Elephants as casualties of war in Sri Lanka


(eTN) – Conservationists around the world are again breathing uneasy following word that Sri Lanka’s 25-year civil war has caused the death of 193 elephants last year, up by 13 percent compared to the previous year.

In a plan gone wrong, park warden J A Weerasingam blames the action of villagers. “They are shooting my animals,” said Weerasingam.

In was a move to protect villagers and its civil defense force in its war against the Tiger rebels in the north of Sri Lanka when the military armed them with semi-automatic weapons for protection. But the plan has now backfired.

Manula Amararathna, assistant director of the Department of Wildlife and Conservation, said they have been given the weapons to protect themselves from terrorists. She said: “I can’t protest. At the moment there’s no alternative.”

They are now using the weapons to protect themselves against elephants and tigers who have wandered into their padi fields in search of new habitat and food. The vast majority of elephants that have been roaming wild in jungle areas are being displaced by development projects, the war and mankind. “Instead of just scaring them away, they shot the animals.”

The vast majority were shot, poisoned or electrocuted. Some were run over by trains, fell down wells.

Admitting the military’s move has brought on the problem, army spokesman, Commander Sarath Fonseka said it has no choice. “The Tiger rebels come and kill the villagers. We have to give them guns because we can’t guard every village.”

To minimize wild elephants encroaching on human habitat, the government is erecting electric fences and planting vegetation unpalatable to the animals

“The human population is increasing but the forest is decreasing,” added Amararathna. “You can’t stop it. There were 50 human deaths in 2007, some trampled or gored by elephants.”

Official government figures show despite the death of 171 elephants in 2006, the population of elephants left in the country is estimated to be in the region of 3 – 4,000 heads.