manioc, intangibles and elephants

Posted Thursday May 21, 2015 by Hazel Durbridge

I can only describe my mood at the moment as celebratory and excited. I ate (well shared with the crows) a huge bag of manioc crisps today. I haven’t eaten crisps for years, but must have been yearning for salt. Manioc crisps are much nicer than manioc which must be the most disgusting, tasteless vegetable on earth.

I am excited because Friday HOPEFULLY the Plan will be finished. I shall take it on a memory stick to Oxfam and obviously have to then track and check it, but the substantive work is over. I have a big meeting in Colombo Monday with the other VSO-ers then Tuesday my boss wants to see me so I am making a trip of it and going via Kandy on Saturday.

I have read so many semi-autobiographical books about the island I am awash with the place. After Friday I need to plan how I am best going to use my time. I am quite interested in taking the Human-Elephant conflict issue forward. This does not get the attention it deserves because they are not stampeding in Batticaloa Town.

You asked me what I gain from this experience. What you really gain are the intangibles. I have in my head from Cameroon a million vistas and sensations, usually of warm wind in my hair on the back of a motor-bike because I was on one for hours there travelling to remote villages, and it builds up a deep emotional reserve of being able to cope, a sort of inner strength that is with you for ever.

That is not a bad thing.


Human- Elephant conflict

The Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society (SLWCS) and the Born Free Foundation were contacted during research.  The latter two have worked in Lahugala, Ampara and Udawalawe. 

The SLWCS has been addressing the resolution of Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC) for the past 17 years.   HEC is one of the biggest environmental and socio-economic crises of rural Sri Lanka. Annually elephants cause over ~US$10 million worth of crop and property damage to rural farmers.  In retaliation farmers kill elephants.  Up until 2007, on average every year 150 elephants were killed by farmers in retaliation for crop raiding.  Since 2008, the number of elephants that were killed went up to 224 and in 2009 it was 228.  Now on average 225 elephants are killed per year.  This is an alarming situation.  In addition elephants kill about 60-80 people every year. Most of these farmers are killed in their own villages, backyards and fields.  HEC is intense in Sri Lanka and is escalating every year.

The Batticaloa DWC office has been operating since 2009.  They have no sub offices so are kilometres and hours of travel from serious wildlife and have 5 staff and one vehicle.

Elephants drink 150 litres of water a day and walk 24kms.  Three stretches of solar electric fencing have been erected – 40kms between Unnichi and Piyangala, 22kms between Kappavali and Pillumalai and 11 kms between Kivumichai and Mathurankerni.  The staff does not advocate more construction of fencing.  They say there are ‘unofficial’ corridors through which the animals move, but these need to be enshrined in law to keep elephants in and humans out.  They also say the area needs extensive re-forestation.

According to the SLWCS the first priority is to get basic information about the elephants especially on their populations, ranging and habitats.  One of the main reasons for HEC is people settling and developing land including corridors that are crucial for their survival.  So it is vitally important to identify the areas that are important for elephants for their annual ranging and the corridors they use to move through the Batticaloa District.  This information is vital to design a sustainable and effective long term plan.  Electric fences are effective only if they are erected along the boundaries that separate elephant habitats from human use areas.  When electric fences are erected to block elephants then they become ineffective due to the frequent efforts of elephants to breach them.  To resolve HEC we need to not only protect the areas that elephants frequent but also safeguard the corridors that they use to move between these places. 

During the writing of the plan interviewees have raised concerns in the following areas

Marapalam, Pullumalai, Eralakkulam, Mahilawedduwan, Vellaveli and Palaiyadivaddai. 

Paddiruppu particularly highlighted elephant attacks in 7 school areas. 2 parents have died recently

Mandur 35 Kannan VID,  Puthumumaricholai G.T.M.S, Malayarkaddu G.T.M.S, Mandur  16 G.T.M.S Mandur 39 G.T.M.S, Mandur 40 G.T.M.S, Mandur 13 Vicneshwara VID

The SLWCS advocates that it is essential to conduct an in depth study of the ecology of the elephants in the region.  Effort must be made to gather primary information on elephant populations, ranging and their behaviour.   Without this information any other actions that are implemented would be just a waste of time and money.

It is important to keep in mind that to conserve and protect a highly mobile animal like the elephant and to mitigate HEC requires the support of a multitude of stakeholders.  It is unreasonable to expect just the Department of Wildlife Conservation to be solely responsible for addressing these issues. The DWC could encourage public private partnerships and be willing to work with the private sector closely in these efforts.    

Potential funders: UNDP, USAID, AussAid, JICA, GEF, World Bank, Asian Development Bank.

Batticaloa District Development Plan DRAFT 2013

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