Human-elephant conflict saga (Sri Lanka)


Ceylon Daily News

Date Published

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The disturbance caused to the elephants in Sri Lanka dates back to the period when the British began to develop the hill country and engaged in blood sport. During then, the elephants had vast extents of lands to move on to live away from areas where they were under threat. By doing so they kept away from the reach of humans. They were shaken in reality when the Gal Oya Development Board stepped into the Gal Oya Valley to turn the home for the elephants in to a human habitation.

The elephants in Sri Lanka got startled for the first time when the crawlers rolled into the forests in the Gal Oya Valley making a deafening and frightening noise breaking the silence that prevailed in there from time immemorial. As the operations of felling their habitation continued, day by day, the elephant population began to retreat deep into the jungles. However, they could not escape the unending threat of the frightful machines that followed them. Consequently, they were deprived of their independence, cornered and left with patches to live in. Illegal felling go forests elsewhere too was a major contributory factor.

A scarcity of fodder began to prevail. They were left with a dust bowl instead of a luxuriantly grown habitation they were in once upon a time. Eventually, their living came to be in the open air. So routinely, the mammals in starvation walked in search of fodder as far as they could only to fined our vegetations. They stepped in. We began to chase them to protect our cultivations. They heeded at first but, with the passage of time, when they had no forest to live, no fodder for their survival, the starving mammals had no alternative but were compelled to intrude on to our vegetations despite threats to their lives by prohibitive steps taken by the humans. As a result of this harassment, an animosity grew between the two parties time after time rising gradually to an unprecedented height with death threats from both parties.

Deforestation in mass scale

At this stage, the humans killed the elephants by various means and the elephants destroyed everything that stood in their properties and killed the humans on sight. This is how a conflict developed in later stages when the country faced with deforestation in mass scale and the elephant population got stranded. Many years have gone by, now, it is a fast escalating conflict for which a practicable solution is not found yet.

To resolve this problem, those seat heating people must walk into the jungles and engage the defiant and malingering cadres profitably. It is common knowledge that the officious white collar workers have done only very little or nothing to remedy this situation. We have heard them talking and have read what they have been writing but we have not seen them finding out a solution to put an end to this threat to our lives.

We only see the independent intrusion of wild elephants in to the human habitation and the people all alone engaged in a wild-goose chase to get rid of them. The conservators respond to information of elephant threats days and days after.

Confining to offices or deserting the places of work depending on an electric fence is no solution to this menace. The physical presence of the conservators up to the ordinary watchers in these areas during the 24 hours every day is a must.

Extensive damages

The wild elephant population in the area of authority of the G.O.D.B. was dense. From the outset, there was immense threat to our lives and to the conductors of agricultural operations. Extensive damages were caused to the paddy fields, vegetations and sugar plantations and to the people’s properties when the elephants went berserk when jungle felling was done. So, to protect these crops and the people in the settlements, an organization of a group of interconnected people was established.

This network comprised of the Wildlife Officers trained in the Congo forests, the Panikkar watchers from the Muslim community who were elephant trappers by descent from the ancient times, a full strength of ground watchers detailed at every 1/8th of a mile in the nights with a skeleton staff during day time. Having bonfires in between the watchers, having tree top watchers, armed watchers for every 150 acres of plantations with electric fence where necessary, patrolling between the watchers and non-stop patrolling of the Wildlife Officer with his team of armed watchers in the entire area during the nights was its responsibility.

In doing so, the gregarious elephants, wild buffaloes, wild boar and stray cattle were made to feel the presence of humans to prevent them from overstepping the boundaries.

They never depended on the electric fence because the brainy mammals broke it to step in, they treated it only as a barricade and stood watchful being on side regularly round the clock. All of them were on an eighteen hour duty roster. They kept to their turns of duty punctually amply demonstrating their esprit de corps that led to the protection of people and property of the Gal Oya Valley during the 21 years of the board’s active involvement in turning out a forest in to a human habitation, an El Dorado today. They board never killed an elephant, it only controlled elephants.

Gal Oya jungles

It is easy to speak and write about what we have to do in this connection but, it is difficult to practice. This can be achieved only by devout and devoted people who sacrificially execute their responsibilities. Until the presence of such calibre of people in these fields regularly during day and night, with no intervals and leave only under exceptional circumstances even then with definite acting arrangements made, the Human-Elephant Conflict can never be resolved.

There is no better way to surpass the methodology carried into effect successfully by the Gal Oya Development Board.

The conservationists have to mix with wildlife to fix them. As we of the G.O.D.B. experienced during our days in the Gal Oya jungles, while enjoying a career in Wildlife Protection they will at last enjoy having fulfilled a duty by the people, a bounden duty, if they go the Gal Oya way. Today, we don’t see any conservator in the field. They have left their responsibilities with the people and the electric fences. We only see the abandoned people and the mammals in a conflict and, only hear of their deaths and see their corpses while listening to the tales of woe of the widowed, practically every day and, the presence of the conservators long afterwards.