One can hardly imagine Sri Lanka without elephants, the majestic
creatures that have been a part of our history and culture for many
centuries. In times past, owning an elephant was considered a status
symbol. Today they still play an important role in society; they
are the creatures entrusted with carrying the sacred relic casket
at every pageant.
Not every relationship
between man and elephant is this revered. Farmers in the North Central
Province of Sri Lanka constantly protest against the rampaging wild
elephants that ruin their crops on a regular basis and deprive them
of their livelihood. The Symposium on Human Elephant Relationships
and Conflicts organized by the International Elephant Foundation
and the Biodiversity and Elephant Conservation Trust of Sri Lanka,
held last weekend at the Colombo Plaza focused on some of the issues
of elephant conservation.
brought together key stakeholders in the field including eminent
ecologists, researchers, managers, conservationists and elephant
enthusiasts mainly from Asia and Africa but also from Australia,
New Zealand, Europe and the USA.
Ian Douglas Hamilton, the eminent researcher and elephant conservationist
made the keynote address and some 60 papers were presented during
the three-day symposium.
focused on Human Elephant Relationships, Genetics and Elephant Biology,
Human Elephant Conflicts, In-Situ and Ex-Situ Management and the
Future of Elephant Conservation. The papers also included discussions
on the traditions and culture surrounding elephants in specific
countries and the importance laid on the animal throughout the world.
Amongst the most interesting was a presentation on "The human
- elephant conflict in Asia, causes and solutions but are we on
the right track?" by Ajay A. Desai where the costs and the
problems that its assessment and mitigation face were highlighted.
were positive over the outcome as this was the first instance where
researchers in Asia and Africa shared their experiences. This was
the largest meeting on elephants to be held in Sri Lanka and as
one expert pointed out, one of the largest meetings on elephants
held since 1990 in the world. The outcome of the symposium included
the call for proper information and data that was considered by
most participants as crucial for pragmatic planning of conservation
strategies and programmes.
was reached regarding the use of the Global Positioning System in
order to gain a better understanding of the elephants' ranging patterns,
social behaviour and food preferences. This system though inexpensive
is considered invaluable for elephant conservation since it provides
accurate information on the elephants being tracked. A proposed
workshop on GPS tracking for all range state officials is also scheduled
to be held in Kenya following the symposium. Funding for research
pertaining to elephants was also given importance as the symposium
was well attended by major funding organisations from all over the
recommendations for action that should be taken for the future conservation
of elephants, were finalised," said Jayantha Jayawardene, the
Managing Trustee of the Biodiversity and Elephant Conservation Trust
and chief organiser of the Symposium. "The most important was
the unanimous resolution that urged the United Nations to take more
interest in elephant conservation and to exert pressure on range
countries to take quick and immediate action." Perhaps then,
elephants of the world might face a better future after all.