Sri Lankan Officials Break Promises To Tame Deadly Wildlife
As Sri Lanka develops and there is more deforestation, elephants pushed out of their habitat are becoming more dangerous. Locals say authorities are doing nothing to help them.
At the protest, one sign carried the message loud and clear. “She was not killed by elephants,” the sign said, “but by this country’s leaders.” What is known in Sri Lanka as human-elephant conflict is a serious problem, impacting many parts of the country.
Thanks to deforestation and development in areas like Suriyawewa, Andarawewa, Hambantota, elephants will often enter villages, rampaging through them, because they have lost their own habitat. For years, locals in those areas have been asking for help from the government. Officials often promise such measures as electric fences and wildlife rangers but often they do nothing about it. Which is why locals have been driven to hold demonstrations about this issue.
While we were gone, wild elephants destroyed our house. If we had been there we would have died.
On September 22, a woman in the Suriyakanda, Buruthakanda area died after elephants attacked the village. As a result, villagers there staged a demonstration, demanding that the authorities build a strong electric fence to keep the elephants out.
The responsible authorities then promised to rebuild an existing elephant fence and add new parts to it as well as deploy wildlife officers to patrol the area. But it seems his promises have not been kept. On November 9, wild elephants attacked three houses and destroyed agricultural plantations.
It’s an ongoing problem. Over the past two years in Hambantota, 18 elephants have been shot, electrocuted, or poisoned. There have been nine human deaths due to elephant attacks and two people have also been severely injured and are now handicapped.
On the day elephants attacked in Suriyakanda, Buruthakanda, she wanted to go to the local clinic for a check-up, one pregnant villager told The Catamaran. As the medical facility was near her mother’s house, she took her husband and two children, and the family spent the night there. “While we were gone, wild elephants destroyed our house,” G. L. A. Thilini Madushika says with tears in her eyes. “If we had been there we would have died.”
Locals in the area are frightened. Many say they are spending the nights elsewhere, often at the homes of friends or relations.
“How can we make a living now?” complains K. Siriyawathie. “We cannot protect our children or our crops. When we stage protests, we only get false promises. After that there are court cases – nobody is helping us to solve these problems.”
“Every day, elephants come to our village and destroy houses and crops,’” says another villager. “Nobody looks after us. And now,” he complains, “the police are taking those who protested to court!”