Sri Lanka escalates battle against wild elephants as toll hits 375
ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka’s government Wednesday announced extending electric fences near national parks and vulnerable villages as part of a new drive to protect people and wild elephants as the toll on both sides hit a record high.
Cabinet spokesman Gayantha Karunathilaka said the government will increase the length of electric fences by over 50 percent and also upgrade the existing protective fencing to ensure that marauding elephants did not raid villages for food and water.
He said some 375 people had been killed in the past five years as the human-elephant conflict escalated to a new high with villagers retaliating and killing a record 1,177 elephants during the same period.
Karunathilaka, who is also the minister of Lands said the authorities would begin constructing 2,651 kilometres of new electric fencing to keep elephants away from villages bordering wildlife reserves.
The cabinet also approved a plan to upgrade the existing 4,349 kilometres of electric fences — which repel elephants but do not seriously hurt them — and ensure better maintenance.
There was no immediate estimate of the costs, but he said more people will also be recruited for maintaining the electric fences. Sometimes, elephants damage the fences by using tree branches or logs and clear a path for them to move out into villages in search of food and water.
The announcement came two days after President Maithripala Sirisena called for urgent action, saying elephants were straying into human habitat and were also destroying crops in addition to inflicting a heavy toll on humans.
Sirisena said wildlife, including elephants, destroyed about 35 percent of the country’s agricultural produce. A monkey population of one million in the island of 21 million people was also responsible for wiping out much of the coconut harvest earlier this year, the president said.
He also said there were almost daily reports of elephants attacking villagers or destroying property. Official figures show 5,800 incidents of elephants attacking property in the past five years.
Elephants are considered a Buddhist symbol and protected by law. Killing wild elephants is an offence punishable by death, but there were regular reports of angry villagers poisoning or shooting them.
Sri Lanka also bans the capture of wild elephants, although many people, including Buddhist monks, have illegally raised baby jumbos — seen as a status symbol.
Official records show there were about 200 domesticated elephants in Sri Lanka before the recent ban on capturing them. The population in the wild is estimated at 7,500. (COLOMBO, August 8, 2018)