By Sajitha Prematunge
Wildlife experts say that driving elephants into parks is futile because, as the drive from Hambantota to Lunugamwera would exemplify, the animals will die eventually due to starvation and stress.
Two adult female elephants, a baby elephant two years old and a six-year-old elephant were killed recently in Handilla, Hambantota when an encroacher fortified his illegally occupied two acre plot by tapping electricity from the power line of an adjacent house. This incident took place in Managed Elephant Reserve (MER).
The Sri Lankan elephant population has fallen to 65 percent since the turn of the 19th Century. According to Wildlife Department statistics 99 elephant deaths have been reported up to May this year. Twenty-four humans have fallen victim to elephant attacks in the first five months of 2013. The situation is transparent. It is all because of that damned airport in Hambantota. Or is it? The Nation spoke to some leading figures in conservation regarding the issue.
“Any development in elephant habitat will result in conflict,” said Center for Conservation and Research (CCR), Chairman, Dr. Prithiviraj Fernando adding, “But we cannot put development on hold because of it.” CCR has been tracking elephants using collars with GPS (Global Positioning System). Many elephants including Sapumali the elephant with a facebook account have been collared so far.
Fernando explained that past development activities were conducted under the premise that the elephants would have to be taken out of the equation, by removing them to Protected Areas (PA). “Most large scale development projects fail to take conservative action. The greater Hambantota development plan is different in this sense,” said Fernando. He explained that when the Walawe west bank development project was under way, all the elephants were removed from the area. The elephant drive took place in 2005 and 2006.
According to Fernando, during the greater Hambantota development plan, CCR was allowed to monitor the elephants.
Some 200 elephants were driven to PA to make way for the development that took place under the greater Hambantota development plan. Some 600 more stubbornly refused to leave their home range, despite being subject to attempts at driving them away for one and half years. “Some of the 200 elephants that were driven to parks died in there,” he recalled. Consequently driving elephants into the parks is futile. As the drive from Hambantota to Lunugamwera would exemplify, the elephants will die eventually due to starvation and stress. If the parks are over their carrying capacity, driving more elephants into the parks will not only endanger the new population but also the existing ones.
“Those of the 600 elephants who refused to leave were subject to the actions of the drive for one and half years,” reiterated Fernando. An elephant drive involves anything from shouting and clapping to shooting to scare the elephants to leave the area. This is traumatic for the elephants, explained Fernando. Therefore they become more aggressive, thereby further aggravating the human elephant conflict. More....