Relocating Sinharaja elephants: May sense prevail!

Friday, 15 June 2018 00:20 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


  • Is Sri Lanka’s 3,000-year documented record of conservation, driven by a philosophy that values all living beings, to be sacrificed to politics and personal gain?


The organisations listed below are appalled that a political decision has been made to capture and relocate the last two elephants remaining in the Sinharaja Rainforest, a World Heritage Site.

This comes about, as per media reports, in the wake of a villager on the borders of the forest going out of his home in the middle of the night, without a torch or other illumination, to defecate in the open. There had been an elephant feeding there and, sadly, this man’s life came to untimely end. 

Walking out in the middle of the night in areas bordering any forest, without the advantage of a light, has its perils, and not just from elephants. This unfortunate man may have met his end from the bite or attack of half a dozen other creatures that inhabit Sinharaja and its boundaries. Had his death been caused by any other, this matter would have been recorded as an unfortunate accident but as it was an elephant, the unscrupulous have taken advantage of this. 

Yet there is a draft National Management Plan for the Conservation of the Wild Elephant in Sri Lanka, a comprehensive document that addresses all aspects necessary to preserve the last populations of the wild elephant, inclusive of measures to reduce human-elephant conflicts that often result in tragedy for both; as it has and will, in this case. This document has sat on the shelves of the Ministry of Wildlife awaiting adoption for some time now. 

Elephants once roamed the length and breadth of this country, from the heights of Horton Plains to the coastal scrub forests of the Dry Zone. Estimates of their numbers in the 1800s ranged from 30,000 and above and then came conquest and colonialism, and their population was systematically reduced as they were driven down to the Dry Zone. 

An estimate of approximately 6,000 was arrived at in a survey of 2011, though the methodology used was far from perfect. Notwithstanding, the numbers have reduced along with the rise in number of the human population, and the resulting loss in habitat over the last 150 years.

Today, there is a population of about 30 elephants in the Peak Wilderness Sanctuary, and just these two at Sinharaja, the last remnants of wet zone mountain rainforest elephants left in Sri Lanka. When these remaining two are taken away, the last of this particular population would have gone. 

It could be argued that being both males, that they are doomed anyway. Yet there is time to study their relationship with the forest to discover if they play a role in its biological equilibrium? Sinharaja continues to hold many natural secrets, even today.

The aforementioned draft Plan clearly states that relocation of elephants does not work, and alternative solutions are proposed. Of good example is the so-called Elephant Holding Grounds at Horowapathana, a fancy name for an Elephant Prison, to which so-called ‘Problem Elephants’, all male, are condemned. 

As per a media statement made by the present Deputy Minister for Wildlife, who recognises its failure, of all the elephants imprisoned there, only 16 remain, the rest having either found means of escape, or died. After all, even elephants seek freedom when unjustly imprisoned.

It is hoped that sense will prevail and rather than capturing these last two of their kind, that they be studied and their role as elephants in this unique and precious forest be better understood. A possible solution could be to:

1. Collar the elephants and track their movements so that villagers may be warned if the animals are in the vicinity of their dwellings.

2. Guinea B (Sin. Mana) grass grows up to a height of six feet right to the edge of the roads frequented by villagers. This wall of foliage frequently prevents elephant and human knowing of the others’ presence until an elephant suddenly steps through. If this grass is cleared for several meters from the edge of the roads both elephant and human will see the other in time and so avoid confrontation.

3. The Department of Wildlife (DWC) Office is at Kudawa, and far from the usual haunts of these elephants who tend to be around the Ensalwatta area. If the DWC builds another office at Ensalwatta, their officers could respond to potential situations of conflict far quicker than at present, and take appropriate action to resolve potential conflicts and, thereby, save lives.

With this, it is vital that the draft National Management Plan for the Conservation of the Wild Elephant in Sri Lanka is adopted and implemented for the safety of both human and elephant, and for the long-term preservation of the latter.

Sri Lanka has a 3,000-year documented record of conservation, driven by a philosophy that values all living beings. Is that to be sacrificed to politics and personal gain?


The Wildlife & Nature Protection Society of Sri Lanka, (WNPS),

Federation of Environmental Organizations – Sri Lanka (FEO)

Wildlife Conservation Society of Galle

Rainforest Sri Lanka