Elephantine concern
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.

The symposium 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.

The sessions 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.

Participants 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.

A consensus 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 world.

"Many 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. -RHG-

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