Jumbo issue: Paranawithana is right


Deputy Minister Karunarathna Paranawithana expressed his view about the elephant conflict in Sri Lanka, and his suggestion to maintain a safe balance between the wild elephants and rural folks is thought provoking. This is the first time a parliamentary representative openly spoke about this persistently nagging tug-a-war that had no practical solution. Electric fences, fire crackers and howling had no effect on these relentlessly hungry jumbos. Clash of wild elephants and villagers is a regular news item on some TV channels. We are used to watching with comfort, sitting on our couches: partly demolished houses, a human being or elephant dead, plantain trees and coconut trees vandalized...pleading of villagers to help them in some manner.

These emotional and earnest cries have been seen and heard for long years but no one came up with an absolute feasible solution. Houses smashed were theirs and not ours, someone killed was theirs and not ours, coconut trees destroyed were theirs and not ours, so why bother? We are safe here and it is their problem. This attitude has to change. This is our country and they are our people. We must protect them and our elephants as well. If we happened to be in a hut of theirs and heard a jumbo breathing loud outside a few feet away, in the thick of the night, we would be whispering looking at each other’s face in the dim light of a kerosene lamp. They are our people experiencing terror and hushed fear with no hope of safety. Empathy may burn in our hearts, but we are helpless. When a visionary is needed, here is one who had studied in a developed country where ideologies are high and strong. They wouldn’t think of fencing against marauding jumbos and throwing firecrackers at them, which have been attempted by us for generations in vain. People in advanced countries take practical steps as remedies while we erect the same trampled fence, over and over.

Wild elephants in this scenic island are a potential attraction to tourists. Therefore, we must do more to maintain healthy looking elephants, instead of the present starving unmonitored herds that gobble trash with polythene and beg food on highways. These giants do not get the professional care they need, in spite of many departments and institutions there are for them. You know the clear difference between farm bred cows and stray cattle. We need a regulated wildlife management to care for our wild animals. Our wildlife units must have more vehicles and trained rangers.

Selling our elephants is a mere suggestion of the minister, but in fact we do not want to sell them away. Opposition MPs hate the word ‘sell’, but they too sold the car permits silently making millions. As he subsequently proposed, tamed wild animals must be given to the temples and private owners. Adopting these animals, ensuring their well being is a meritorious act as we Buddhists regard. If we still have excess numbers, they can be donated to mainly European countries where elephants are adored. We have seen elephants given shampoo baths, fed with dietitian recommended fruits and vegetables, arranged regular vet visits and genuine loving caretakers. While we treat our jumbos as a nuisance, they are in good hands abroad pampered like human babies.

The plight of our wild and domesticated elephants is not satisfactory at all. Owners may love them, but their mahouts could be unkind. Smithsonian’s National Zoo scientists say that an Asian wild elephant needs a home range of 6 to 10 sq. miles to remain in his territory comfortably. No wonder our hungry jumbos invade villages beyond limits like the Indian fishermen. Our jungles have been over eaten by our elephant herds. One elephant needs 300 pounds of fodder per day. Imagine how long could a herd of 40 elephants survive in a fenced up area. 40 elephants need a staggering 12,000 pounds of fodder per day. Also, each and every herb and tree may not be in their menu.

Human killings

Farmers are killed by elephants between home and farm, school children are killed between home and school. Any day could be their last day. Life is so uncertain for these poor people who live in villages close to the jungles where elephants roam. Some of them now have cell phones and in the event they alert authorities about a visit of a jumbo, the visitor has ambled away on its own by the time they arrive and also their coming is dependent on the distance, availability of a vehicle, and their willingness to respond. They seem not bound to answer anyone about failing to do duties, because they hardly see much difference between the elephants and their victims in god forsaken distant villages.

Tourists are eager to see our wild elephants, but on the other side of the beauty of this panoramic paradise, there is a gloomy melancholy picture, which is ignored by us the TV viewers and the Wildlife Dept. Elephant- human confrontation mostly ends up with the death of one participant. Both these lives are precious to the country. Human deaths are compensated and elephant deaths go as mere statistics. It is heartbreaking that two jumbos died while being transported in trucks owing to the negligence of the drivers. The annual death toll of about 200 elephants cannot be disregarded easily. According to the current value of an elephant, this is an enormous loss. They are dying like rats.

Human interaction with this majestic intelligent animal has not been pleasant. A captured wild elephant undergoes severe painful training that breaks its arrogance and turns it to a big pet that obeys the mahout’s verbal orders and the pricks of his sharp metal goad. There was a time we needed elephants to haul heavy things, but now they are replaced with many heavy duty equipment that perform tasks in less time, just like the tractors have replaced the ploughing buffalos in many areas. Our Dep. Minister has had good exposure to intellectual societies in an advanced country and he gets the bird’s eye view of this neglected area of our wildlife. His suggestion about our over populated elephant herds is eye opening. Some seem angry like snakes as they heard the word ‘sell’, but they act like deaf and blind as elephants and humans die and crops are damaged beyond recovery. Could they sincerely envision or feel the pain of a farmer whose many months’ work has been destroyed overnight? Here we are obligated to ask what more important - human well being is or the well being of elephants? We need to safeguard both parties alike anyhow.

Wild life conservation is methodically carried out in advanced countries with the management of animal density. Our invaluable elephant populace is cut down one by one by trains and vehicles, in addition to hukkapatas, poisoned baits, and trap guns and perhaps by ivory hunters. If we don’t get at least 200 baby elephants annually, our jumbo numbers could be depleted. Farmers who find their work of many months’ sweat has been scrambled, one can expect their anger and frustration to explode. These less educated people may resort to take revenge in ways known to them with their agricultural loans pending. Yet, we find a choking jumbo populace owing to shrinking jungles and unavailability of food, walk to open dinner buffet in villages. We haven’t listened and fathomed the hardships our wild elephants undergo, but it is our duty to do so. Their areas are restricted with electric fences and choice food is hard to find. With our elephant habitats losing area, we must reduce their number accordingly.

You can imagine how a poor family with eight children struggle while another poor family with two children somehow manage. The USA has the best animal care policies. Here you won’t see stray cats and dogs. All animals that have no homes and unwanted ones are kept in adoption facilities, for animal lovers to pick their choice; but if the facility is getting over crowded, some selected animals are put to sleep (Euthanized) with an injection. This is done with love and respect. They don’t let out extra animals to stray and starve. All over the country, animal reduction is carried out systematically when numbers are too high. Archery hunting for white tailed deer was permitted in the State of Maryland for five months in 2015. Hunters must take permits complying with some rules like not to kill little ones and pregnant does. Hunting is banned in this country unless permitted for a short period. Hunting season dates are made public with related instructions. Then some can lease hunting areas. We have 240,000 deer in our small state which is half the size of Sri Lanka. Imagine abundant deer sightings in greater Washington. Since dogs are not allowed outside on their own, children enjoy watching deer in the backyard. Reduced and managed herds are healthy herds.

In order to manage a healthy and well fed wildlife, the responsible parties must constantly watch over them. I like the Dep. Minister’s remark. I know he is a genuine animal lover by western standards.



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