Perceptions and Patterns of Human–elephant Conflict in Old and New Settlements in Sri Lanka: Insights for Mitigation and Management

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  Human–elephant conflict poses a major threat to elephants in many parts of Asia, including Sri Lanka. We studied human–elephant conflict in two areas with contrasting scenarios of landuse and conflict, Kahalle and Yala. Kahalle was developed and
  Perceptions and patterns of human–elephant conflictin old and new settlements in Sri Lanka: insightsfor mitigation and management PRITHIVIRAJ FERNANDO 1,2,* , ERIC WIKRAMANAYAKE 2,3 ,DEVAKA WEERAKOON 2,4 , L.K.A. JAYASINGHE 2 ,MANORI GUNAWARDENE 2 and H.K. JANAKA 2 1 Wildlife Trust, New York USA;  2 Centre for Conservation and Research, 35 Gunasekara Gardens,Nawala Road, Rajagiriya, Sri Lanka;  3 Conservation Science Program, World Wildlife Fund-US,Washington, DC 20037, USA;  4 University of Colombo, Colombo, Sri Lanka; *Author for corres- pondence. 35, Gunasekara Gardens, Nawala Rd., Rajagiriya, Sri Lanka (e-mail:; phone: (94)-11-2865708) Received 16 July 2003; accepted in revised form 13 April 2004 Key words:  Conservation, Elephants, Human–elephant conflict, Sri Lanka, Wildlife management Abstract.  Human–elephant conflict poses a major threat to elephants in many parts of Asia,including Sri Lanka. We studied human–elephant conflict in two areas with contrasting scenarios of landuse and conflict, Kahalle and Yala. Kahalle was developed and settled under the Mahaweliirrigation project and the main agricultural practice was irrigated agriculture, with two annualgrowing seasons. The area was a mosaic of settlements, agriculture, and small forest patches with illdefined human- and elephant-use areas. Elephants ranged within the habitat mosaic year round,occupying remnant forest patches and raiding adjacent crops at night. In contrast, Yala wasdominated by a large protected area complex, and the main agricultural methods were slash-and-burn agriculture and rain-fed paddy cultivation. Human- and elephant-use areas were well definedand segregated. The protected area provided elephants with a refuge and food during the rainyseason, when the single annual crop was grown. During the dry season, elephants moved into slash-and-burn areas and utilized leftover crops and pioneer vegetation in fallow fields. The landusepattern and agriculturalpractices in Yala facilitated co-existence, whereas that in Kahalle led to yearround conflict. We suggest that areas managed according to traditional landuse practices should bepart of an elephant conservation strategy, where people and elephants have to share resources. Introduction Wildlife–human conflict is a major threat to the survival of many species. Suchconflict is of conservation and socio-economic significance, where potentiallydangerous species that in addition to depredating resources, threaten humanmorbidity and mortality. Human–elephant conflict is a case in point. Elephantsare mega-herbivores and commonly raid crops, causing economic losses, anddeath and injury to people (Sukumar 1989; Hoare 1995; O’Connell-Rodwell et al. 2000). While ivory poaching is a major threat to some elephant popu-lations in Africa, it is of lesser importance in Asia, as only male Asian elephantscarry tusks. Further, the frequency of tusked males varies among populations, Biodiversity and Conservation (2005) 14:2465–2481DOI 10.1007/s10531-004-0216-z  with Sri Lanka having the lowest incidence, of 7% (Jayewardene 1994).In contrast, with over two thirds of Asian elephant habitat in non-conservationareas (Sukumar 1989), human–elephant conflict represents a widespread,complex, and intractable challenge to conservation and is the major threat toelephants across their range. Unprecedented human population growth in Asiahas caused increasing conversion of natural habitat to human dominatedlandscapes, bringing elephants and humans into greater contact and conflict.Confronted with the escalating human–elephant conflict, the historical respectand reverence for elephants in Asian cultures and societies, is rapidly eroding.People who have to contend with elephant depredation on a daily basisincreasingly perceive them as agricultural pests, an unwelcome burden, and athreat to their survival and well being.As a flagship-species, umbrella-species, and socially and culturally importantspecies, elephant conservation is of national importance in Sri Lanka. As oneof only three island populations (Santiapillai and Jackson 1990), a populationat the extreme of the species range, and a population with high genetic diversityand distinctiveness (Fernando et al. 2000; Fleischer et al. 2001), Sri Lankan elephants are a high priority for Asian elephant conservation. As the largestterrestrial vertebrate in Asia, and a CITES appendix I listed species, conservingthe Asian elephant is a globally important conservation objective. Given theunique situation of very high human and elephant densities, insights gainedin managing elephants in Sri Lanka can provide guidelines for the futureconservation of elephants across their range. Elephants in Sri Lanka Throughout history, the people of Sri Lanka have had a benevolent attitudetowards elephants, steeped in religious and socio-cultural traditions. In contrastto areas such as Indochina, where human–elephant association has been moretenuous, the close bonds in Sri Lanka have allowed co-existence of over19,000,000 people and two to four thousand elephants (Santiapillai and Jackson1990; Jayewardene 1994), in this island of 65,000 km 2 . However, a humanpopulation growth rate of 1.2% (Department of Census and Statistics 1986),addsover750personsperdaytothecurrentpopulation,necessitatingincreasingconversion of elephant habitat to human-dominated landscapes. Most of thisconversion has occurred with little foresight or consideration of human-wildlifeissues. Thus, conflict between humans and elephants has escalated, threateningthe traditional values of tolerance and benevolence towards elephants. Historical