By Graham Land
Sri Lanka has a complicated relationship with elephants. The completion of the country’s first expressway was recently celebrated by marching a herd of elephants down the new road. Elephants are protected by law in Sri Lanka and revered by both Hindu and Buddhist faiths. But just like in parts of India, where elephants and people metaphorically step on each other’s toes, Sri Lanka also has an “elephant problem”.
But let’s be real here – what is often referred to as an elephant problem is really a human problem. Humans multiply, develop, build, farm and generally consume a lot of resources. Granted, elephants eat a lot too – they are big creatures that require up to 150 kg of vegetation every day. That means they need a certain amount of natural habitat to graze. When people cut down that habitat and build a farm or a city or whatever, sometimes the elephants eat their crops and cause a nuisance. Some even kill people. But more elephants – at least twice as many last year in Sri Lanka – are deliberately killed by people.
An Indian wildlife expert has suggested that Sri Lanka is too densely populated to support a large elephant population and that in certain areas elephants should be culled in order to resolve the conflict between elephants and humans as well as – bizarrely – aid in the conservation of elephant populations in less stressed areas of the island. Some local elephant experts disagree, offering other methods for dealing with the elephant problem.
From an opinion piece in The Island newspaper:
"We live in a world overpopulated with humans, where human food crops are far more attractive to elephants than the natural vegetation in their habitats. Electric fences can protect both humans and elephants from conflict. But in Sri Lanka, there is a need to reassess the haphazard way in which electric fences have been established across the range of elephants without regard to their movement patterns." More....