Uncoordinated and unorganized methods of mitigating the Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC), has resulted in increasing the conflict rather than providing a solution, one of Sri Lanka’s foremost elephant experts Dr. Prithiviraj Fernando said.
Addressing a lecture on HEC in Colombo last evening (14), Dr. Fernando pointed out how mitigation methods such as elephant translocation, elephant drives, holding grounds, electric fences and elephant thunders which Sri Lanka has been practicing for years, had been extremely detrimental to the elephants.
Speaking of elephant translocation, which is done with the intention of moving the problem causing adult male elephants to another place, Dr. Fernando said that it has not given the expected outcome.
“We have monitored around 20 -25 elephants who were translocated. They were translocated to a park. But there was one thing that all the elephants really did. They left the park and not a single elephant stayed in the nice beautiful park to where they were released. We also saw that some of the elephants who were released got killed. Therefore, the translocation of the problem causing adult males actually creates HEC and can be detrimental to the elephant,” Dr. Fernando said.
Dr. Fernando further said that the elephant holding grounds, introduced by the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWLC) in order to avoid the shortcomings of elephant translocation, has not provided a viable solution to HEC either.
“DWLC came up with a new idea and it is an elephant prison. It is not called a prison but that is what it is. We monitored an elephant that was put into the holding ground in Horowpathana that was a very big male and he died of starvation in the holding ground. And if you talk to the people around this holding ground they claim that HEC has gone up drastically in the Horowpathana after the holding ground was built,”
Explaining further, Dr. Fernando pointed out that elephant drives, which involves removing all elephants from their habitats for irrigation development, has caused adverse effects on elephants.
“Elephant drives are done to remove all elephants and are usually done in conjunction with irrigation development projects. In elephant drives, we observed that you cannot chase the problem causing adult males. what you can drive are the female and young ones. But females and the young ones are not the ones that cause the problems. So one of the main reasons we have such a high level of conflict in Sri Lanka are these elephant drives,”
“Which of these mitigation methods address the problems the elephants have? None. These only address the problems the people face. Although there are two sides to the conflict we only focus on one side only on the people’s side. As a result of this conflict mitigation, elephants are harassed out of their lives. They lead a life of fear.”
Expressing his opinion on the possible ways of minimising the HEC, Dr. Fernando said that first of all the perspective of the people.
“The biggest question is how do we perceive it? If we only perceive it as a conservation problem, we will never be able to address it. We need to think of it as a development problem because it is development that causes conflict. Elephants have very few needs. They want to live and that’s all that they ask for. If we take the proper road, we change the human-elephant conflict into human-elephant coexistence,” Fernando added.