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Wednesday, 13 June, 2001, 15:08 GMT 16:08 UK
Strife endangers Sri Lanka elephants
Elephants drinking from a river in Sri Lanka
Like humans, they have been displaced and injured
By Francis Harrison in Colombo

The Sri Lankan president has set up a committee to look into the growing number of conflicts between humans and elephants, displaced from their traditional jungle habitat by the country's civil war.

Villagers who are harassed by wild elephants have been told to report to their local police stations immediately, rather than take the law into their own hands.

Wildlife experts say more than 200 elephants are now being killed every year in Sri Lanka in conflicts with humans.

War victims

Elephant
If nothing is done, Sri Lankan elephants will soon only be seen in zoos
Unfortunately for Sri Lankan elephants, the north and east of the island is the best habitat for them, but the area is affected by war.

Two decades of conflict have driven wild elephant herds out of the jungles and national parks.

Like humans, they have been displaced and injured by the fighting.

Since only about 4% of Sri Lankan elephants have tusks, poaching is a minimal threat.

Routes disrupted

But elephants migrate more than 20km a day to find food, travelling along well-established routes, and these have been disrupted by the war, with different pockets of land now under government or rebel control.

National parks make up 12% of Sri Lanka, but many are effectively in rebel hands.

Elephant herds get trapped in small pockets of jungle and, unable to sustain themselves, they encroach on human settlements, stealing crops and destroying houses.

That is when desperate humans kill elephants, sometimes even severing the live animal's trunk in an act of revenge.

Poor planning

Wildlife experts say if the war ended, 75% of the conflicts between man and elephant would disappear.

But problems also arise from unplanned development.

In one district along the north-western coast, 500 houses have been built for the poor in the heart of a traditional elephant corridor.

Wildlife experts say it is only a matter of time before the elephants start to attack.

Endangered

As one elephant-lover put it, the four-legged creatures do not, unfortunately, have the right to vote in Sri Lanka, so politicians are not interested.

Sri Lanka still has an estimated 3,500 elephants living in the wild.

But there are dire warnings that if nothing is done soon, within a decade elephants will only be found in the country's zoos.

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See also:

15 Jan 01 | South Asia
Sri Lanka's jumbo war
10 Jul 00 | South Asia
Orphaned elephants go wild
25 Apr 00 | Asia-Pacific
Lives of neglect and misery
06 Jun 00 | Sci/Tech
Indian minister's elephant alert
01 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Elephants 'killed as aphrodisiac'
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