Sri Lanka recorded not less than one elephant dying a day within the first quarter of 2023, practically half of them attributable to human causes, placing the nation on observe for a report dying toll from human-elephant battle.Various approaches adopted since 1959 to deal with the issue have solely aggravated the problem or failed to unravel it, specialists say.A nationwide plan formulated in 2020 to mitigate the issue has not been totally carried out attributable to an absence of funding.Wildlife conservationists say that as much as 70% of untamed elephants may die except efficient measures are urgently adopted.
COLOMBO — On common one elephant has died every day in Sri Lanka within the first three months of this yr, with practically half of these deaths attributable to human causes. This escalation of the perennial downside of human-elephant battle on the island has prompted requires pressing options to avoid wasting this endangered and iconic species.
Sri Lanka’s Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) recorded 151 deaths of Sri Lankan elephants (Elephas maximus maximus) between Jan. 1 and April 28. Of these, not less than 67 had been attributable to human intervention, together with taking pictures deaths (38) and electrocution brought on by electrical fences (23).
Six elephants died after consuming so-called jaw bombs, improvised explosive units hid in meals bait that detonate when bitten. The units are utilized by farmers to maintain animals from their crops.
Ravi Corea, founder and president of the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society (SLWCS), stated he fears Sri Lanka could be on observe to set a brand new undesirable report for the best variety of elephant deaths in a single yr.
Elephant deaths final yr hit an all-time excessive of 433, whereas human fatalities from these conflicts was additionally a report 145.
“Every time the division sends out these statistics of elephant deaths, there’s all the time an elevated hue and cry. This is an effective signal. But sadly, that outcry subsides with time,” Corea instructed Mongabay.
The authorities estimates the inhabitants of Sri Lankan elephants, a subspecies of the Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), at about 7,000. But wildlife conservationists counsel the true quantity could also be far decrease, given the speedy lack of the animal’s habitat and the rising dying toll from battle with people.
Humans and elephants inhabit the identical panorama throughout 44% of Sri Lanka’s terrestrial space. Image courtesy of Namal Kamalgoda.
What is driving this long-standing downside?
Sri Lanka has lengthy strived to discover a stability between its human and elephant populations amid restricted land and sources on the Indian Ocean island. But varied approaches adopted since 1959 to mitigate human-elephant battle have solely aggravated the issue, based on Corea, who works intently with villagers on the problem.
He blamed this on the authorities’ failure to deal with the elements that underlie the issue. One of those elements, he stated, is the “flawed” course of by which authorities allocate land for improvement tasks and different actions like farming.
“Every time there’s a improvement program, they go and seize elephant habitats. Where are these animals going to go? Land settlement schemes are the primary drivers of this concern,” Corea stated.
“Some elephant habitats are actually cities, villages, paddy fields, cultivations, harbors, airports and cricket stadiums. We must rigorously assess and determine the remaining habitats and declare them protected areas,” he stated.
The authorities’s personal knowledge underscore this overlap: a nationwide report exhibits that people and elephants inhabit the identical panorama throughout 44% of Sri Lanka’s terrestrial space. And 70% of present elephant vary falls inside areas the place people reside, the report provides.
Jagath Gunawardana, a outstanding environmental lawyer, instructed Mongabay that one other issue is the scarcity of workers on the Department of Wildlife Conservation to take efficient measures to forestall elephant deaths.
“Sri Lankan [environmental] regulation is powerful. But to take motion [against elephant deaths], the enforcement mechanism could be very weak. The wildlife division solely has one-sixth of the workforce energy they need to not less than have,” Gunawardana stated.
Electric fences are a typical technique to hold elephants out of villages and farms. Image courtesy of Shashikala Rathwaththa.
Ineffective elephant drives
One of the approaches the federal government has taken over the previous 60 years to maintain people and elephants aside are the so-called elephant drives. These contain shooing elephants away from human-inhabited areas the place they happen and into forested, protected areas, by varied means, together with shouting, lighting firecrackers and taking pictures.
But whereas this may occasionally seem to deal with the issue, a report by the Centre for Conservation and Research, an NGO, exhibits that many elephants die of hunger in these protected areas.
That’s as a result of these areas usually don’t have sufficient sources to feed massive herds of elephants and are usually smaller than the common house vary of a herd, which is about 200 sq. kilometers (77 sq. miles).
The report cites the case of a herd of 12 elephants that had dwindled to simply 5 inside three years of being pushed into Lunugamvehera National Park as a part of a wider elephant drive in 2006.
“The herd didn’t discover the park however stayed near the fence within the route of their house vary. They overused the world and suffered the results,” the report says. The nationwide park spans simply 20 km2 (7.7 mi2) — a tenth of the herd’s ultimate vary.
Supun Lahiru Prakash of the Biodiversity Conservation Research Circle of Sri Lanka, stated solitary male elephants, which are sometimes those that stray into human settlements and trigger crop and property harm, have a tendency to flee these elephant drives, rendering your complete train ineffective.
