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Human-Elephant Conflict: Focus on improving mitigation

Human-Elephant Conflict: Focus on improving mitigation

24 Dec 2023 | By Sarah Hannan

  • Multi-stakeholder meeting to improve proposal to mitigate HEC

During a recent discussion held with multi-stakeholder participation on the draft proposal to mitigate Human-Elephant Conflict (HEC), the Centre for Environmental Justice (CEJ) presented 24 action points that were formulated during its public consultation sessions earlier this year.

CEJ Executive Director Hemantha Withanage, speaking to The Sunday Morning, noted: “This draft proposal was put together as directed by the Supreme Court following the proceedings of 5 May, following the CA WRIT 26/2020 filed by the CEJ requesting to conduct a proper investigation into the death of seven elephants in Habarana.”

Withanage pointed out that although a National Action Plan (NAP) had been formulated in 2020 to mitigate HEC, the plan had several oversights that failed to address the inherent challenges.

“Therefore, the CEJ, in consultation with the multiple stakeholders, decided that while respecting their diverse views, we needed to leave room for the proposed NAP to be continuously updated with the changing requirements,” Withanage elaborated.

While the 2020 NAP on HEC mitigation had considered several solutions currently in practice – including electric fences, elephant drives, lighting of firecrackers, conducting awareness sessions, clearing vegetation along roadsides to enhance street lighting, translocating elephants to safeguard humans and crops, introducing laws to prevent encroachment of other State forest lands, preventing livestock herding in protected areas, providing compensation for the loss of life as well as property and crop damage, and looking into reducing death and injuries to elephants – the public consultations had suggested that following a holistic approach involving multi-stakeholder participation would bring about a better outcome.

According to CEJ Environment Officer Indika Rajapaksha, datasets gathered on elephant habitat and their movement patterns indicated the presence of elephants in 19 districts in Sri Lanka.

“Field observations have recorded that elephants in Sri Lanka utilise approximately 70% of the land as their natural habitat. This means they roam about across a large expanse of land specifically in the country’s dry zone. Therefore, in this draft proposal we have recognised 11 short-term, seven mid-term, and six full-term action points that we will have to execute to establish a workable solution in terms of HEC mitigation efforts,” Rajapaksha explained.

Challenges in implementation of NAP

Highlighting the challenges when implementing action points listed in the NAP, Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) Director (Operations) Ranjan Marasinghe noted: “The DWC has taken into account the field reports presented by our rangers. While we map out the areas of elephant habitats and attempt to demarcate the national parks to ensure that elephant herds are secured in protected lands, what we haven’t considered is elephant herds having to adjust their home range around human activity. We have to also consider their seasonal movement patterns, as they tend to flock around watering holes that will retain water during the dry season.”

Marasinghe also pointed out that having understood the impracticalities of erecting electric fences, private landowners and agricultural land holders had been facilitated to set up suitable fencing to protect their lands from marauding elephants.

Addressing the possibilities of conducting Environmental Impact Assessments (EIAs) for agriculture projects, Marasinghe stressed that there were inherent challenges.

“There are always legal and ecological implications when establishing agriculture projects on lands that are within the home range of elephants. Therefore, any regulations we are discussing to include in EIAs for agriculture projects need to be reevaluated. The regulations need to favour both humans and wildlife. In addition, we need to look into the ecological and social impacts these multinational agro industries will create in the long run.” 

Beyond solutions for HEC

Meanwhile, environmental lawyer Ravindranath Dabare informed the meeting attendees: “The updated action plan needs to not only look at HEC mitigation, but also look at a conservation programme that goes beyond solutions for HEC. One of the challenges that the previous NAPs placed on conservationists such as Dr. Prithiviraj Fernando and Dr. Sumith Pilapitiya was that they were given a limited scope to work with. We need to address those challenges through this draft proposal we are preparing.”

The stakeholder meeting held at the Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute in Colombo on 19 December saw constructive comments forwarded by all stakeholders in attendance regarding the feasibility of the proposed actions. 

The Department of Wildlife Conservation, the Department of Land Use Policy Planning, the Agrarian Development Department, the Tourism Development Authority, and the Ceylon Electricity Board led the discussion with input from many civil society organisations. Once the proposal is finalised, it will be presented to the Court of Appeal for consideration.

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