The jumbo problem faced by wildlife officials
The Sri Lanka Army and officers attached to the Wildlife department engaged in a joint operation on Monday (Sept 3) to remove the carcasses of 7 elephants who drowned after being trapped in a swamp along the Periyaaru river in the Somawathiya reserve in Polonnaruwa.
The prompt action taken by the army immediately after the reporting of the tragic incident is truly worthy of the praise of the people of Sri Lanka. However, it is saddening that the state still does not have a proper national program in place to protect the treasured Sri Lankan elephant.
When the incident came to light, the subject ministers visited the area and made inquiries. Deputy Minister Palitha Thewaraperuma who arrived at the location stated that there is no project currently in place to protect the Sri Lankan elephant and countless wildlife ministers and officials are responsible for this prevalent issue. He added that if anyone thinks that the current administration could resolve such an issue which has persisted for many years within a matter of 10 to 15 months, ‘there is something wrong with their heads.’
Over a period spanning several days, 7 elephants had been trapped in the swamp overgrown with aquatic plants such as water hyacinth (commonly known as Japan Jabara). Area residents claim that the elephants were trapped in the swamp due to the presence of the invasive water hyacinth. The army also took steps today to clear the invasive plants.
Minister of Irrigation and Water Management, Duminda Dissanayake revealed that this invasive plant can be seen in most of the tanks around the country.
The question is how much funds are allocated for the protection of wildlife, irrigation systems, and the management of tanks and anicuts, through the budget? How many subject ministers, state ministers and deputy ministers are appointed for this purpose?
Even though public funds are spent to maintain a large number of officials, at the end of the day it has come to a situation where humans, as well as animals, have to pay with their lives.
The residents of the Agbopura north in Kantale have been protesting about the wild elephant issue over a long period of time. Minister of Wildlife and Sustainable Development Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka had promised these people two months ago that a20-kilometer long elephant fence will be repaired a new one will be constructed. However, the minister has failed to live up to his word.
CAN THE MINISTRY OF WILDLIFE OR THE MINSITERS PROVIDE SOLLUTIONS TO THESE ISSUES?
Minister Sarath Fonseka had provided a document to the cabinet with several recommendations on the wild elephant issue. One of the recommendations was to construct an electric fence approximately 7000 kilometers long, covering 16 out of the 19 districts that are affected as a result of the wild elephant problem.
The project is to be carried out under two phases and the estimated cost for the project is Rs. 5 billion. However, environmentalists point out that these solutions are not practical.
Nanayanaka Ranwella, General Secretary of ‘Surakimu Sri Lanka’ explained that the minister’s plan is to isolate the wild elephants to one location and construct a fence around them. He stated that the minister of wildlife has no idea of how elephants behave.
Environmentalist Shashikalana Ratwatta states that annually around 250 elephants die due to human activities, according to statistics obtained in 2011 there are only 6,000 elephants in the wild. Ratwatte highlighted the annual figures as a grave threat to the Sri Lankan elephant.
Sajeewa Chamikara another environmentalist claims that the traditional stomping grounds of the Sri Lankan elephant are being taken over by humans. He noted that the 15,000 acres of land that was leased out to a Chinese company along with the Hambantota port, were traditional areas where elephants roam. He noted that similar stomping grounds in Bibila are also being awarded to sugar cane cultivations.
Chamikara believes that the Minister does not have any scientific plan to stop the wild elephant menace.