“Usually feminine elephants and their calves that don’t trigger hassle get trapped in these elephant drives. The solitary male elephants that escape the drive are left behind in the identical space after which react aggressively,” Prakash instructed Mongabay.
At least one elephant died every day within the first quarter of 2023, practically half of them attributable to human causes. Image courtesy of R.M.J Bandara.
Lots of fence, little outcome
Studies have additionally discovered that many elephants pushed into protected areas don’t keep there however return as a substitute to their authentic places. This led the Department of Wildlife Conservation to assemble electrical fences across the boundaries of protected areas beginning within the early Nineteen Nineties.
Despite being expensive, electrical fences have been ineffective in protecting elephants from getting into villages and farms, and have additionally led to the lack of each human and elephant lives. The fences are supposed to solely shock the animals, however many are arrange illegally, linked on to energy strains, which may make them lethal for each folks and elephants.
In 2019 and 2020, the federal government spent 490 million rupees ($2.8 million) to erect 4,756 kilometers (2,955 miles) of electrical fencing — sufficient to wrap three and a half instances across the total nation.
Prithivi raj Fernando, chair of the Centre for Conservation and Research, stated electrical fences aren’t serving their function as a result of they’re not being put up in the fitting locations.
In Sri Lanka, some forests fall below the purview of the Department of Forests, whereas others go below the Department of Wildlife Conservation. A single protected space inhabited by elephants invariably contains forests overseen by each entities.
Wildlife specialists level out that the DWC erects electrical fences solely on the boundaries of the forests below its purview. The portion of the forest managed by the Department of Forests goes unfenced, leaving elephants susceptible to being shot and killed.
“I’ve been explaining the ineffectiveness of this to them for the final 20 years, and so they refuse to simply accept it,” Fernando, who additionally led a presidentially appointed committee that ready a nationwide motion plan to mitigate human-elephant battle, instructed Mongabay.
The committee’s report, seen by Mongabay, recommends growing the effectivity of electrical fences by putting in them within the appropriate places and monitoring them consistently.
“Electric fences (and different obstacles) ought to solely be put in on the border between elephant habitat and human-use areas,” the report says.
U.L. Taufeek, deputy director of elephant conservation on the DWC, stated fences have a tendency to not be put in on the borders between human settlements and forests as a result of villagers object to them.
“Villagers didn’t permit us to try this as a result of they may not exit to the forest for functions corresponding to gathering firewood,” Taufeek instructed Mongabay. “However, that objection has diminished. We should take away these fences and set up them on the appropriate places once more.”
Other suggestions within the motion plan embody discontinuing or minimizing elephant drives, utilizing GPS collars to trace crop-raiding male elephants with an eye fixed to relocating them, and gathering extra knowledge on elephant ranging patterns, habitats and useful resource use.
The Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) strikes wild elephants that could be damaging crops and harming folks from their house vary to a different space. Image courtesy of Shashikala Rathwaththa.
‘No time to waste’
An speedy measure advisable by the committee is to “forestall political interference in implementing the regulation with regard to unlawful encroachments on state land.”
Corea, from the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society, stated the nation wants a system to carry state establishments accountable for his or her actions.
“If a nationally necessary animal is being killed at this price, somebody have to be answerable for that. But nobody is ever held accountable,” he instructed Mongabay. “Authorities ought to have acted approach again. There is not any time to waste. They should act now.”
In October 2022, the federal government appointed a committee led by Sumith Pilapitiya, an elephant ethologist, to implement the nationwide plan developed in 2020 to mitigate human-elephant battle.
Pilapitiya instructed Mongabay that because the committee was appointed final yr, the federal government hasn’t been capable of embody “substantial budgetary allocations” to implement the motion plan this yr.
“It is anticipated that the 2024 nationwide finances can have an allocation for upscaling and implementing the plan,” he instructed Mongabay.
And since there’s no funding by the finances, the set up of electrical fences in keeping with the motion plan has been restricted solely to Kurunegala and Anuradhapura districts, the place charges of human-elephant battle are particularly excessive.
Erecting electrical fences within the mistaken places has aggravated human-elephant battle, an issue that has now reached a essential excessive, specialists say. Image courtesy of the National Action Plan for the Mitigation of Human-Elephant Conflict.
“There are some donor-funded tasks which can be being carried out in these two districts with present funding allocations for implementing key actions corresponding to community-based everlasting village electrical fences and seasonal paddy discipline electrical fences,” Pilapitiya stated.
Fernando, who was key in getting ready the nationwide plan, stated failure to take efficient measures would trigger the nation’s elephant inhabitants to say no considerably, though not within the speedy future.
“If we don’t handle this case correctly, the top outcome can be that greater than 70% of the elephant inhabitants can be eradicated,” he stated. “There might be extra struggling, and there might be extra folks and elephants dying till that is resolved.”
Banner picture of a Sri Lankan elephant that died of electrocution by an electrical fence, courtesy of R.M.J. Bandara.