They are maligned, hooted, jeered, taunted and shouted at, ‘showered’ with terrifying fire-crackers and spattered with buckshot leaving festering wounds which make them suffer in slow agony. These days, after a series of episodes in the tragic human-elephant conflict (HEC), these majestic animals are getting deeper and deeper into the bad books of people. Emotion [...]


Jumbos at receiving end with no let up in conflict

Avoid needless confrontation to minimise incidents: Researcher

They are maligned, hooted, jeered, taunted and shouted at, ‘showered’ with terrifying fire-crackers and spattered with buckshot leaving festering wounds which make them suffer in slow agony.

These days, after a series of episodes in the tragic human-elephant conflict (HEC), these majestic animals are getting deeper and deeper into the bad books of people.

Emotion aside, there is a need to look at these episodes rationally, and take a lesson from them so that people unwittingly do not become the triggers of the HEC, was the view of many environmentalists.

“It is vital for anyone living or working in areas where wild elephants roam to think about the danger that could be posed by a sudden face-to-face meeting with them,” stresses the Chairman of the Centre for Conservation and Research (CCR), Dr. Prithiviraj Fernando, a view echoed by many others.

DWC facing criticism amidst staff shortagesIn defence of the DWC which is troubled by staff shortages and lack of facilities, amidst which it faces accusations of inaction, Dr. Prithiviraj Fernando underscores the fact that the HEC can take place at anytime and anywhere across the country, wherever there are people and elephants.

“It would be impossible for the DWC to be present in all those places. There are a few million people living in elephant country and the DWC cannot be expected to play the role of ‘guardian’ to all of them,” he says, emphasising that it is important for people to take necessary precautions to avoid meeting elephants.If accidentally, someone sees an elephant on a path or even a road, get off the road immediately, as no human is a match for an elephant, is Dr. Fernando’s advice.

“An elephant weighs a couple of thousand kilos and we puny humans about 50-60 kilos. We simply cannot challenge an elephant physically. So if you see an elephant ahead of you, don’t try to get closer to have a better look at it.

Don’t try to stand up and shout to scare away the creature. Just bide your time until the elephant is well away from the area, even if you have to cancel whatever you are going for, as your life is worth more than anything else.”

He certainly knows what he is talking about because as a scientist and researcher his work revolves closely around elephants across Sri Lanka as well as other countries which are home to elephants.

Check out the pattern whenever, sadly, a person gets killed in a face-off with a wild elephant, he urges, explaining that “we need to learn lessons from these incidents”.

According to Dr. Fernando anyone who is living in areas with elephants, should try as far as possible to avoid coming into contact with them.

Unless absolutely necessary like in instances of illness or emergencies, people should not be out of their homes at night on foot when they know elephants are about. Even in an emergency requiring night travel, being on foot or on a motorcycle or bicycle should be a “no, no” if possible, with a better option being a vehicle such as a van.

For all those living in such areas, he suggests that if they are stepping out of their homes at night, they should first flash a torch around to see whether there are elephants around, as otherwise their very lives could be in danger if they suddenly come across these pachyderms.

When asked by the Sunday Times of numerous instances of wild elephants being accused of attacking homes, Dr. Fernando talks of the sad reality of farmers storing paddy and other grain in their homes.

“Elephants have a strong sense of smell and know when paddy is stored within. That’s when they raid not only villages but also homes.This is why farmers eking out a living through cultivations in areas where there are elephants need to sell off their harvests from the field, without storing it in their homes until they can get a better price,” he says, adding that regrettably, it is a toss-up between keeping the paddy in their homes to get more money and thus facing the major risks of elephants damaging or toppling their homes and causing injury or death or selling off the harvest from the fields themselves. What needs to be asked is whether the risk is worth to bring the paddy home, which acts as a lure for elephants.

Dr. Fernando gets into the pathetic ‘shoes’ of wild elephants to explain their unenviable plight. Through unplanned development, people have made massive inroads and encroached into elephant-land.

Then when wild elephants come into what was once their territory but are now villages, huge amounts of fire-crackers are sent in volleys to get rid of them. Gradually the creatures get immune or habituated to fire-crackers and turn marauders.

“The moment a wild elephant breaks a home or a person gets killed, the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) is called in. The DWC too is trapped between the anger and the frustration of the villagers and its duty to protect wild elephants.

Facing the wrath of the villagers, in a bid to chase away the elephants, the DWC has no option but to flash torches and use buckshot (shotguns with SG cartridges) to make the elephants flee,” he says.

Yes, the injured elephants may leave that particular area in the hail of buckshot but what follows is that the link between humans, buckshot, injury and pain, get imprinted in their minds, the Sunday Times learns.

“Naturally, these elephants become very aggressive and turn killers and the next time they meet a humble villager along a lonely path or someone flashes a torch at them, the elephant’s psyche connects that person with someone wielding a gun, someone who will hurt them.

That is a natural reaction and as defensive behaviour, such elephants will invariably attack the person, who becomes an innocent victim, adding to the statistics of the HEC,” says Dr. Fernando.

This elephant-researcher’s explanation is logical and rational – “Remember that elephants are wild animals. They can be aggressive and they are unpredictable. Treat them with respect.”

Incidents at hotspotHere are a few incidents of the Human Elephant Conflict (HEC) this year in the hotspot of the Galgamuwa area in the Kurunegala District.
Human tragedies:
• August –
A 64-year-old man is killed by a wild elephant when walking along a jungle path in the night at Moragaswewa-Konwewa.

• May –
A 79-year-old man is killed in his home-garden at dawn in Mottapoththewa. For several days he had spread a stock of paddy for drying in the open verandah of his home and on several nights it had been stolen. That fateful night, when he heard a noise, assuming that the thieves had returned, armed with a ketta, he had come from the rear of his home, to be confronted by two elephants feeding on the paddy.
A 35-year-old man is killed in Meegalewa, when a crowd goes to watch a wild elephant which has come to the area in the evening.
• Early part of the year –
A 50-year-old man is killed while on his way to a coconut estate at Kumbukkadawala-Polpithigama.
Wild elephant tragedies:
• September –
A 10-year-old cow-elephant is poisoned by people in the Nanneriya-Andarawewa area.
• August –
A 30-year-old bull-elephant is shot dead by people in the Mahawa-Habarathwewa area.
A four-year-old baby elephant is poisoned by people in the Ratnadivulwewa-Ehetuwewa area.
A 40-year-old bull-elephant is electrocuted by people in the Vikadenigama-Ehetuwewa area.
• July –
The decomposing body of an elephant is found in the Nahettikulama wewa area.
• January –
A bull-elephant is shot dead by people in the Wathupolagama-Mahawa area
A lactating cow-elephant is shot dead by people in the Ehetuwewa-Medadenigama area. There is no trace of the baby she had been feeding.


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