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Policy to prevent human-elephant conflict needs to be changed urgently: COPA

The COPA Committee recommended that the human-elephant conflict has aggravated over the decades with an increasing number of human and elephant deaths as well as property damage and that the policy pursued so far in this regard should be changed.

The relevant recommendations were made in the Committee on Public Accounts (COPA) report presented recently by the COPA committee chair Hon. (Prof.) Tissa Vitarana to the first session of the ninth Parliament.

It was revealed at the COPA meeting held in Parliament on December 9th, that Sri Lanka has become the country with the highest number of elephant deaths in the world due to the human-elephant conflict.

COPA revealed that although the average number of elephants killed per year due to human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka is 272, 407 elephants have died in 2019. It was also revealed that although the average number of human deaths due to human-elephant conflict is 85 per year, in 2019, 122 people will have died. Therefore, the Committee stressed the need for immediate action on this issue.

Accordingly, the Committee on Public Accounts has recommended to the Department of Wildlife Conservation to abandon the old policy which has so far failed and to implement the policy formulated by Dr. Prithiviraj Fernando.

According to the report, the policy of constructing an electric fence and trapping elephants is a failure when in fact only innocent female elephants and baby elephants are being trapped by the said measure. The report also mentions that it has been revealed that male elephants bigger in size are responsible for causing harm to humans and crops.

The report states that the policy formulated by Dr. Prithiviraj Fernando over seven years with the experience received in Galigamuwa entirely subsidized the conflict and that the cost has been kept to a minimum.

Presenting the report to Parliament recently, (Prof.) Tissa Vitarana said that although the government had allocated large sums of money from the annual budget to prevent the human-elephant conflict, it had only increased and not decreased. Therefore, the old policy which results in costing the government a large amount of money should be changed immediately, the COPA chair added.

The report mentioned that it is the duty of the Wildlife Department to prepare an action plan to reduce the human-elephant conflict and the importance of obtaining the consent of the Mahaweli Authority and the Forest Department accordingly when obtaining such lands for the construction of elephant reserves.

Furthermore, the COPA committee further emphasises the importance of the joint assistance of the Sri Lanka Army, Navy, Air Force, Civil Defense Department, Agrarian Organizations and the villagers as essential in the construction and maintenance of strategies such as elephant fences and elephant trenches used to reduce human-elephant conflict.