INTERNATIONAL ELEPHANT DAY: What of Sri Lanka’s wild elephant?
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Let us not forget the human victims
Sri Lanka needs wild elephants
Ignoring the cultural and religious significance in keeping healthy and viable wild elephant populations in Sri Lanka, and that they are a keystone species fundamental to the healthy existence of all of the other creatures of the forest, they are also a vital source of foreign exchange for the country. Economists in Sri Lanka have estimated that a wild elephant is worth $11 million to the country if allowed to live to its full span of life (https://www.ft.lk/columns/A-cut-tree-a-dead-elephant-is-a-lost-tourism-dollar-in-the-future/4-709347). Tourism contributes 5% of the country’s GDP, and nature-based tourism constitutes a substantial part of that.
The Minneriya National Park is known throughout the world for its seasonal ‘Gathering’ of elephants, the largest congregation of Asian elephants in the World. Sadly, there is a tragedy playing itself out there too. Since the construction of the Moragahakanda Reservoir in 2018, there have been unseasonal waters released into the reservoir during the dry season that have resulted in a fluctuation of water levels. This has led to a reduction in the elephant population during the peak months.
Source: Dr. Sumith Pilapitiya
Recent media reports carry the stories of a repetition of that which is playing itself out in Yala, with elephants being observed with poor body condition, and dead calves being found with malnutrition. The Wildlife and Nature Protection Society WNPS is facilitating a special series of meetings, aptly titled ‘The Gathering’, for like-minded organisations, to discuss the present plight of the elephant and to decide on shared strategies to prevent their further elimination. The first of these starting today, International Elephant Day (12th), will be to specifically focus on the situation at Minneriya.
One of the WNPS' long standing partners, Colombo Jewellery Stores, has stepped forward to sponsor `The Gathering`.
Is this the focus of the policymakers too?
According to the great chronicle, the Mahavamsa, in the 3rd Century BC the Arahant Mahinda, who brought the noble teachings of the Lord Buddha to this country stated,
‘O great King, the birds of the air and the beasts have as equal a right to live and move about in any part of the land as thou. The land belongs to the people and all living beings; thou art only the guardian of it.’
In fact, the people of this island have been extremely tolerant of wildlife, and elephants in particular. Wild elephants occupy 62% of the landscape of Sri Lanka, 44% of which they share with humans. This coexistence has endured for thousands of years but changed dramatically in the last 50 years.
Do the policymakers of today still believe that the teachings of the 3rd Century BC are relevant for Sri Lanka? Or are they determined to let the wild elephant drift into assisted extinction?
- Rohan Wijesinha