COLOMBO: Corruption-riddled large scale projects and illegal cultivation have aggravated the unresolved human-elephant conflict amidst delays in setting-up an elephant reserve, a survey has shown.
As elephant habitats become depleted and fragmented, the longstanding tussle had killed 405 elephants and 121 people last year alone, the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform said in a report.
This problem was at its worse at the proposed Managed Elephant Reserve in Hambantota, which is yet to be set-up, although the proposal received a nod from authorities after a three-year survey since 2009.
“Plans have been made to declare this area free of elephants as they cannot be kept in the area due to development projects,” Sajeewa Chamikara, an environmentalist claimed on Wednesday.
Environmentalists believe the habitats of 450 elephants and tuskers are located within the proposed reserve.
However, land plots in the area had been given to companies and businessmen under political influence, while some were sold under fake deeds, according to the movement.
Racketeers have sold off portions of the proposed reserve claiming it to be Nindagam Lands, granted to those who served the king in Sri Lanka’s historic times.
Chamikara says that environmental impact assessment reports for mega projects in Hambantota have directed that the elephant reserve must be set-up to ensure the sustainability of development activities.
This includes projects such as the Mattala Airport, Magampura Port, Magam Ruhunupura International Convention Centre, and the Expressway road system in the southern district.
“…politicians are trying to conduct themselves by violating that directive,” the environmentalist adds.
Chamal Rajapaksa, the current Mahaweli minister, has dismissed the possibility of setting up the reserve, citing it as an infeasible move that can claim human lives.
He added that the reserve set-up at the center of Hambantota would pose life risks for the residents of surrounding areas as elephants would storm into villages.
“The people must be protected first to safeguard animals,” the minister told News1st, criticizing the wildlife department for not identifying a proper location for the reserve.
“The wildlife department does not protect animals or the people”.
Environmentalists say lands at the proposed elephant reserve – a project now limited to a paper, are being cleared for various projects, further delaying a solution to the dispute.