News

Horowpothana Holding Ground report: Search for missing elephants in July

By Pamodi Waravita

 

The Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) would be conducting an investigation at the Horowpothana Elephant Holding Ground (HEHG) in July this year on the circumstances of 31 elephants that had either fled the area or died, as claimed in the National Audit Report for 2020.

“In order to clarify what has been said in this audit report, we must conduct an independent investigation during the dry season in Horowpothana, which we hope to start in July,” DWC Director General Chandana Sooriyabandara told The Morning yesterday (18).

The “Performance of the HEHG” National Audit Report for 2020 was released under the purview of Auditor General W.P.C. Wickramaratne. The report evaluated the activities implemented by the DWC at the HEHG from 16 October 2015 to 30 September 2019.

According to the report, although the HEHG was originally constructed to retain 30 rogue elephants as a solution to the human-elephant conflict, by 2019, 52 elephants had eventually been released to the ground. However, at the time the elephant census of the report was conducted in June 2019, only nine elephants were remaining. A total of 12 had died and the report claims that the DWC lacked information on whether the other 31 elephants had also died or fled.

When queried about the number of elephants currently at the HEHG, Sooriyabandara said that they did not have the necessary information at the moment and hoped to conduct an elephant census at the HEHG in July this year as well.

The report also highlights the lack of health facilities and food requirements of the elephants at the holding ground, further claiming that the 997-hectare land is not sufficient to hold elephants that usually roam about 20 to 25 kilometres per day.

The report also questions the validity of the concept of a holding ground, as the number of human-elephant conflict-related deaths and property damages had not decreased since the construction of the HEHG. It further notes that although the DWC is bound to conserve wildlife for the future generations, holding elephants in a limited area where they are deprived of their natural way of life and habitat, has not ensured the protection of the elephants, but has only considered the security of the humans.

Speaking to The Morning, Centre for Conservation and Research Sri Lanka (CCRSL) Chairman Dr. Prithiviraj Fernando said that the Horowpothana Ground was constructed in 2013 and that elephants have been released into it since then. However, the audit report only looks at the period from 2015 to 2019.

“Therefore, the number of elephants that are unaccounted for is even worse than what the report claims. It is unacceptable for the DWC to claim that they do not know what happened to these elephants when they are the responsibility of the DWC,” alleged Dr. Fernando.

Commenting on the success of an initiative such as an elephant holding ground, Dr. Fernando said that it is wasteful to spend millions of rupees of public funds to hold 50 elephants when so many more are impacted due to the human-elephant conflict.

The HEHG was constructed in 2013 with the aim of trans-locating elephants that were caught in the human-elephant conflict. According to the last elephant census done at the holding ground in 2019, only nine elephants were remaining from over 50 elephants that had been trans-located there.