Sri Lanka: What’s killing so many of the country’s iconic elephants?

Sri Lanka: What's killing so many of the country's iconic elephants?
Elephants play at an Elephant Transit Home in Udawalawe National Park on August 23, 2023shabby pictures

Sumitra Malkandi sobs as she describes the tragic hour in March of last year when her father was crushed to death.

The pair lived in a farming community in northern Sri Lanka, and she was working in the kitchen while her father, Thilak Kumara, was just outside tending to their cattle. Therefore she heard the crowing sound of an elephant.

The worst happened “within minutes,” she said, adding that she was about to warn him. After hearing the horrified cries of the people, the elephant bolted.

Ms. Malkandi, a 45-year-old mother of three young girls, claimed that her home has not yet fully recovered. She fears it might occur suddenly.

Her home is tucked away in a land that is only 100 meters away from an elephant-friendly deep forest, surrounded by palm, mango, and banana trees that they love to eat. Her community, Thalgaswewa in the Kurunegala area, is currently caught up in a conflict between humans and elephants that is getting worse.

In Thalgaswewa and nearby villages only, according to local officials, three persons and ten elephants have died in the last two years. Locals then hesitate to leave their houses after dusk.

However, the issue is much more widespread than just this one little place.

Mr Kumara is one of 176 people who died in encounters with elephants Sri Lanka last year. During the same period, 470 elephants died – half of them at the hands of humans, while the rest were killed by illness or in accidents. On average, that means, more than one elephant died each day of the year, while a human was killed every two days.

Animal environments are being encroached upon by cultivation, which is destroying their food and water resources and endangering people’s lives. According to Prithiviraj Fernando, the main elephant expert in Sri Lanka,” all the food vegetables we cultivate are very appealing to them.”

However, it is also casting doubt on the future of Sri Lanka’s famous elephant, as the most recent data shows a record number of fatalities in 2023.

Because both victim matters are the deadliest on history and serve as a stark reminder of the fatal consequences when people come into contact with these magnificent animals, conservationists are requesting immediate action from the state.

The state began making more area available to the public after the civil war ended in 2009. According to Chandima Fernando, an ecology at the Sri Lanka Conservation Society, these were no-go places during the war. According to him, this has increased the availability of land for communities and cultivation, increasing the number of elephant encounters.

An elephant that was killed while trying to cross an electric fence in Kurunegala district

Killing elephants, which are endangered, is punishable by law Sri Lanka where they hold religious and economic value. Domesticated elephants are often part of religious processions and a tourist attraction.

Producers continue to take deadly steps to safeguard their plants and themselves despite this.

The cost is just strong enough to surprise the animals without seriously hurting them, even though Sri Lanka allows electric gates to keep them out. Electric fencing covers about 5, 000 km (3, 100 km ), including the area around Thalgaswewa’s properties, and it is being expanded.

However, activists claim that farmers have likewise unlawfully erected gates with higher voltages that have the potential to kill animals. They occasionally shot at the animals to scare them away in addition to using poison and violent baits known as “jaw bombs.”

” Cultivating lemon fruits or other plants that will not attract elephant” is one of the simpler and kinder suggestions made by professionals like Chandima Fernando.

Although some experts fear the real number may be much lower, 5,800 animals are thought to travel the protected habitats of Sri Lanka, including lakes, grasslands, mountains and shrubland.

An elephant generally travels up to 48 kilometers per day and avoids freshwater. Unless they run out of food, they do n’t walk very far.

However, when that occurs, such as in protected areas due to drought, they are drawn to adjacent farms.

Animals that stray from designated areas should not be pushed back in because there are not enough elephants in the forests, according to a federal warning.

The head of an established council established in 2020 to create a National Action Plan to lessen the effects of the human-elephant conflict was Prithviraj Fernando. Despite Sri Lanka’s unprecedented economic crisis, the program has been dormant for the past few years, but the sudden increase in elephant murders has given rise to necessity.

A herd of elephants Sri Lanka

Anbarasan Ethirajan/BBC

The Worldwide Fund for Nature reports that since the change of the 19th century, the number of elephants in the nation has decreased by nearly 65 %.

Sri Lanka lost about 250 elephant annually a decade ago. However, the figures have sharply increased in recent years, reaching 400 deaths for the next consecutive year. Up to 70 % of Sri Lanka’s animals may be extinct if elephant deaths keep rising at the present rate, according to Prithviraj Fernando.

Experts are also concerned about the large number of adult animals that are dying, endangering the species ‘ ability to survive. The tuskers frequently enter remote areas by themselves, which makes them more resilient.

According to Chandima Fernando, parts of northern Sri Lanka have no reported seeing a single male elephant in recent years. Observations were frequent prior to the crisis.

While elephant deaths outside of protected areas are accounted for, according to researchers, they do n’t know enough about what is happening inside forests, where disease, conflict, or drought may be the root causes.

The possibility of another encounter with an elephant, according to Ms. Malkandi, terrifies her up in Thalgaswewa.

She claims,” More and more elephants stay coming to the farm.” ” We are afraid to live below.”

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