Compensation May Mitigate HEC


Inadequate compensation paid to farmers, due to marauding elephants invading their croplands, may be the cause of the aggravating human elephant conflict (HEC) in Sri Lanka, German-based ResearchGate (RG), a commercial social networking site for scientists and researchers, according to Wikipedia, said.

 RG quoting Sri Lankan conservation specialist and zoologist Charles Santiapillai said: “It appears that Sri Lanka may have more elephants than it can sustain without much conflict with man.”

RG, further quoting Santiapillai, said that he found that 94 per cent of affected farming households due to crop raiding elephants received no compensation payments. Crop raids are widely seen as the root causes of HEC. No less than 14,516 incidents of HEC in Sri Lanka were reported to the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) in the period 2010–2019, RG, further quoting Santiapillai, said. If adequate compensation is paid to farmers; that may possibly mitigate HEC.

Meanwhile, yesterday, this newspaper carried a story under the heading ‘Lives of 1,110 jumbos, 376 people lost’ as a result of HEC.

Quoting Wildlife Minister Mahinda Amaraweera it said that in the first four months of this year alone 47 elephant deaths and 34 human deaths were reported due to HEC. It said that HEC were reported from 131 divisional secretariats in 19 districts.

“As a solution, the Ministry expects to increase the number of electric fences in districts in which most of the HEC cases are reported,” the news item quoting the Minister concluded.

But are electric fences the solution to mitigate HEC? Media yesterday reported that three elephants were electrocuted by an illegally drawn power line by a farmer in Mihintale.

It said that though some farmers have built electric fences at their own expense to protect their crop, however, many who have “economic difficulties” are engaged in unauthorized activities like the above.

Media further quoting Police said that the suspect responsible for the above illegal power tapping will be arrested and legal proceedings will be instituted against him. Electricity tapping is an offence under the law.

According to RG, “The first elephant census in Sri Lanka, conducted by volunteers under the aegis of the DWC in 2011, led to a count of 5,879 elephants in the wild. In September 2019, DWC conducted its second islandwide elephant census, but results have not yet been published. There are also some tame elephants in the country, but as these generally do not breed in captivity, they are not of great interest from a conservation viewpoint.”

RG said that India has the largest number of Asian elephants in a single country followed by Sri Lanka, where over 70 per cent of elephant ranges lie outside protected areas (PA) and therefore these are the spaces where human–elephant encounters are hostile and problematic. Due to this high intensity of human–elephant interactions outside of PA, the Sri Lankan case is particularly important, it said.

As of 2017, Sri Lanka had 101 PA, including 24 national parks, said RG. These are under the management of the DWC, described by former director Sumith Pilapitiya as “understaffed” and subject to “political interference” and this critique has also been aimed at PA in Sri Lanka which play an essential role in elephant conservation, added RG.

Meanwhile, in a paper called ‘Modern Solution for HEC’, authored by researchers at the Sri Lanka Institute of Information Technology (SLIIT) and Sri Jayewardenepura University (SJU), it recommends the use of a wireless sensor-based networkusing geophones, microwave radar sensors and infra red (IR) beams to detect elephants and integrate with alerting and elephant scare away systems to mitigate HEC.

Researchers discovered a method to detect elephants using the vibration of elephant footfalls gathered from geophones, readings from microwave Radar systems and readings from IR beam systems, SJU in another paper regarding the above research said.

This method is not used or tested in this kind of study so far. A research team at SJP’s Technology Faculty continues enhancing this study, it said. The test environment for this isunder construction in Habarana, SJU said.