NDB initiates sustainable solution for human-elephant conflict

Saturday, 8 November 2014 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}

Elephants in Sri Lanka have been known to exist for over twenty five centuries. Throughout the years, they have been closely interwoven with the rich tradition, culture and history of the country. The human-elephant conflict has been in existence for as long as these splendid beasts had wandered on earth. However, in the current context of rapid urbanisation, this conflict has further intensified, giving rise to many social and environmental concerns. The greatest threat for Sri Lankan elephants is caused by the increasing human encroachment of elephant habitats. The number of lives claimed in this conflict; be it human or that of the elephants has seen a steady increase over the years. Consequences of the human-elephant conflict also include destruction of property, cultivation land and agricultural crops. In an effort to alleviate the intensity of the human – elephant conflict in Sri Lanka and with the aim to support the conservation and sustenance of the natural environment; NDB together with ‘Janathakshan’ have come forward to implement the Palmyra Bio Fencing project; trusted to be a sustainable, lasting solution for the issue. The first phase of the project was initiated recently in Palugolla village in Nikaweratiya Pradeshiya Sabha of the Kurunegala district. Palugolla is a rural village with a population of about 300 families that is affected by the human-elephant conflict. The project saw the rooting of four rows of Palmyra plants parallel to the inner edge of the existing electric fence that lies on the border of the village and wild territory; with the long term objective of permanently removing the electric fence once the palms are fully grown.  A fully grown Palmyra palm is said to be robust and able to withstand the strength of a wild elephant while electric fences have been known to be vulnerable to such force. Given that the life span of a palm is between 80 to 100 years on average and since the minimum maintenance palms are able to withstand the climatic effects of the dry and wet seasons; Palmyra palms have been identified as being more economic as well as sustainable than the use of electric fences. Besides, while serving as a barrier preventing elephants from wandering out of their natural habitat, the Palmyra fence is also expected to serve as elephant feed in the long run. The highest impact of this is likely to be experienced in the dry season when the elephants begin to journey in search of food, which in recent times has resulted in the damage of agricultural crops in the neighboring communities. Over 50 staff members of NDB volunteered for the Palmyra planting project in Palugolla and were eagerly supported by the residents and school children of the area. The bank conducted an art competition for the children of the Palugolla village prior to implementation of the Palmyra project in order to create awareness of the project objectives and the expected benefits; to which the residents responded with great enthusiasm. Commenting on the project, Vice President of Administration and Services and Chairperson of the NDB Sustainability Committee Mancius Paiva said, “The human-elephant conflict has gained momentum over the recent past and escalated to unforeseen levels. Unconfirmed statistics by experts have suggested that the conflict has caused a significant decline in the elephant population in Sri Lanka. Measures to alleviate this conflict have not addressed the core causal factors; while instead, greater focus and efforts are being placed on the erection of electric fences bordering the natural habitats of elephants which is not sustainable in the longer term. “Therefore NDB decided to support this long-term oriented, environmentally sustainable solution to effectively address this insistent issue that has disturbed everyday lives of many village communities. Special mention must be made of our project partners – ‘Janathakshan’, Department of Wildlife and Conservation, Palmyra Development Board and the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute for their support, guidance and expertise shared in conducting this project successfully. We hope to take this forward with further initiatives to create awareness of the issue within the public while continuing to deliver sustainable solutions to those affected.”