Eight baby elephants released into national park

page1.jpg (13466 bytes)By Sanjeevi Jayasuriya
Elephants are a national asset which should be protected for the generations to come, but there is less commitment in the political sector in this regard, said Rukman Senanayake, Minister of Environment and Natural Resources last Friday.

Speaking at a ceremony to mark the releasing eight baby jumbos at the elephant transit home in Udawalawe National Park to the wild, he said that the government support is needed for this kind of humanitarian acts. The new trend that had been developed in the recent past to protect wildlife is a good sign, the Minister noted.

The elephant transit home was set up in 1995 as a pilot project by the Department of Wildlife Conservation to look after the abandoned baby elephants till they are able to take care of themselves. At present there are 31 such baby elephants and on two occasions, in 1998 and in 2000, nine of them were released to the jungle. The released elephants wear a radio collar that assist to monitor them and according to the research conducted on them, they been adjusted to their natural habitat satisfactorily.

Sri Lanka is a well resourced country and for its development a collective co-orporation by the people and the government is necessary, Minister Senanayake said. The service rendered in looking after the baby elephants at the transit home is not an eight hour job, but a full day’s work, he said and commended the staff involved.

The necessary resources will be provided by the ministry under the 100 day programme to protect the wildlife, especially the elephants, the minister said. Under the programme, the areas where the elephants live are to be expanded, he said. "We are left with only 28% forest cover now and 12% which accounted for eight lakhs of hectare of land is declared as ‘protected areas’", he explained. There are 2,500 to 3,000 elephants living in these areas and the space is not sufficient, he said. More than 40% of the elephants are living outside the protected areas, which often live in danger and the government plans to introduce new laws to protect these animals and will also amend the existing laws, he added.

The elephant death rate had been increased steadily over the last decade, mainly due to human- elephant conflict, said Dayananda Kariyawasam, Director Dept. of Wildlife Conservation. More than 42% of the elephant population live in Wayamba Province and it is estimated that 57% deaths are due to gun shot injuries, he noted. If timely measures are not taken, we would be faced with the threat of elephant extinction, he said. The male female rate in Sri Lanka is 1;3, he noted.The elephants need more protected land to live and the steps are been taken to open up more elephant’s paths including Lunugamvehera, shortly, he said. The sanctuaries will be rounded up with electric fences for their protection, he added.

The second elephant transit home will be set up in Wasgamuwa national park, Kariyawasam said. For the baby elephants, the department need funds and it has introduced a parent foster scheme to fund the monthly expenditure which amounts to Rs.10,000 for one such elephant. Under this scheme, a number of elephants are sponsored and department seek further assistance from the public, he said.