A Sustainable Solution found for Human Elephant Conflict in Sri Lanka
Damages to humans, crops and properties of the forest adjacent communities by the wild elephants and killings elephants back by humans have been reported consistently over the last several centuries in Sri Lanka. However, today the human elephant conflict has come to its climax due to rapid increase of population of humans as well as elephants. The human population of Sri Lanka has increased by150% during the last 6 decades (1950-2010) while wild elephant population has increased by 300% during the same period as a result of effective conservation measures taken by the DWLC (Census and Statistics Department of Sri Lanka, 2009; Department of Wildlife Life Conservation 2008). These two figures are sufficient to realize the magnitude of the human elephant conflict in the current context of Sri Lanka where both parties are seriously wounded by each other. Presently, farmers of the forest belts, the government agencies and many other non governmental development agencies are desperately looking for a sustainable solution for human elephant conflict as it has become one of the crucial constraints in enhancing the living conditions of the people of the forest belts. Moreover, intensified human elephant conflict has undermined almost all measures taken by the DWLC to protect wild elephants and it has become the prime cause for elephant deaths in the country today.
Electric fence and its limitations
Currently, electric fencing has become the principal solution for human elephant conflict in Sri Lanka. All other solutions implemented, including different types of bio-fencing, have not produced expected results. Although, electric fencing has shown positive results from the human’s perspective by controlling animals to a certain extent, it has displayed many limitations. Limitations include high installation cost of fencing, high maintenance cost, inadequate service support from the authorities due to financial and man power shortages, poor support from the affected people to maintain the fence, unkindness to animals, disharmony and incongruity with environment and animals, low resistance to wild elephants, short life period of the fence and regular reinvestment cost. Accordingly, electric fence has not been reckoned as a sustainable solution for the problem as well as a reliable solution to get adequate protection from the wild elephants.
As an alternative to electric fencing, Practical Action came up with an innovative, low cost, sustainable bio-fencing technologyto protect elephants and humans. It is cultivation of 4 rows of Palmyra (Borassus flabellifer) palms in zigzag manner at the territorial boundaries of elephants or around wild elephant affected farmlands. The technology was based on the indigenous knowledge of the people of Sri Lanka and currently, it is being put into practice on pilot basis at Udawalawa in Monaragala district, Verugal in Batticaloa district and Konakubukwewa in Anuradhapura district. The Department of Wild Life Conservation, Palmyra Development Board and Hector Kobbekaduwa Agrarian Research and Training Institute are actively engaged in the exercise and International Elephant Fund provides partial financial assistance to implement the action.
10-year old Palmyra fence (single row)
Palmyra bio-fencing produces a sustainable solution for the human elephant conflict by minimizing elephant and human deaths. In the long-run, it produces 22 additional tangible benefits that satisfy the needs of both human and elephants. They are: (a) Palmyra bio fencing produces at least 270 metric tons of elephant feed per year per km. of fencing (b) reduces the cost of fencing by 8 times (cost per km. of electric fencing is Rs. 600,000 and cost per km. Palmyra fencing is only Rs. 72,000) (c) reduces maintenance cost of fencing by 5 times (cost of electric fence maintenance per km. per year is Rs. 25,000 and only Rs. 5,000 for Palmyra fencing) (d) longer effective period of the fence (life of the electric fence is around 10 to 12 years and around 100 years for Palmyra fence) (e) crop protection guarantee is very high with Palmyra fencing in comparison to electric fencing (f) success of electric fence depend on multiple variables such as batteries, solar panels, regular maintenance etc. and Palmyra fencing does not depend on such variables (g) Palmyra fence is an employment source (h) income generation source (i) medicinal source (j) food security source for humans (k) Palmyra fence goes with ecology and animals (l) climate friendly (m) improve the vegetation cover (2400 trees per km.) (n) low obligations by the government agencies and wild life conservation department to maintain the fence (o) low obligations from the community to maintain the fence (p) reduces forest damages (for electric fencing forest is to be cleared) (q) supplies timber in the long-run (r) high resistance to jumbos (s) less damages by the communities to the fence (t) an effective wind barrier (u) effective forest fire barrier and (v) effective soil erosion controller.
Palmyra fruit is a delicacy for elephants