For this article, I am using my previous article, “Plantation Monoculture and Biodiversity” (published in The Morning Brunch on 4 April) as the launching pad. Whilst in the earlier article, I dealt with the impact of plantation monoculture on biodiversity, in this, I shall address the mitigation of those consequences.
Current scientific data shows that elephant habitat in Sri Lanka has reduced by 15% over the last 50 years. It is an equally well-known scientific fact that when the habitat of a species is reduced, the species population declines. If the figures for elephant mortalities, from 2010 to 2021, are considered, then this is happening right now. 3,328 elephant deaths were recorded during this time. Whether there are 6,000 wild elephants in Sri Lanka today, as per a 2011 survey, or twice that number, at this rate of attrition, the continued existence of a viable breeding population is threatened. Add to this that current scientific research shows that there is a high mortality rate amongst calves, the forecast is bleak. In a study undertaken at the Yala National Park by the Centre for Conservation & Research (CCR), it was found that 54% of all elephant calves died within two (2) years of birth. The main reason – malnutrition. This is being replicated elsewhere too.
It is heartening to note that since this essay was written in 2004, many of the questions posed by the author are being answered by the steady and solid work carried out by several researchers, including Andrew Kittle and Anjali Watson, Enoka Kudawidanage, Dinal Samarasinghe, Rukshan Jayawardene, and the late Ravi Samarasinghe.
he other day, in my continuous and losing battle to keep my bookshelves in order, I found three management plans written for the conservation of elephants in Sri Lanka. I shall not write about their content (which, over three successive decades, was much the same) nor how much of these plans has been implemented (on a scale of 1 to 10, possibly 0). What I shall present in this essay is the point of view that although much attention has been paid to this charismatic species, our focus in Sri Lanka should be directed instead to its top carnivore – the leopard, Panthera pardus.
The removal of a top carnivore from an ecosystem can have an impact on the relative abundance of herbivore species . . . In the absence of predators, usually one or two herbivore species come to dominate the community. The consequence is often a direct alteration of herbaceous vegetation near to the base of the food web. Top carnivores have an important role to play in the structuring of communities and ultimately of ecosystems. Thus, the preservation of carnivores becomes an important consideration in the discipline of conservation biology” Dr. John F. Eisenberg