Farmers say that they are subject to increasing threat of attack by elephants as development in the country continues to encroach on the animals’ breeding and foraging lands. Forty-six people have been killed in the past few months, according to data compiled by the Wildlife Department, and 97 elephants have been shot and killed. About 500 farmers gathered to demonstrate late last month to demand that the government address the issue. During the event, organized by the Alliance for Promoting the Co-Existence of Elephants and Humans, farmers said that rampant clear-cutting of forests and increased human settlements have forced elephants to raid plantations for food. “Elephants have killed many of my neighbors,” said Menu Surammika, 37, a farmer from Kalahagala. “We have made a number of complaints to authorities but they have remained silent.” He added that the threat posed by elephants has endangered his and others’ livelihoods. “We do hard work to get a good harvest, but we can’t fulfill our dreams due to wild elephants.” Surammika blamed a lack of coordination between various ministries responsible for wildlife and the environment for the perilous situation faced by farmers. “The authorities could learn much more about how to tackle [this problem]. Electric fences are not enough to keep the elephants within their territory, and some fences are often neglected,” he said. In the absence of effective official methods, farmers say they have resorted to traditional methods of shooing away the elephants, including fire crackers, guns, drums and the digging of trenches to protect paddy fields and other crops. Ten farming representatives from 15 districts submitted a petition to the Wildlife Department during last month’s demonstration in which they proposed elephant-friendly solutions. “The government should find ways … to solve this man-elephant conflict, particularly during the dry season, when elephants rampage through villages in search of water and food,” said Ranjith Jayakody, secretary of the Irudeniyaya Farmers’ Organization in Kurunegala. “We proposed to the [wildlife] minister that he increase the number of elephant-friendly forests to stop them entering the farming villages.” He added that farmers have also asked for compensation for farmers who have already sustained crop damage or loss. Sri Lanka is home to nearly 6,000 elephants, according to a government survey conducted last year. Nimal Ranjan, an environmental activist, said the principal cause for friction between people and elephants is the growing human population and limited space available for the elephants. "The human population is increasing, the forest is decreasing," said Ranjan. "The government should take steps to prevent people from encroaching into areas where elephants live in large numbers, and these areas have to be protected." SM Chandrasena, minister of agrarian services and wildlife, has said that the government would allocate 10 million rupees (US$100,000) to solve the problem of elephant attacks. "We will promote an insurance scheme for farmers who are in conflicted areas due to elephant attacks,” he said. “We receive 25 percent contribution for insurance, and the balance will be paid by the government, Chandrasena said.
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