Focus on new measures to reduce man-beast conflict

Elephant drives, translocations bring mixed results
By Kumudini Hettiarachchi

As elephant drives and translocations have produced mixed results, the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) has turned the searchlight on these issues to find alternative measures for the mitigation of the human-elephant conflict.

While both elephant drives and translocations are being studied in-depth, urgent measures are being taken to keep elephants away from villages as well as cultivations, stressed DWC Director-General Dr. Chandrawansa Pathiraja.

Discussions are underway right now with the Environment Ministry to open up the fencing between the Protected Areas of the Forest Department and those of the DWC, the Sunday Times understands, providing wider roaming grounds for elephants to prevent them from coming into human settlements and raiding crops. The Forest Department comes under the purview of the Environment Ministry while the DWC is under the Agrarian Services and Wildlife Ministry.

The District Secretary of Puttalam chaired discussions at the kachcheri on Friday on the relocation of the electric fences between the DWC and Forest Department Protected Areas at Tabbowa, it is understood.
Explaining that measures are being taken to implement the Policy for the Conservation and Management of Wild Elephants, formulated back in 2006, Dr. Pathiraja said that there would also be discussions with the Agriculture Insurance Board to implement a better insurance scheme for crop damage so that farmers would be adequately compensated in such cases.

This will alleviate the hate the farmers have for elephants they see as enemies, said the DG, adding that another measure would be to have electric fences around developed and cultivated areas where appropriate, to protect the crops rather than trying to contain the elephants in their habitats.

Referring to elephant drives, he said that past experiences have indicated that sometimes they had to be stopped halfway due to changes in the weather pattern, while in other instances even though the drive was successful, some of the elephants returned to their home range. “That’s why we need to study the group size and herd compositions carefully.”Details of elephant drives undertaken by the DWC were provided by the Deputy Director, Wildlife Health Management, Dr. Tharaka Prasad.

  • 1981-82: Around 60-80 elephants driven from Resvehera to the Wilpattu National Park but due to internal changes at the DWC adequate follow-up monitoring not carried out to weigh its success
  • 1992: A drive to take 25 elephants from Giribawa to Wilpattu National Park called off due to issues with the police
  • 1996: 200 elephants driven from Handapanagala to Block 4 of the Yala National Park but about 30-40 return
  • 2005 & 2006: 120-200 elephants driven from Hambantota to Lunugamvehera National Park but 80 elephants go back when the drive is suspended due to rain. The drive is repeated. However, there are about 100 elephants still at Mattala
  • 2007, 2008 & 2009: Rain intervenes during a one-way drive of all elephants from Galgamuwa to the Wilpattu National Park via Tabbowa. When some of the elephants show reluctance to leave the area, DWC officials suspect that they have links with the herd at Kahala Pallekelle sanctuary. In 2008, elephants from Galgamuwa driven in two directions, some to Kahala Pallekelle sanctuary, but they return after some time. In 2009, some of the elephants remaining at Kotawehera driven to Tabbobwa but return after 10-15 days
  • 2010: 20 elephants successfully driven from Puttalam to Tabbowa Drives have brought mixed results, says Dr. Pathiraja, pointing out, however, that translocations have brought only negative results. Translocated elephants have attempted to return home, retracing hundreds of miles and in the process moved to another area and become problematic or been killed.

The Sunday Times understands that they face danger even after translocations as well as if they remain in the original area.

Translocations will only be carried out if there is absolutely no option while looking for alternatives, the D-G said, adding that the DWC is hoping to work out new methods to improve human-elephant

Islandwide census of jumbos soon

The first-ever elephant survey all across the country is likely to be carried out in August, the Sunday Times learns, with a workshop to decide on the methodology being held at the end of this month at the DWC’s training centre at Giritale.

The survey will not only be a systematic head-count of elephants but will also take into account the composition of herds (such as the adults and the babies, the bulls and the tuskers, etc.) while also studying their migratory patterns, the Director-General said.

Experts from both India and the United States of America have shown an interest in joining the survey teams, it is learnt.

Currently, the all-island estimate for elephants is around 6,000, Dr. Pathiraja said, with indications that over the past 100 years there has been an increase in their population.

‘Holding ground’ for incorrigible jumbos

Incorrigibly problematic elephants are to be translocated to the ‘holding ground’ identified at Lunugamvehera and Rs. 53 million has been allocated this year to upgrade the area. The fencing will be strengthened, the habitat improved so that these elephants are comfortable, said the DG. The ‘holding ground’ will then be developed as a tourist attraction.

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