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Elephantine battle erupts over counting of jumbos

By Ifham Nizam

Elephant experts and Wildlife Department officials yesterday took exception to a statement made by Minister of Agriculture, Wildlife and Forest Resources Conservation Mahinda Amaraweera’s on the elephant population statistics here. The ministry quoting the Department said that Sri Lanka’s wild elephant population had topped 7,000.

Department officials however stressed that they believed the number was 6,000.Biodiversity Conservation and Research Circle of Sri Lanka Convener Supun Lahiru Prakash, who is also an authority on Sri Lankan elephants said, “I don’t know the basis on which the DWC has said the number of elephants has increased to 7,000 in Sri Lanka.

“According to the first and only national elephant survey conducted in 2011 we had 5879 in Sri Lanka.

During the past five years alone we lost 1683 elephants due to various reasons led by the Human-elephant conflict.”

According to their studies, the elephant death rate has increased by about 31% from the previous decade, and by about 92% from two decades ago. The elephant death rate shows an extremely high increase recently, exceeding 300 for the first time in 2018 and 400 just a year after.

Lahiru said that loss and fragmentation of elephant home ranges in the country had gone unaddressed. “Under that situation how can we imagine that the elephant population in Sri Lanka has increased? According to the recent statement of the Department of Wildlife Conservation there are 142 tuskers in our country and they said that it is a decline.

“However, we had only 122 tuskers according to a national elephant survey conducted in 2011. Is the change of the number of tuskers from 122 to 142 declining? To please whom are these authorities lying? There should be a hidden agenda for tailoring the facts in this way for sure.”

He also said that he couldn’t see authorities using scientific facts and figures in the decision making process with regard to Human-elephant conflict mitigation, elephant conservation, or anything else.

“They don’t acknowledge science at all. Decisions are made based on desires of politicians, not scientific evidence. Therefore, what is the purpose of knowing the number of elephants in the country? I am in doubt if this attempt is to cover up the increasing deaths among wild elephants or for capturing free-range elephants for domestication.”

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