Deforestation – A Big Issue For Elephants

by Hafsa Sabry -Sunday leader

Elephants are considered as the largest mammals on earth and is divided into two categories based on their appearances and where they live. Asian elephants and African elephants are the two main categories into which several other types of elephants are included.
The Elephants usually walk about 15 km a day to fulfill their need for water and food as they drink nearly 120 liters of water and consume 150 kg of food every day. In Sri Lanka currently there are 3500 elephants and the unique specialty of the elephants is that 4 in 100 elephants remember their elephant corridors that their ancestors used.
The environmentalists alleged that all the specialties and the uniqueness of Sri Lankan elephants will be destroyed if the large scale development projects and deforestation continue to take place like it does now. The deforestation and the clearance of conservative lands have indeed created a big issue for the wild elephants of our country claimed the environmentalists. “They even find difficulties to find food and a place for their shelter, one of their basic needs to survive,” Director for Center for Environment and Nature Studies (CENS) Ravindra Kariyawasam lamented.
“In addition teeth from baby elephants are also removed for sale after which the younger elephants are unable to eat when they grow up and that is a disaster done to the creatures by the greedy humans,” Kariyawasam stated.
The elephants in Sri Lanka however have been used for war, Peraheras, traditional celebrations, domestic usage and also in the agricultural purposes with farmers. They help them carry the heavy logs that the humans cannot carry and unfortunately now they have become the first and foremost enemy to the farmers by damaging the crops and plants. “Human caused the elephants to become their enemy as they clear the forests everyday which is their shelter and triggered them enter into the villages searching for food and water,” Kariyawasam said.
In 1982 there was 82% of forest cover in Sri Lanka but now there is only 17% of forest cover which in 100 years have reduced to more than 50% alleged the environmentalists. Most of the forest reservations of the country were destroyed after 1960 and for Mahaweli Development Projects. The elephants and the wild animals were completely harmed as the World Bank funded projects and the Mahaweli projects were in construction.
Nevertheless, resettlements of people in the elephant corridors and in the forests reservations will definitely trigger human-elephant conflict as the people encroach into where the elephants live. Several development projects and resettlements are under construction in most of the southern and northern elephant corridors. Moreover, as the forests and the elephant corridors are cleared for human benefits the elephants tend to enter into the villages and also the crops they plant along the forest boundary attract the animals.
According to the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) in 2008, 160 elephants and more than 30 villagers died in the human-elephant conflict whereas in 2009, 258 elephants and more than 50 people died.
Both the parties had to lose their lives in large numbers following the battle that began between elephants and villagers. Approximately, 150-200 elephants were reported dead after 2010 whereas more than 100 human deaths were reported annually. “When the bread winners of the family die the family and the children had to face many problems which are not even solved or assisted by the relevant government bodies of the country,” Kariyawasam claimed.

Reason of death Number of elephant deaths
Shot dead 774
Power shock 135
Poisoned 22
Sudden accidents 109
Natural death 63
Unknown reasons 285

Kariyawasam alleged that the number of human deaths, elephant deaths and damage done to the crops and plants were increasing day by day to which the government is yet to find a solution. Baby elephants were also killed as they wonder into the villages not knowing where to find food and water after their mothers were killed, another cause for the elephant deaths.
As the government seems reluctant to take any action against these difficulties people are trying to find solutions on their own by poisoning the pumpkins for the elephants and killing many. Some of them even beat the animal to death which is a real disaster done to the Sri Lankan elephants. The development projects in the country do not seem like solving the problems or developing the country but increasing risks.
The government in 2006 started several programmes to protect the elephants and the people of the area where they have identified human-elephant conflict. According to one of the programmes suggested electric fences will be put up to prevent the elephants from entering into the villages,50 km from the forest area to the village and if the elephant jumps over or enters the village crossing the electric fences it will be sold to individuals. The environmentalists allege that this is not an idea to protect the elephants or the people but to ensure that the elephants can be sold very easily to private owners.
However, the government built electric fences to prevent the human-elephant conflict but now the villagers have to protect themselves and their cattle as there were several incidents reported where the bulls were shocked to death in the electric fences put up for the elephants.
“People used to light up fires to chase away the elephants that come into the villages earlier and the old techniques were rarely used nowadays do not mean that they are not effective. Burning the chilies also was one of the techniques the ancestors used,” Kariyawasam explained.
He also stated that people in Kenya grow bee-hives in their cultivation lands to chase away the wild elephants that enter into the villages. They believe that the noise the bees make will disturb the elephants while preventing them from wondering in that route. The villagers in Sri Lanka also should try one of the techniques which will not harm the lives of either the elephants or the people and cattle.
In Sri Lanka they use various ways and means to prevent the elephants entering into the villages but what the government authorities should understand is that the deforestation plays a major role in creating human-elephant conflict that results in many deaths. If the wild elephants were not harmed of their shelter, food and water which are easily available in the forests there will not be any reasons for the creatures to enter into the villages where people live. Humans damage their homes and the elephants do the same therefore the deforestation and clearance of forest conservative lands in the claim of development projects should be prevented to put an end to the human-elephant conflict in future.
The environmentalists also stressed the point that the government should address the serious issue without any delay.

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