Sri Lanka – The association between man and elephant in Sri Lanka goes back to history. No other animal-like jumbos have had such a close linkage with the people of Sri Lanka. Elephants were used in numbers for massive construction work in ancient times. However, in the present day, people’s connection with elephants has been distorted, and sometimes, they get irritated when they hear the word ‘elephant’. In this backdrop, it’s absolutely essential to analyze why the relationship between elephants and humans eventually became disturbed.
Elephants are considered the largest herbivores on earth and hence, they need relatively larger areas and diversity of environments to survive. However, the elephant habitat has been condensed in the recent past with the increase in the human population and the changes in pattern with regard to land-use. This has resulted in a situation where movements of jumbos have been restricted, especially when food and water resources are depleted, elephants wander into newly cultivated areas in search of food. Consequently, the majority of present-day elephants have been compelled to encroach into human habitats, which has led to a conflict with humans.
HEC creates a vicious cycle of violence
It has been evident that these elephants cause enormous damage to agriculture, properties, and even bring death to humans when they enter human habitats. However, it is not fair to palm the blame on both the elephants and the humans in this regard whereas what is required is to find pertinent solutions to put an end to this Human-Elephant Conflicts (HEC), which has created a vicious cycle of violence.
South Asia – According to environmentalists, the HEC is one of the biggest environmental and socio-economic crises of rural Sri Lanka damaging the beauty of Sri Lanka. Sri Lanka becomes home to over 7,200 elephants, which is about 10% of elephants that live in Asia. They live on about 2% of the country’s land area, and a little more than 7% of male elephants bear tusks. Tuskers are exposed to more harm than other elephants, due to the poaching of ivory. Nowadays, it is much rare to notice tuskers in the jungles of Sri Lanka. It should also be noted that nearly two-thirds of Sri Lanka’s elephants live outside protected areas.
Elephants lose lives than humans
In addition, it has been observed that the rate of losing the lives of elephants is higher than the rate of losing the lives of humans. This conflict has created a vicious cycle of violence.
Referring to the statistics of the Wildlife Department in Sri Lanka, a total of 122 human lives were lost while 407 elephants were killed due to human-elephant conflict in 2019. That figure for the past 8 months of this year stands at 62 and 200 respectively. In this backdrop, the threat posed on the cultivation, day-to-day lives of the people as well as to the elephant population is immense. According to statistics, between 50 -80 humans lose their lives while between 150 -200 elephants are killed annually because of the HEC in Sri Lanka
Identifying the gravity of the issue, Sri Lanka President Gotabaya Rajapaksa recently informed the relevant officials to come out with a sustainable and effective solution to the HEC within two years.
People living in rural areas pay the price
Nevertheless, the small and marginal farmers are the ones, who are vehemently affected by this conflict and thus their plight is miserable, as evident from reports relating to suicides. Many farmers are in deep debt and are unable to move out of their poverty vortex.
Their problems are compounded by wildlife, especially the elephant whose incursions into their farmland can ruin their lives.
Media report tragic incidents where people especially children and adults are attacked and trampled to death by elephants. At the same time, it has been reported that 94% of the victims have not been granted any compensation from the authorities for their losses following elephant attacks.
Electrical fence not effective method
Meanwhile, elephant experts are of the view that the electric fence is not an effective method to prevent elephants from entering human habitation.
Unlike other herbivorous animals, the elephants are generally regarded as wise species. That’s why we have witnessed incidents where elephants are carefully getting rid of this fence. Therefore, experts point out that it is fitting to dig a drain along the area where the electric fences have been fixed so that the elephants fall into the pit.
Lack of National Land Use Policy
Environmentalists in Sri Lanka are also of the opinion that the HEC has prevailed owing to the lack of a National Land Use Policy in Sri Lanka.
When considering the National Land Use Policy, it is meant to prepare plans to rationally allocate the land resources among the competing needs of the country. This ensures the optimal and sustainable use of land while maintaining an environmental balance. In the first place, the authorities should first monitor the National Land Use Policy in a proper manner. In addition, it is also pivotal to make sure the development projects do not pose a detrimental impact on the livelihood of the species.
HEC in other parts of the world
The Elephants once occupied lands across the American, European, Asian, and African continents. However, nowadays, they are almost confined to areas in Asia and sub-Saharan Africa. It is noteworthy that the Asian elephants are known as Elephas maximus and African elephants known as Loxodonta Africana are listed as endangered by the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) while forest elephant species are listed as vulnerable.
When analyzing the population of Asian elephants, there are 41,410 to 52,345 elephants living in 13 range countries in Asia. Besides, the population of African elephants is much greater and it is estimated that there are 550,000 to 700,000 jumbos living in 37 range countries in sub-Saharan Africa. Nevertheless, the largest population of Asian elephants of 60% is recorded from India while Botswana and Zimbabwe share the largest populations of African elephants.
So, there is no doubt that the HEC exists in Asian and African countries when there are elephants in such numbers. According to reports, India, Sri Lanka’s nearest neighbor reports annual deaths of 400 people and 100 elephants as a result of HEC while 500,000 families are affected through crop raiding. And also, over 200 elephants have been killed in Kenya over the last 7 years.
The tragedy is that elephants are often killed in retaliation. For example, 50 to 120 trouble-making elephants are shot to death each year by Kenya wildlife officers while a number of elephants are poisoned to death each year in Indonesia.
Moreover, the elephant population has been considerably declined over the last 100 years due to habitat loss and conflict with people. Accordingly, the African elephant population has come down from 3-5 million to 470,000-690,000 while the Asian elephant population has shrunk from 1 million to between 35,000 and 50,000.
The HEC has posed a significant threat to certain communities in Asia and Africa. The HEC has not only threatened humans but elephants too are at stake. Although there are strategies at present to tackle the HEC, the problem remains unsolved leaving anxieties among people. Hence, finding a quick and durable solution to address the issue is of utmost importance. It is noteworthy that the solutions must deliver justice to both the parties namely humans and elephants.