• 2018 was one of the bloodiest years for Sri Lanka’s majestic elephants. Time we act now to protect our villager and elephant too

    2018 has been a year of ups and downs for many of us. While all Sri Lankans continue to suffer the consequences of the UNP government’s weak policies, mismanagement and lack of coordination with the masses, there is another very critical issue which the UNP government has failed to tackle, especially in 2018.

    And that is the human, elephant conflict.

    For several years now, Sri Lanka has been facing this issue, but the matter within these past four years has only escalated. Infact 2018 recorded the highest number of elephant deaths due to this conflict. According to the latest statistics from the Wildlife Department, 2018 was one of the bloodiest years for the majestic animals. Up to November this year, 271 elephants were killed, which is 15 times more than the entire figure reported in 2017.

    While this figure includes elephants being killed by moving trains, being shot and electrocuted, some of these elephants have also been killed after suffering an antagonizing death by swallowing hakka patas, which is a pumpkin or cucumber filled with explosives, usually laid down by poachers, wild boar hunters or even disgruntled villagers who are only trying to protect their homes and families.

    During my father, Hon. Mahinda Rajapaksa’s government several steps were taken to separate human and elephant habitats. So that we humans could live with our majestic animals in co-existence. Steps were taken not to put up villages in elephant habitats and houses were constructed far from elephant corridors. Fences were also put up so that villagers could live without fear.

    But following the critical issue Sri Lanka is now facing, yesterday I visited the Walsapugala village which fell within the Sooriyawewa AG Division. This has been one of the villages affected most by the human, elephant conflict within these past four years. Angry villagers told me that many lives had been lost and their homes and valuables had been damaged by the elephants. One villager said the elephants tried to enter their homes at dark which posed a great threat on them including their little children.

    Undertaking a tour of the entire village the reasons for this conflict is clear. Within these past four years, a lot of lands have been distributed illegally to these innocent villagers which goes through elephant corridors. There has been a lot of illegal construction which has taken place by the government without proper planning or keeping in mind as to how these animals would move about. Houses have been built in elephant habitats which is why the number of deaths has escalated, especially in 2018. Lands have been blindly distributed to win over the villagers, but the consequences of this has been severe for the villager and elephant both.

    Villagers also complained that a few months ago, UNP’s then deputy minister of wildlife, Hon. Palitha Thewarapperuma had visited this village after increasing complaints and many deaths but had only made a mockery of the entire situation. Although the deputy minister had at that time assured the angry villagers that immediate steps would be taken to resolve this matter, even the fence around the village is yet to be completed. Presently the situation has only escalated from bad to worse.

    After Walsapugala, I also visited Wawegama where angry villagers showed the extent of destruction caused by elephants. In this village too, the problem was visible. The government had constructed houses illegally in elephant habitats plunging the villagers into a risk.

    The human, elephant conflict in Sri Lanka needs serious attention and I will do everything possible to address the concerns of the villagers and take steps to see how best the villager and elephant can both be well protected. If the UNP government had taken this issue seriously, I am certain many lives would have been saved.

    Sri Lanka is a beautiful, blessed country where we are home to some of the most rare and majestic animal species. While we very rightly need to protect our innocent villages from being attacked by animals, it is also our duty to protect our animals including our endangered species.

    Sri Lanka has always been proud of its majestic elephants. It is time immediate steps are taken to resolve this issue and ensure that no more lives are lost.

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