By Gazala Anver
The results of Sri Lanka’s first islandwide elephant population census, conducted by the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC), will be released in two weeks time, said Director DWC, H. D. Ratnayake.
According to Ratnayake, despite protests by several environmentalists against the population count, the census was a success. “We covered all observation points and have now to analyse the results,” he said. He also added that during the first day at two observation points in Ampara, out of a total of 1,534 observation points, officers were beaten up by villagers who suspected that they were Grease Yaka’s, or Grease Devils. After intervention however the officers were released and the census continued unhindered.
Around 100 NGO volunteers had however, at the last minute, backed off saying that the DWC intended to use the census to capture elephants from the wild and give them to temples. Ratnayake however denied such an allegation and explained that the data from the census was to be used for conservation purposes only.
“Our intentions are purely for the department exercises. There is no current data on elephants. The last census was in 1993 and that excluded the North and the East,” he said. “After we have compiled the data, we will use it for future management plans and conservation and to also mediate in the human-elephant conflict,” he added.
Ratnayake said that an estimated 23 million was spent to collect the data for this survey, and around 3,600 officers and supporting staff were involved. In the North and the East, the DWC obtained help from Army personnel and in other areas received support from university students and academic staff, as well as elephant experts, the government and elephant lovers in general. “They were given good training and underwent a trial too. It is not very complicated, but it is difficult because the observers would have to stay in the jungles and in trees. The technique itself is simple,” he said, adding that the difficult bit will be the analysis as they have to ensure there would be no double counting.