Image: Wasgamuwa sanctuary (c)sunanda deshapriya.
A new scientific study reveals that Sri Lanka has the highest number of elephant fatalities and the second highest number of human fatalities due to human-elephant conflicts.
Addressing The Challenges
This study conducted by Supun Lahiru Prakash, Dr. A. W. Wijeyrathna, and Dr. Pruthiviraj Fernando from the Sri Lanka Biodiversity Conservation and Research Circle, University of Sabaragamuwa, and the Conservation Research Institute, focused on human-elephant conflicts reported in Sri Lanka between 2010 and 2019. The study highlights that the issue is intensifying year by year and expanding into new areas.
The study suggests that the loss of elephant habitats, deforestation, and the allocation of forest lands to multinational companies, have led wild elephants to encroach into villages in Sri Lanka.
The main solution chosen thus far to prevent wild elephants from invading villages is the construction of electric fences or elephant fences. However, it is proving increasingly ineffective due to the inefficiency and corruption of officials involved.
In 2021, a procurement committee appointed by the Cabinet was put in charge of purchasing goods and services worth more than 500 million rupees for the construction of elephant fences. However, the committee’s failure to follow the proper procedure resulted in seven calls for bids made on seven occasions to purchase 30 items with an estimated value of Rs. 631,067,014.
The Auditor General’s report on this issue highlights how additional expenses totaling Rs. 557,320 had to be incurred for calling for prices, publishing them in newspapers, and paying the technical evaluation committee on seven different occasions.
In the case of awarding projects to community-based organizations through the direct contract system, it is essential to evaluate the suitability of the proposed organization to ensure the successful execution of the project’s objectives. However, in this particular instance, the selection committee had failed to follow this procedure when awarding contract work for five projects.
According to the 2021 Auditor General’s report, there were additional findings regarding the road clearing and electric fence construction projects in nine wildlife zones. Despite an estimated budget of Rs. 29,322,490, the progress of these projects was reported to be less than 50%. When inquired, they cited land issues and other challenges as reasons for the delays. Additionally, they stated that it has become impossible to complete the tasks within the allocated budget by the farmer’s organizations themselves.
Although the risk of not recording assets from foreign aid projects was shown in the 2020 Auditor General’s report, in the audit conducted on February 19, 2022, it was discovered that assets worth Rs. 20,755,328 provided by the GIZ project to the Department of Wildlife Conservation were not recorded in the inventory books of GIZ. These assets were found in the main warehouse of the department. Although the equipment was officially handed over by the institution to the Department of Wildlife Conservation, the data was not included in the financial statements due to a failure to report to the accounts department and the main warehouse.
Despite the substantial investment in the construction and maintenance of electric fences, costing Rs. 257,521,334 in 2020 and Rs. 714,695,969 in 2021, the human-elephant conflict in Sri Lanka has not shown a decline. As of December 31, 2021, electric fences had been put up in a total of 4,756 km. However, considering the number of human deaths and property damage that has occurred in the last five years, the effectiveness of relying solely on electric fences to mitigate the human-elephant conflict is questionable.
No Action on Non-Implementation
According to a senior official from the Wildlife Department, an agreement was signed with the REDECO Company on March 15, 2021, for the installation of 6,000 elephant movement barriers at 500-meter intervals in the Udawalawa area. The agreement specified that the work should be completed within 90 days, by June 15, 2021. However, as of March 2022, 4,010 wild elephant barrier disks, with a contractual value of Rs. 18,446,000, had not been provided.
Another instance of delayed supply is the agreement signed with REDECO on March 15, 2021, for the purchase of 194 precast energy chambers, 385 precast toilets, and 3,080 concrete cubes necessary for the construction of a 1,500 km long electric fence in 2021. As per the agreement, the supply was supposed to be completed within 90 days, by the end of June 15, 2021. However, as of March 2022, 59 precast energy blocks, 634 concrete cubes, and 346 precast toilets, with a contracted value of Rs. 46,683,426, had not been provided.
Under such circumstances, the task of mitigating human-elephant conflict and ensuring the safety of both elephants and humans may seem like an elusive dream.