily constructed and maintained by the communities that are protected by them, and this approach has been successfully implemented, covering two Grama Niladhari divisions in the areas in which the human-elephant conflict is the highest: Galgamuwa and Ehetuwewa.”

“They have also been successfully implemented in a trial run in the Trincomalee and Hambantota districts. Such electric fences have effectively mitigated the conflict over the past eight years in the North-west as well,” the CCR Chairman added.

“Similarly, electric fences constructed by farmer organisations around paddy fields, can effectively prevent wild elephant invasions as well. Farmers construct such fences when they begin their cultivation activities, as well as when they commence the harvesting process. About 30 such fences have been deployed in the South and North-west, and have worked successfully for the past five years,” Dr. Fernando added.

“Such people-centric human-elephant conflict management solutions at the appropriate scale, can only be conducted by agencies that have the authority as well as the relationship with people such as the administrative and agricultural sectors, and not by conservation agencies,” the CCR Chairman said.

“Given the extent and scale of the conflict, successful mitigation measures will bring major political benefits, especially with regard to the rural constituency. If the conflict is to be managed effectively, people who are affected by the conflict need to play a major role in managing it, and the administrative and agricultural sectors need to assist them,” Dr. Fernando said.

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