Empower local community to improve jumbo conservation | Daily News

Empower local community to improve jumbo conservation

The Sustainable Development and Wildlife Ministry has launched several programmes to minimise the human-elephant conflict to preserve the wild elephants. Wildlife Conservation Minister Gamini Jayawikcrama Perera recently presented a Cabinet paper in consultation with the President proposing to launch an integrated wild elephant protection and preservation programme.

This article will briefly study Thailand’s experience in minimising the human elephant conflict with the empowerment of local communities. Perhaps, we can learn a lesson or two out of their observations.

The total population of elephants in Sri Lanka has been declining except in reservations where they are protected. According to statistics, in early 19th century there were 12,000 to 14,000 elephants and in early 20th century it has come down to around 10,000. While the Government authorities maintain we have around 6,000 wild elephants today, some analysts put it down to 2,500 to 4,000.

In some reservations, the elephants’ population growth is outstripping available food and water sources. Elephants respond by going outside into local villages looking for their basic needs. The result is what we term human-elephant conflict.

In addition to this issue, over the last century, forest cover in our country has dropped dramatically. Sri Lanka’s forest cover, which was around 49% in 1920, has fallen to approximately 18% by now. The reasons attributed for this downfall are the threats such as illegal logging, wildlife trade, land encroachment, forest fire and human-elephant conflicts. This predicament poses a serious problem to the elephant’s continued existence.

Crop and property damage are perhaps two of the most disastrous consequences of the conflict. Elephants can destroy large area of crops in a single night. Elephants also kill and injure people. Some die while trying to protect their crops or while walking at night between neighbouring villages. According to Government statistics, 79 wild elephants and 23 villagers had been killed due to human-elephant conflict in the past two years.

The challenge

Therefore, we do have a serious challenge and it is heartening to note that the government is taken note of it and moving with some solutions.

Thailand also has the same problem. Years ago, they carried out many studies and out of the lessons learnt, wide range of measures and management strategies have been employed to mitigate human elephant conflict. Thai experts suggest that habitat improvements in the wildlife sanctuaries could make it more hospitable to the elephants. The theory is that this would remove any incentive for the elephants to leave the protected area. The experts also suggest a range of other options that could be considered, including the use of contraception for female elephants, land-use changes and electric fences.

Thai authority’s habitat improvement and the use of electric fences would be the most efficient options as short and medium-term solutions. These options were also preferred by the community members.


A comprehensive survey was undertaken. When community members were asked whether they would be willing to volunteer to work to improve habitats for elephants, 93% said that they would be willing to do so. More than half of respondents stated that they did not hate the elephants, but that they also did not want them to raid their crops. These attitudes indicate that local people are willing to support and take part in possible future mitigation measures.

According to the experts, the results of this study will be useful for policymakers and will help them select which policy intervention to employ in the future. However, the study noted that short and medium-term solutions will only reduce the conflict, but not eliminate it. The study recommended that other mitigations measures proposed in the policy options such as land use changes and contraception for female elephants must be put in place to arrive at a permanent solution.

For example, while it was known that land use change contributed to human elephant conflict, it had never been quantified over time. Number of studies were undertaken to assess changes in land use/land cover in many districts and their impact of human-elephant conflict. This research offered baseline information for land use planning to balance wildlife conservation with livelihood development.

Public participation

Based on the results of the study, Thailand initiated in 2012, a community-based elephant conservation project known as “Bring the Elephant Home” (BTEH) in one of its wildlife sanctuaries. By providing financial assistance, social recognition, and ecological restoration expertise, BTEH and local community leaders encouraged the local community to engage in conservation activities.

BTEH focused most of their conservation activities on community participation, education, awareness raising and capacity building on elephant conservation and forest restoration. The project’s prime objective was to restore forest cover and make it a healthy, balanced habitat for wild elephants, thereby lessening the need for the elephants to roam outside the protected area.

In 2015, BTEH received a grant to launch the Conservation Leadership Programme, allowing the organisation to grow and facilitate capacity building. This unique training programme allowed conservation champions/leaders to make a real difference for wildlife. Through the programme, the project established small teams, comprising of local community leaders and sanctuary officers, to be more pro-active in their conservation efforts.

Rather than choosing expensive solutions to prevent elephants from going out of protected areas, such as electric fences, the team explores new solutions, such as joint monitoring plan, crop/livelihood changes, education programme and beehive fence control.

In October 2015, BTEH and conservation leaders conducted a survey, interviewing people who lived around the selected sanctuary. The survey findings were as follows: (1) People working in the agricultural sector have a more negative impression of elephants because elephants raid crops; (2) People who gain benefits through a community-based conservation programme have a much more positive attitude towards the elephants; (3) Most people (87%) feel that it is important to invest in elephant conservation initiatives because they have a long history of coexisting harmoniously with the elephants and the fact that the elephant is considered a cultural icon.

Dealing with conflict

In addition to the assessment, BTEH also organised a Participatory Action Research session to bring community members and forest rangers together to talk about conflict reconciliation.

Participatory Action Research facilitated dialogue and stimulated ownership of conservation projects by community members. Under the common goal ‘A healthy environment for elephants brings people’s happiness’, the activities that were desired by both communities and forest officers were (1) a joint elephant patrolling programme, (2) promotion of environmental safeguards - such as forest restoration and improvement of tree nurseries.

In addition to the two issues above, group also presented other strategies to mitigate the conflict, which are: (1) introducing a bamboo collection control system, (2) introducing bee-hive fencing system (3) enhancing electric fencing capacity, (iii) planting economic plants in the buffer zone that are disliked by elephants and (iv) adding more water sources inside protected areas.

Regarding bees and elephants, it is a well-known fact that elephants are afraid of bees. They even have a specific rumble to warn each other of the threat of bees.

The bees’ presence deters elephants from encroaching on farmers’ lands. Initially, the beehive fence research work was inspired by the success stories in Kenya. The first beehive-fencing project in Thailand, has shown promising results.

In addition, BTEH also realized that the human elephant conflict cannot be absolutely eliminated as the closed proximity of croplands to the reserved areas.

The strategy to mitigate this problem in future needs adaptive management by discussing and coordinating with the stakeholders (local communities, wildlife researcher, forest rangers, NGOs and other agencies both at the national and local levels).



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