Saturday, April 29, 2017

Who’s responsible for the human-elephant conflict in H’tota?

Who’s responsible for the human-elephant conflict in H’tota?
Apr 28, 2017

In the past week alone, around 10 houses were damaged and considerable crop damage caused at Suriyawewa, Bogaha Indiwewa and other areas due to wild elephant attacks.

According to wildlife department statistics, 347 houses had been destroyed in such attacks in the past seven years in Hambantota district.
People say they have to spend sleepless nights due to invading wild jumbos. They say state agencies’ mediation to protect their lives, properties and farming land was inadequate, forcing them to risk their lives to protect them.
G. Ranjani explains, “I am 53 years old. In the past too, there were elephants here. But, elephants did not bother us. They had the jungle to live. Now, the jungle is being cleared. They do not have a place to live. They now come to our villages and damage our crops. They damage our houses and eat the stored paddy. We do not have a way to live. On one side, our properties are damaged and on the other, our lives are at risk.”
This is what Ajith Kumara has to say, “For several weeks now, elephants come here every day. My paddy mill and the house were attacked and damaged by the wild elephants. We have been living here since we were small. But, we never had such problems from wild elephants. They come to our villages because the surrounding jungle is being cleared. Authorities seem not to see what is happening.”
Nisansala says, “We are in great difficulties. In the night, we cannot sleep. When elephants come, our children cry in fear. They find solutions when an elephant dies. But, there is no one if our lives are lost. Our crops are being destroyed. We do not have food or water. The jungle is being cleared in the name of development. Now, the elephants are invading villages. At least now, authorities should intervene, protect the jungles and send the elephants to the jungles.”
Wildlife officials say the clearing of the jungle, for development purposes as well as illegally, has aggravated the human-elephant conflict.
Out of a total of 2,609 sq km in 12 divisional secretariat areas in Hambantota district, 2,496 sq km are dry land. Of them, wild elephants live in Hambantota, Suriyawewa and Lunugamvehera DS areas. The 158 sq km Suriyawewa and 125 sq km Hambantota have the worst of the human-elephant conflict. These are the same areas where the previous regime mostly undertook development work. The Mattala airport started in 2009 had 800 hectares in the first phase and 1,200 hectares were utilized later, despite being the feeding grounds of wild elephants. Also, a large jungle area was taken over to build Magampura port, international convention hall and Suriyawewa stadium. This makes it clear that the people of those areas are caught in this conflict due to the development work of the previous regime.
According to wildlife department statistics, the district had about 350 wild jumbos around 10 years ago, which now has risen to 400. However, their area of habitat had not increased, but had rather decreased, proportionately. In this situation, from 2010 to April 2017, around 25 people and 57 wild jumbos were killed and 347 houses damaged in this conflict.
These days, wildlife officers are doing night patrolling in the Bogaha Indiwewa in Suriyawewa in view of the worsening human-elephant conflict, said forest ranger J.A.P. Vijaya Kumara.
“We have to protect the lives of the people as well as the elephants. The enraged people say they will kill the elephants. We are working to stop that and our officers are patrolling the area in the night to drive away the invading elephants. But, we will not be able to carry on if there is no stop to the clearing of the jungles. We need the support of every state officer to stop this destruction of the jungles.
Rahul Samantha Hettiarachchi, Hambantota