Human-elephant conflict decreases, yet time to contemplate on the issue | Sunday Observer

Human-elephant conflict decreases, yet time to contemplate on the issue

10 January, 2021

Sri Lanka has the highest density of Asian Elephants with around 6,000 elephants and the Asian Elephant is listed as ‘endangered’ mostly due to the human-elephant conflict. Sri Lanka confronts this issue every year as a major conservation, socioeconomic and political threat. Annually, this conflict victimises around 400 elephants and 70 people.

The Department of Wildlife Conservation takes the lead in mitigating the human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka though 70 percent of Sri Lanka’s elephants live outside the protected areas of the Wildlife Department.

In 2019, Sri Lanka reported the highest number of 405 elephant deaths and 121 human deaths. Yet the Department of Wildlife Conservation declared on Thursday, January 7, 2021 that, looking back at the previous year 2020, they can declare a visible decrease in the deaths caused by the human- elephant conflict.

As the DWC announced, elephant deaths have dropped by 22 percent in 2020 when compared to 2019. 

According to environmental lawyer and activist, Jagath Gunawardana, this issue that remains unanswered is a man-made consequence though it is called ‘human-elephant conflict’ because it is humans who make the first step in destroying and disrupting the natural habitats of elephants by various means such as, encroachment, taking of wild lands for cultivation, frightening and caging elephants by force and shooting.

‘Elephants are under severe stress due to degradation, destruction, lack of food, water and space’. Gunawardana said that despite the decrease of the deaths, it still calls for proper measures for both ends: humans and elephants.

At this point, elephants in Sri Lanka are mostly compressed to the dry zone including Wilpattu National Park, Yala National Park, Udawalawe National Park and Minneriya National Park.

‘The Sri Lankan subspecies is found only in this country and Sri Lanka has only 17 percent of its natural plant cover remaining’ added Gunawardana. According to him, Hambantota, Kurunegala and Trincomalee areas have recorded the most number of human-elephant cases, with Moneragala, Anuradhapura and Puttalam also recordeding a considerable number. Gunawardana said this issue doesn’t seem to have the proper focus and attention it urgently deserves.

“The solutions are beyond our reach. From this conflict, elephants are threatened more than humans. I have decided to leave this issue in the hands of the relevant officials who are accountable for the matter because there are already enough of them if they take this matter properly into consideration”.

Jagath Gunawardana emphasised the vitality of looking at the bigger picture instead of focusing on particular incidents that happen in the country. ‘Things would be better if we can try to enrich and restore the destructed habitat and at the least, relocate both elephants and villagers that have been confronting and struggling with threats from elephants on their lives, houses and crops’.