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A trunk tale - Sri Lanka Asia’s home for highest density of wild elephants

Sep 2, 2011 3:31:54 PM - www.ft.lk

Sri Lanka Asia’s home for highest density of wild elephants

First ever countrywide census shows 5879 elephants but conservation challenge continues

By Uditha Jayasinghe
Tourism industry is expected to get a boost from the tally of 5879 wild elephants released yesterday by the first ever countrywide census.
The statistics show that of the 5879 elephants 1107 are baby elephants and 122 are tuskers. The census was carried out from 11-14 August and used 1553 observation points and over 3500 observers. The last elephant census was carried out in 1993 but it did not include the northern and eastern provinces of Sri Lanka. In the latest census the record of elephants in the northern region was calculated as 233.

The methodology that was used is called the “waterhole count method.” This required the observers that were composed of the army, police, students and farmers to count the number of elephants that come to each of the watering holes for two days. At the end the statistics that were taken were an average of the highest and lowest counts taken during these 48 hours.

The entire country was divided into seven regions with elephant numbers for each division released to the media as part of a preliminary report.
However a more detailed report is to be handed over to President Mahinda Rajapaksa in about one and a half month’s time. The largest number of elephants were recorded in the Mahaweli region (1751) followed by the Eastern region including Ampara (1573). The lowest count came from the Central region where only 47 elephants were recorded.  
Wildlife Conservation Department Director General H.D. Ratnayake admitted that the results were not 100% correct but insisted that the measure was fruitful. “Now we know the lowest number of elephants in the country,” he insisted adding it was possible for around another 1000 animals to be hidden inside the jungles that were missed by the census.
 “The primary objective of this census is to find out where the elephants are and develop ways to minimise human-elephant conflict. Even though we are happy with the state of the elephant population and its health around 200 elephants die each year. So we must take greater steps at conserving this asset. Sri Lankan elephants are a sub-species of the Asian elephant and can only be found here,” he said.       
 “This was a very difficult endeavour and I am very pleased to see it concluded. There were many instances when the observers had to face hardship. Perhaps the hardest part was when two of them were mistaken for “grease yakas” while they were out counting elephants in Ampara. Many of them had to go without proper food and shelter in extremely rural areas,” said Agrarian Services and Wildlife Minister S.M. Chandrasena while addressing the media.
The Minister also pledged to develop grasslands and grow plants that were conducive to creating a better environment for elephants. He called on all parties interested in conservation to work with him and responding to questions promised to be more available for discussions.

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