Resolving the Human-Elephant Conflict

Friday, 23 July 2021 00:00 -     - {{hitsCtrl.values.hits}}


A flame thrower


Much has been written in the news and social media about the sad and continuing Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC). I have read somewhere, subject to correction, that the most amount of elephant deaths caused by this conflict has been recorded in Sri Lanka, compared to other elephant habitats. 

Independent wildlife experts and the officials of the Wild Life Department have discussed this matter on numerous occasions, but there seems to be no sustainable solution, effective in the long term. In my view the basic problem is that human being have encroached into elephant country, in which these mighty animals have lived for generations and taken over the territory, they rightfully occupied for ages. 

This is another result of the so-called development that every country talks about but that development at the risk of damaging the environment is not sustainable development. Many developed countries protect the environment at any cost in preference to so called development but not in our country. 

I am not an expert in resolving the HEC but I have a little experience. When I was Chairman of Pelwatte Sugar Industries Ltd., the Pelwatte Sugar Plantation had been created by replacing forest land to grow sugar. The then Government gave some very attractive incentives to bring a multinational company to commence sugar cultivation in Sri Lanka. I believe acres of forest land were converted to plant sugar cane. It was a big investment with an extensive infrastructure including bungalows with the top management and also for the staff officers. 

There were regular incursions by elephants who loved the sugar cane. The plantation attempted to prevent the elephants destroying the sugar cane by constructing electric fences which they had to maintain, large elephant ditches, which had to be de-silted after every monsoon, and so-called elephant drives which were only temporarily effective. I have watched the poor elephants been driven by large number of vehicles, using crackers and other means. 

Basically, the above mentioned are the only strategies used in Sri Lanka for human beings to drive away the elephants from their traditional forests after removing the forest and converting it to various types of cultivations. In Africa, it is reported that they rear bees in artificial hives, as surprisingly these huge animals fear the bees which sting them in their eyes. I am not aware of such a strategy being adopted in our country.

The poor elephants are also trapped or by feeding with ‘hakapattas,’ which are devices with an explosive hidden in some morsel of food that elephants love. They try to eat the food which results in a blast inside their mouth, dislocating their jaws and ultimately resulting in death. 

The Wild Life Department is supposed to be giving the villagers some ‘wedillas’. Only one to three are given to a single villager. The elephant is intelligent to realise that if they bide their time after the limited wedillas are used, they can easily romp in. This is the only protection afforded to the poor villagers.

We have seen on TV how many homes of villagers are destroyed over and over again, as there is no protection against these huge animals. Their stocks of paddy are also devoured and all their crops destroyed repeatedly. These houses have been built with their hard-earned money and totally destroyed in one night. They have to protect their crops by night and also protect their homes and wives and children. They have absolutely no salvation. 

The authorities who are experts on Wild Life Conservation I believe have various plans, but there is no accepted and integrated plan of action, other than for the villagers to suffer without any relief and for elephants to suffer by their injuries and ultimate deaths.

I have been thinking about it for some time and came across a possible strategy which of course has to be approved by the Department of Wild Life and for the large population of genuine elephant lovers, who have tried their best to solve this problem but failed up to date. 

I thought of a particular device called a flame thrower. According to Google, this flame thrower can be purchased in the US without a license and it can be used over and over again, if it is refueled. I believe it costs around $ 500, plus of course the fuel used for producing the flame. 

There is possibly only one catch and that is I believe sometime after World War I, the world decided to ban armies from using this very potent weapon which can totally destroy small buildings, army camps, etc., against individuals.

I do not intend it to be used to kill or maim elephants, but as a very effective deterrent at long range. I would like to have the views of the wild life experts before anyone can consider using this weapon as a deterrent. Mine is only a suggestion, as we continue to have elephant and human deaths, without any action taken to prevent same. 

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