Monday, June 6, 2016

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Recognizing elephant paths and their rights

By Gamini Abeywardane
The government last Tuesday has taken a vital decision towards resolving the long standing issue of human elephant conflict. The cabinet has decided to leave the traditional elephant paths for the elephants and remove the unauthorized settlers from such paths giving them alternate land.

This is the first time we have decided to change the changeable without sticking to the futile attempt of trying to change the behaviour of the animals still in the wild. What happened earlier was to take the side of the people who have encroached on the territory of the wild animals and use electric fences and various artificial ways of controlling elephants which often did not work.

Keeping the electric fences live all 365 days of the year was not a practically possible thing and with the slightest opportunity the pachyderms used to break into the villages and destroyed life and property. This has been happening repeatedly for quite a long time, the problem got highlighted in the media when some destruction occurred and often authorities got the blame for not preventing the calamity.

Elephant paths are determined by factors such as availability of water and fodder depending on rain and drought and they are not easily changeable as the elephants are used to travelling along these paths for hundreds of years.

Therefore it is very logical to recognize this reality and change the unplanned human settlements on the borders of forest reserves. This could be a fresh opportunity to look at the problem rationally and provide these settlers with suitable land with better facilities under proper guidance of the government.

Going hand in hand with this development is the decision taken by President Maithripala Sirisena to stop all illegal land filling in the Western Province irrespective of whether such filling has already begun or been partially done with the blessing of the local politicians.

The same way the human settlements interfered with the traditional path of the elephants, the unauthorized land fillings have often blocked the natural course of the water flow. While the former often infuriate the elephants, the latter result in floods. Interference with the nature, in whatever way has always proved to be destructive causing loss of human life at the end.

Both these decisions by the government are quite timely and appropriate. However their implementation could be quite cumbersome because nothing could be achieved without the co-operation of the local politicians who have often been at the bottom of these issues.  So, there is a need for specific measures to oversee and monitor the implementation of these new decisions taken by the government.




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