Sri Lanka on Wednesday announced it was planning to relocate farmers
living on the edges of forests inhabited by elephants to reduce the
numbers killed on both sides.
Wildlife minister Gamini Jayawickrama Perera said the island’s
elephant population had dropped to 6,000, from 7,379 counted five
years ago, as deadly encounters between animals and humans increase.
“Although various measures like erecting of electric fences were taken
to prevent human-elephant conflicts, so far this has not been
resolved,” Perera said in a statement.
“Steps are being taken to resolve the issue by relocating the
inhabitants in identified elephant migratory pathways.”
He did not say how many farmers would be relocated in 18 affected
districts out of the island’s total of 25. But elephant expert
Jayantha Jayewardene said he believed thousands were encroaching on
elephant habitats and moving them would be a challenge.
“Sri Lankan elephants usually don’t migrate from one area to another,
but what has happened is that thousands of farmers have encroached and
split the traditional habitat of elephants.
“This means frequent clashes and we need a much more thought out plan
to deal with the problem,” Jayewardene said. “Evicting thousands of
people will not be easy. One thing is sure, more elephants than people
get killed in this battle.”
Elephants are considered sacred animals in Sri Lanka and killing them
is a criminal offense, punishable by death.
But officials said there had been a rapid expansion of farms near
wildlife parks, shrinking elephant habitats and causing frequent
clashes between the two.
Official figures show 270 people and 942 elephants were killed in such
encounters across the country over four years to 2014. Some 5,095
homes were damaged during the same period.
Wild elephants were also killed after being hit by trains and due to
floods and lightening strikes. Female elephants are known to have been
killed so that their babies can be snatched and kept as pets.
Owning a baby elephant is a status symbol in Sri Lanka although
authorities recently began a crackdown against the trend.