Wild Elephant Deaths in Sri Lanka

15th February, 2024 News and Updates,Opinion Pieces

By Srilal Miththapala

January 2024

Wild elephant deaths have been increasing alarmingly over the past few years, and reached an all-time peak of 473 in 2023. This translates to more than one elephant being killed per day. Sri Lanka has now earned the dubious ranking as the country where the largest number of Elephants are killed because of the Human Elephant Conflict (HEC).

I believe there are multiple reasons for the increase in HEC. Unplanned alienation of land (for agricultural and other use), clearing and fragmentation of forests, increased human settlements without any planning, human encroachment (permanent or transient) into sensitive areas and political interference in conservation efforts by the Department of Wildlife (DWC) are the main issues.

Basically less land is available for elephants, resulting in their ranging patterns getting disturbed, and bringing them more into contact with people. Studies have indicated that close to 70% of the wild elephants live outside the protected areas.

The main ways in which elephants are killed are by-

Wild Elephant Deaths in Sri Lanka

There has been some talk about the waning population and the fear that the species will be wiped out. However there is no proper study that has been done to support this. Counting elephants is a complex task. The last national census was in 2019 and indicated that there were “5,879 elephants, including 122 tuskers”. No wild elephant census can give an accurate result. More than actual numbers, actual assessment of family groups, juveniles and adolescents, male female ratios, health and body conditions of individuals, would be more useful for good scientific assessment of the exact situation. More of concern is that most often it is the virile, mature males (who range much more than family groups) who are killed, thereby reducing the healthy reproducing stock.

There is no one ‘magic bullet’ to resolve the HEC unfortunately. It is a complex problem that cannot be addressed piecemeal. A sustained, well planned out, focused holistic plan has to be implemented on multiple fronts. This must be led from the very top of the government hierarchy to ensure compliance

Currently HE the President has appointed a committee to oversee the implementation of the action plans. Certainly this committee is doing what it can under the circumstances.

If we are to stem the ongoing carnage of this valuable natural asset Sri Lanka has been blessed with, immediate action must be taken NOW. A full time task force with all authority and resources has to be appointed under the direct purview of the Presidential Secretariat, to ensue strict implementation of the agreed mitigation plan.

Wild Elephant in Sri Lanka