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Sunday, 24 August 2008

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Call to protect elephants

Elephants live in herds are led by the oldest female elephant in the herd. The male elephant is driven away from the herd to prevent breeding. These are the strange ways of elephants said the Managing Trustee of Bio Diversity and Elephant Conservation Trust and leading expert on Asian elephants and former planter Jayantha Jayawardena.

He was addressing members of the Rotary Club of Kandy presided over by Rotarian Ayesha Wijeratne at the Queens Hotel, Kandy.

Jayawardena said that the elephants in Sri Lanka are highly threatened in spite of what anyone may say to the contrary. Explaining the reasons for the Human - Elephant conflict that have developed in the country and the efforts that are being made to mitigate these conflicts, he said that clearing forests to settle human beings is one of the main reasons.

This is an encroachment into the preserve of the elephants. Naturally there is agitation by the elephants when they are being threatened by these settlements. This give rise to the conflict.

He said that in Sri Lanka an elephant kills about 65 people every year. Then there is the case of elephants being often killed or run over by trains. This could be prevented to some extent if the train crew takes precautions by giving the elephants enough warning by sounding the horn much in advance when they spot elephants close to the train tracks.

In most instances what happens when elephants roam close to the rain tracks, they are on either side of it. When they see an approaching train and a baby elephant on the other side of the rail track, the mother elephant panics for the safety of the baby and tries to get across and in the process gets run over by the train. If the warning is sounded much early, these accidents could be prevented.

Jayawardena said that the conflicts between human beings and elephants is growing and without a proper plan or strategy to solve or at least mitigate these problems, the situation would get worse with the progress of time.

He said that a new policy on Elephant Management and conservation approved by the cabinet was now in place and it was up to the Department of Wild Life Conservation to map out a plan of action that would help the conservation of our elephants in the long term.

It is also necessary to amend the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance in keeping with present situation and the new policy.

He said that there are 4,000 to 4,500 elephants in Sri Lanka and on an average like human beings they live upto 70 years. There are only 139 tamed elephants in Sri Lanka apart from these at Pinnawela and others in transit and captured for breeding. This is one of the reason that there are fewer elephants in Peraheras.

He also said that the elephant problem at Palawatte and Handapangala has been solved to some extent and there is no conflict with the elephants in those areas.

The elephants bread every four years and the gestation period is 22 months. Therefore, something tangible must be done to conserve our elephants and also to prevent the human - elephant conflict within the framework of the respective ordinance.

Members of the Rotary Clubs of Peradeniya, Gampola and Katugastota were also present.

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