The human-elephant conflict

Saturday, 29 January 2011 00:01 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

THE human-elephant conflict appears to be aggravating daily causing an increasing number of deaths of humans as well as elephants. Regularly we hear of elephants straying into villages, destroying cultivation and causing death and destruction.  In some instances elephants have pulled down walls of houses or caused considerable damage to houses to eat the paddy stored there.  Such stories come mainly from areas in the North Western and North Central Provinces where there are national parks, which means that elephants from these parks stray into villages.

The Wild Life authorities have time and again found patch work solutions to the problem but without any great success. They have tried to drive these elephants into the nearest national parks or other areas inhabited by these animals.  When new areas are opened for development these animals that either live or frequent the area are chased into the new areas set apart for them or captured and translocated there. But a permanent solution has not been found and the problem persists.  It is difficult to blame any one particular party for this problem.  But the undeniable fact is that we humans have encroached into elephant territory limiting the space available to them.

Opening up areas where the elephants roamed unhindered for centuries, the ever increasing human population, the need to bring more land into paddy cultivation and the land use policies of successive Governments have intensified the conflict.  Changing weather patterns worldwide have also affected our country causing less rain which is another reason for the elephants to stray close to areas of human habitation.

In addition to causing damage to houses and eating what is stored there they go about causing damage to cultivation.  It is difficult to say why elephants after having caused damage to a house, and had a fill of paddy and yields of other crop stored go about destroying crops.  They are known to have caused wilful damage to banana and young coconut plantations by tearing them apart or pulling them down and trampling them.

Consequently, the enraged villagers, to escape the damage caused by these animals either shoot or poison them.  They also set up contraptions to electrocute them.  But that is only a temporary but inhuman solution to the problem for the animals return perhaps after a lapse with a vengeance.

As reported in a newspaper article recently an inhabitant of a remote village in the Moneragala District had this to say about the havoc caused by elephants.  “A wild elephant that entered the garden trampled our banana trees and pulled down a wall of the house.  It gulped salt from a pot and left when I shouted out loud.”  Another villager has said “We have been facing this threat for about five years.  We earn a pittance by selling our produce to keep our heads above water.  But our paddy fields and chenas are at the mercy of the elephants.  Out wattle and daub house would collapse with one stroke of an elephant’s trunk.  We are living in constant fear of death.”

That clearly explains the problem.  But this is a persistent problem to which a permanent solution has to found.

However, conservationists argue that the human-elephant conflict has to be managed with a view to either solving or mitigating it.  They say that most decisions are taken looking at the problem only from the ‘human’ angle rather than from the ‘elephant’ angle.  They stress that both angles need to be taken into consideration since haphazard decisions could create an imbalance in our eco systems.

Since the human-elephant conflict is a perennial problem perhaps more observation and study needs to be done if a permanent solution is to be found.