Jumbo Conflict Intensifies (Sri Lanka)


Hafsa Sabry, The Sunday Leader

Date Published

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Sri Lankan elephants are considered endangered species since their natural habitats are threatened by various human activities such as human encroachments on forests. Therefore, human-elephant conflict is intensifying: wild elephants kill human beings and vise versa. Due to this fact, a high number of baby elephants become orphaned and abandoned. Some influential individuals keep some under their custody illegally as well.

Such illegal owners have failed to prove how they have received the baby jumbos, so legal action is to be taken against them. Meanwhile, the necessity to construct orphanages for the tamed elephants being kept under human custody has also been raised since the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) has no sufficient number of orphanages for such purposes.

The court ordered recently to release to the DWC before December 20 a number of baby elephants and tuskers allegedly taken illegally from the wild. But it seems that they are yet to be released to the DWC even though two weeks had passed from the given date. The Crime Investigation Department (CID) claims the DWC’s failure in preparing an appropriate accommodation in Udawalawe Eth Athuru Sewana before the given date has delayed the release of baby elephants. The issue now seems to be dragging while the responsible authorities point the finger at each other for the delay.

The DWC had established an Elephant Transit Home (ETH) within the Udawalawa National Park in 1995 to provide shelter for the orphaned and abandoned baby elephants. At present, the DWC looks after such 31 baby elephants. They will be released to the jungle when they are strong enough to survive in the wild. To date 65 baby elephants had been released to the jungle.

The DWC is the sole authority to manage and look after wild elephants in Sri Lanka according to the Fauna and Flora Protection Act. A survey carried out by the Department of Wildlife Conservation in 2011 found that Sri Lanka has 5,879 wild-elephants. However, people in Sri Lanka kill elephants by shooting and poisoning in recent times for several reasons.

The Sunday Leader asked the Police what actions they have been taken against illegal owners of baby elephants.

Police Mediaperson ASP Ruwan Gunasekara said the elephants will be released from their illegal owners to the DWC once they prepare the suitable+++ accommodation for the elephants. But the Department has not completed constructing of such places. Therefore, the ASP said, the CID could not release the elephants from their illegal owners.

The investigations into illegal owners including two monks were also being conducted by the CID and the reports will be forwarded to the courts as soon as possible, ASP Gunasekara further said.  However, the investigations into the cases are still pending. Therefore the action against the illegal owners will also be delayed. Some of the cases have been forwarded to the courts, and they will be heard on February 15 in the Hultsdorf Court No.1, he said.

However, the ASP said the CID cannot give information on this issue since the investigations are going on. The Sunday Leader also contacted the DWC in this regard. Responding Deputy Director General of the DWC Suriya Bandara said, “The construction of a new orphanage for the baby elephants under human custody is almost completed.

“We have to report it to the CID and the Attorney General’s Department once we complete the construction.”

Unlike wild elephants, the elephants kept under human custody need more care when they are released. They are used to eat coconut and jak leaves. But in the wild they cannot find such food.

Therefore, the DWC has to train these elephants for food that they can find in the wild and it will take some time, says the DWC Deputy Director General.

However, they need veterinary care till they can live in the wild. “To allocate a suitable accommodation for vets to treat tamed elephants takes time. But now the DWC has almost finished this process, we will get elephants from their illegal owners in the near future,” he said.

Elephants always tend to live in the wild. They do not like to live under human custody. “Though they live in jungles, they are highly intelligent animals.

They feel joy and grief and are capable of empathy. Like humans, their emotional wellbeing depends on being cared for and raised in herds,” he pointed out.

An adult elephant can consume about 150kg of food, around 150 litres of water on a single day. An elephant can walk long distances, sometimes over 80km a day. Information indicates that those basic daily routine and need of an elephant is a thousand times bigger than that of a man.