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In Advocacy,Environmental,Mobilizing

MONLAR lashes out at Wildlife Dept. for failure to protect elephants

The Department of Wildlife has given up efforts to protect elephants in the country, Sajeewa Chamikara of the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) has said. Addressing a gathering at the launch of his book, Sanwardana Jawaramen bihikala Ali minis getuma (The Human-Elephant Conflict: A Creation of the Development Racket), on Wednesday, Chamikara said successive governments had been trying to convince people that there were too many elephants in the country.

“They would want people to believe that the human-elephant conflict (HEC) is due to the excess of elephants. A lot of time and resources are expended to propagate this lie and a large number of people have come to believe it. The government wants to get rid of the elephants to implement the National Physical Plan,” Chamikara said.

“The number of elephants killed in 19 years from 1951 to 1969 was 1,163. This works out to about 61 elephant deaths a year.

“However, 5,010 elephants have been killed in the 19-year period from 2004 to April 2023.

“Last year saw the highest number of elephant deaths recorded since the country’s Independence; 433 elephants were killed. The highest number of human deaths also occurred due to elephant attacks in the same year. The number of human casualties were 145.

“In the 34 years from 1990 to April 2023, a total of 6,642 elephants have died. About 70% of them were killed by humans as a result of the human-elephant conflict. Meanwhile, 2,032 people were killed in elephant attacks in the 26 years from 1998 to April 2023.

Many believed that an increase in the elephant population had contributed to the human-elephant conflict. However, there was no evidence to suggest that the elephant population is on the rise.

“In the decades following the year 2000, elephant habitats have dwindled. Elephant fences have been erected without a plan throughout the dry zone, fragmenting forests. These fences have separated forests that are under the purview of the Wildlife department, the Forest Conservation department, and the Mahaweli Authority from each other.

“These are all state entities. Because of these turf battles, elephants can’t move between forests. This is because erecting electric fences has become a money-making enterprise. Then unplanned settlements and large-scale commercial agricultural projects, which are recommended under the National Physical Plan, the IMF and the World Bank, too, have contributed to the reduction of elephant habitats.”

Sajeewa Chamikara

Chamikara also said that the quality of the surviving habitats too had deteriorated over time. Invasive plant species had spread in large swaths of forest land where elephants live, and about 54 garbage dumps had been established near forest reserves. Those factors draw elephants out of protected areas, he said.

“We also try to send as many tourists as possible to areas where there are lots of elephants. And this is a disturbance to elephants, and they try to escape this by going out of forest reserves into human settlements. This is another cause of human-elephant conflict,” Chamikara said.

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