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Sri Lanka heading for record human, wild elephant deaths in 2019

ECONOMYNEXT – Sri Lanka is heading for record human and wild elephants deaths in 2019, with a probably expanding pachyderm population and pressure on their habitat as conflict with man escalates, officials said.

In the first 10 months of 2019, 93 human and 293 elephants have already been killed in the conflict, compared to 96 humans and 319 elephants for the whole of 2018.

“It is escalating,” Secretary to the Ministry of Wildlife S Hettiarachchi said.

In 2013, 70 humans and 206 wild elephants died. By 2016, human deaths had increased to 87 and elephant death had shot up to 279.

In 2017, human deaths were 87 and elephant deaths fell to 256. But both human and elephant deaths are rising.

Sri Lanka’s Asian elephants was listed as endangered as its habit shrank, especially after the expansion of rice cultivation in the early 1980s under several irrigations schemes lead by the Mahaweli river valley program.

Before 2011 elephant lovers had warned Sri Lanka had about 2,500 to 4,000 animals left, though seasoned conservationists privately said even then, there were more, based on mortality statistics and observing the number of new calves that were visible in herds in wildlife parks.

A census in 2011 counted 5,879 elephants, or roughly 6,000.

“That is the minimum count,” Sri Lanka’s Department of Wildlife Conservation M G Sooriyabandara said.

“There is a recruitment rate. Then there are deaths. The problem is that a high large proportion of deaths are deliberate.”

In the 10 years to 2018, 2,456 wild elephants had died. In the decade 738 humans had died, though headlines are usually grabbed by elephants.

In 2017, 50 elephants were shot, and 54 animals died from ‘Hakka Patas’, a improvised explosive device. It made by stuffing a fruit or vegetable with explosives and steel balls. They are sometimes placed targeting other animals such as wild boar.

In 2017, 24 were electrocuted, 7 were run over by trains, 22 died of natural causes. Another 50 died of unknown causes.

Elephant lovers had called for the death penalty for elephant killers.

Anuradhapura, Polonnaruwa and Amparai and Baticaloa to the East are where most of the deaths and property damage take place.

Sri Lanka is erecting electrical fences as a way to manage the conflict. The wildlife department erected 488 kilometres of electric fences in 2017.

The department also distributed 734,000 ‘serpent flares’ and ‘thunder flares’ to scare away elephants, spending 69 million rupees. Another 300 million rupees was spent on electric fences and other equipment.

When the British began ruling Sri Lanka in the 19th century it is believe that there were around 14,000 elephants in the island. Thousands were shot as human settlements expanded.

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