Perspective For centuries elephants have occupied the dry-zone of Sri Lanka, which wasextensively forested till a few decades ago (Ishwaran 1993; Jayewardene1993). During this period, the dry zone was mainly a ‘natural’ landscape with2466  high elephant- and low human-densities. The few people living in the regionpracticed slash-and-burn agriculture (hereafter referred to by the local ter-minology ‘chena’) and small-scale paddy farming, using water from minorrain-fed reservoirs (Fernando 2000). The accelerated Mahaweli hydro-projectinitiated in 1978, changed the dry-zone landscape significantly. The projectdammed and diverted the longest river in Sri Lanka, the Mahaweli, to irri-gate the dry zone, transforming extensive areas into human dominatedlandscapes (Hewavisenthi 1992). Under this project, large areas of forestswere cleared and brought under irrigated agriculture, cultivated by settlerswho migrated from other parts of the country under a trans-migration andsettlement program. Thus, a significant portion of former elephant habitatwas converted to agricultural lands in a period less than a decade. In orderto prevent conflict and to ‘save’ the elephants that ranged in areas developedfor agriculture, they were translocated into protected areas (PA) by elephantdrives and immobilization and transport. However, translocation has failedto eliminate elephants from developed areas, and the continued presence of elephants has led to high levels of conflict with humans. Consequently, thehuman–elephant conflict has an overbearing influence on people’s lives inmany Mahaweli areas.In contrast, in south–east Sri Lanka, a system of well established PA exist,dominated by one of Sri Lanka’s, and Asia’s, oldest PA, the Yala NationalPark. People have lived and farmed the area around the Yala National Parkfor generations. While human densities have steadily increased over the pastfew decades in this area, conflict between humans and elephants appeared to beless intensive than in the Mahaweli areas. Project Goals In this study, we compare and contrast elephant behavior, landuse patterns,and peoples’ perception and attitudes to the human–elephant conflict, in twoareas; Kahalle-Pallekele (hereafter Kahalle) in the Mahaweli project area innorth–central Sri Lanka and Yala, in south-east Sri Lanka. The insights fromthis comparison provide valuable lessons for developing landscape-scale ele-phant conservation and management strategies to mitigate human–elephantconflict. Methods Study Areas The study areas were selected centred on two research and conservationprojects conducted in the two areas: a community based resource manage-ment project in Kahalle and an elephant ranging pattern and ecology study2467  in Yala. Both areas were situated in the dry-zone of Sri Lanka (Figure 1).The two areas were topographically and climatically similar with largelylevel terrain interspersed with scattered granite masses rising up to 100 m,and subject to distinct wet and dry seasons. The primary rainfall occurredduring the Northeast monsoon from October to January and a lesseramount in March and April from inter-monsoonal rains. The droughtbecame severe from May to September when the South–west monsoon,after releasing its moisture in the wet zone, swept across the dry zone as adesiccating wind.Sociologically, the two areas were different. The people in Kahalle wererecent settlers and were of diverse srcins, hailing from many parts of thecountry, while the people in Yala had lived there for many generations. Figure 1.  Map of Sri Lanka showing study areas, elephant distribution, Mahaweli developmentareas and the Yala Protected Area. 2468  Landuse Landuse patterns were assessed by ground-truthing and updating 1:50,000scale topography (Survey Department, Sri Lanka, 1984) and 1:100,000 scalelanduse maps (Survey Dept., Sri Lanka, 1987). A hand held GPS instrumentwas used to locate positions during ground-truthing. The extent of differenthabitat types was estimated by overlaying a dot matrix, enumerating thenumber of dots that fell within each habitat and conversion to hectares. Fieldvisits were made to all major blocks of habitat types demarcated in topo-graphic and landuse maps in the two study areas, and visually checked fordiscrepancies. Questionnaire Survey A questionnaire survey was administered to 10% of households in Kahalle( n  = 162) and Yala ( n  = 122) by sampling every 10th house on householderlists obtained from local administrative offices. The survey was designed toobtain information on attitudes of villagers to elephant presence and cropdepredation, and to the onus of responsibility for mitigating the conflict.Demographic and economic data of respondents was obtained concurrently. Agricultural and Crop Depredation Patterns Information on agricultural practices and crop depredation patterns was col-lected through village interviews. Recently damaged fields were visited andinspected to establish crop-depredation patterns. Elephant dung samples wereopportunistically collected and examined macroscopically to identify recog-nizable crop material as an estimator of the prevalence of crop depredation. Elephant Behavior and Ranging Ranging patterns and behavioral information were collected from seven (4females, 3 males) radio-collared elephants in the south-eastern region, andeight (five females, three males) in the north–central region. Collared elephantswere located by homing-in (White and Garrot 1990) using a TELONICS Hantenna or triangulation with a five-element Yagi antenna. For triangulation,nulls on either side of the transmitter beacon were estimated, the bearingsrecorded by sighting with a hand held compass, and the azimuth calculated.Locations were geo referenced using lat.–long. coordinates with a SONY(IPS-76K), GPS unit. A minimum of 4 locations were obtained per animal permonth. Home ranges were estimated using the Minimum Convex Polygon(MCP) method, excluding 5% of the outermost points (White and Garrot2469
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