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Sri Lanka to shift farmers from elephant corridors

AFP  |  Colombo 

today announced it was planning to relocate farmers living on the edges of forests inhabited by elephants to reduce the numbers killed on both sides.

Wildlife minister Gamini Jayawickrama Perera said the island's elephant population had dropped to 6,000, from 7,379 counted five years ago, as deadly encounters between animals and humans increase.

"Although various measures like erecting of electric fences were taken to prevent human-elephant conflicts, so far this has not been resolved," Perera said in a statement.

"Steps are being taken to resolve the issue by relocating the inhabitants in identified elephant migratory pathways."

He did not say how many farmers would be relocated in 18 affected districts out of the island's total of 25. But elephant expert Jayantha Jayewardene said he believed thousands were encroaching on elephant habitats and moving them would be a challenge.

"Sri Lankan elephants usually don't migrate from one area to another, but what has happened is that thousands of farmers have encroached and split the traditional habitat of elephants.

"This means frequent clashes and we need a much more thought out plan to deal with the problem," Jayewardene told AFP. "Evicting thousands of people will not be easy. One thing is sure, more elephants than people get killed in this battle."

Elephants are considered sacred animals in and killing them is a criminal offence, punishable by death.

But officials said there had been a rapid expansion of farms near wildlife parks, shrinking elephant habitats and causing frequent clashes between the two.

Official figures show 270 people and 942 elephants were killed in such encounters across the country over four years to 2014. Some 5,095 homes were damaged during the same period.

Wild elephants were also killed after being hit by trains and due to floods and lightening strikes. Female elephants are known to have been killed so that their babies can be snatched and kept as pets.

Owning a baby elephant is a status symbol in although authorities recently began a crackdown against the trend.

(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)

First Published: Wed, September 14 2016. 18:28 IST