In Sri Lanka, containment gave respite to threatened elephants

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COLOMBO | In Sri Lanka, containment due to the new coronavirus has reduced confrontations between humans and elephants, which regularly end in blood, according to conservationists.

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A record 405 elephants perished at human hands last year in the country, up from 360 the year before, according to government statistics. And 121 people, compared to 96 in 2018, were killed by elephants, most of whom had come to seek food in villages due to the drastic reduction in their living areas.

“We can say that the human-elephant conflict has subsided during the containment,” Jayantha Jayewardene, a world-renowned elephant specialist, said during a conference organized for World Elephant Day on Wednesday.

“But it’s only temporary. Farmers will start to defend their crops and the killings will resume, ”he hastened to add.

Most elephants killed are shot or poisoned by peasants who try to keep them away from their land. Even though they are considered sacred and protected in this predominantly Buddhist country, prosecutions remain rare.

Sumith Pilapitiya, an animal advocate and former director general of the government’s Department of Wild Fauna and Flora, estimates a 40% drop in elephant deaths during isolation, which began in March and has ended. officially completed at the end of June.

On average 240 elephants were killed each year between 2010 and 2017, and the pace has accelerated since, according to Pilapitiya.

Twin babies

“The Asian elephant is a species classified as ‘endangered’ and therefore we cannot afford to lose elephants at this rate,” he told AFP.

He hopes that a “significant decrease” in deaths, during the period in which people across the country could only leave their homes to obtain essentials, will lead to a declining toll across the country. the year.

The latest census put Sri Lanka’s elephant population at around 7,000, up from 12,000 in the early 1900s.

A new panel of experts was set to meet for the first time on Wednesday, on World Elephant Day, to determine measures that could ease relations between threatened large mammals and humans. “This could be an auspicious time and we hope the government will implement the recommendations of this committee,” he said.

During the lockdown, Mr Pilapitiya accompanied zoologists who said they spotted baby twin elephants at Minneriya Sanctuary, northeast of Colombo (the first pair ever seen in the wild in Sri Lanka) and a rarity worldwide .

The closure of natural parks during the pandemic also caused an upsurge in poaching of all wild animals, leading the government to crack down.

“Clashes between elephants and humans have receded, but there has been more hunting for meat,” said Jagath Gunawardena, a lawyer specializing in environmental law, stressing that the police were busy managing the pandemic, which facilitated illegal hunting.

Although lockdown ended on June 28, Sri Lanka’s borders have remained closed to tourists, a blow to some locals who depend on elephants for their income.

Pinnawala Elephant Sanctuary has closed during lockdown over fears animals could contract the virus. It reopened last month, but its 84 elephants have been little disturbed by tourists.

“Almost no one comes during the week,” says Suneth Sanjeeva, who runs a store 80 kilometers east of Colombo, while the owner of a 200-seat restaurant nearby hardly serves anyone.

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