Both fight for life | Daily News


Human-Elephant Conflict:

Both fight for life

The lives of elephants in Sri Lanka are under threat due to development activities. The human-elephant conflict has a long history. At the beginning of the 19th century, the British colonial Government started planting tea and coffee in the hill country. Eventually, elephants became a problem to their plantations and the British planters started killing a large number of elephants.

Under the orders of British Government Mayor Roger who was also the administrator of the Uva Province, 1,300 elephants, including 60 tuskers, had been killed. Unfortunately, he was also killed by an elephant. This was the beginning of the history of the human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka.

Today, the human-elephant conflict is common in Sri Lanka. As the largest mammal, the elephant has a remarkable ecological, cultural and generational value. Due to the mass destruction of elephants in the hill country, the elephant population had been restricted to the Dry Zone plains.

At the beginning of the Mahaweli Project, thousands of acres which were prime elephant habitats were cleared for agriculture. These plots of land were given to people to cultivate and some of the lands have been used for irrigation.

People settled in areas which belong to wild elephants. Those new settlers felt elephants were a threat to their cultivations. This is the second phase of the conflict. The environment issue which emerged due to this human-elephant conflict cannot be solved overnight.

A herd of wild elephants has recently played havoc in Wandurassa and Rasnayakapura Divisional Secretariat areas, destroying paddy and chena cultivations worth more than Rs. one million. They enter these villages, passing the Deduru Oya bund across the Wilpattu Sanctuary.

The unending invasions of wild elephants to villages and hamlets around the jungle belts in North Western and North Central Provinces, including the Mahaweli division, have been a menace that threatens villagers. The situation in the villages such as Mahawelithenna and Meegalewa is pathetic. According to the Wildlife Conservation Department, the lack of experienced staff is a hindrance for the adaptation of remedial steps.

The electric fence around the Siyambalangamuwa Hakwatuna Oya is also not in operation for a long time. However, those who settled in the dry zone areas under the Mahaweli Project are struggling to save their cultivations from wild jumbos. The Wildlife Conservation Department said in the last three years, 319 elephants and 92 persons had died due to human-elephant conflict.

After a long silence, the Wildlife Conservation Department has decided to pay compensation within three months to those who became victims of wild elephant invasions. A group of hunters killed the crossed tusker of Galgamuwa, known as Dala Puttuwa in February 2019. Eight persons were arrested while attempting to trade off elephant pearls (Gaja Muthu) at Rs. 80,000. The case is still pending in the Kurunegala Magistrate Court.

The number of elephants living in the Kala Oya National Park has also decreased to seven. A 14-year-old she elephant died recently at the Anuradhapura Thuruvilla tank bund. In the same area, two other elephants died of gunshot injuries in Nelum Kulama three months ago.

According to Wildlife Conservation Department reports, about 263 wild elephants and 685 persons had died between 2010 and 2020. However, wild elephants and human deaths were not reported in 2010 and 2011 in Puttalam and Kurunegala Districts. The main reason for the conflict is the clearing of jungles during development projects.

The lack of equipment to repair the malfunctioning electric fences has inconvenienced villagers in rural areas for many years. The Hakwatuna Oya electric fence in the Kurunegala District is also not in operation for a long period though it possesses extra pillars to re-erect the fence.

However, the farmers in the Dry Zone areas, without being able to cultivate their lands, complain that the Wildlife Conservation Department cannot manage this human-elephant conflict. They say the Wildlife Department has still not taken any action regarding this pathetic situation. The electric fence which is about 80 kilometres long was erected by the North Western Provincial Council with the assistance of the Central Government.

W.A. Sirisena, a farmer of Polpithigama said a herd of wild elephants have been invading certain villages in the Polpithigama Divisional Secretariat division such as Kattam Beriya, Kumbuk Kaduwela and Madiyawa. “Wild jumbos have caused severe inconvenience to the residents of Amunakole Leekola Wewa and Kassi Kote. We complained several times to the Wildlife Conservation Department Zonal Director for which no response has been received,” Sirisena said.

Kurunegala District Secretary R.M. Rathnayake said wild elephants cannot enter these villages once the electric fence is repaired. Many complaints have been received by the Kurunegala District Secretariat from the areas around Galgamuwa about the difficulties and damage caused by wild elephants.

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