Elephants have been the talk of the town recently, and not in a good way. Several reports of elephant harassment have emerged over the last month, and just recently, a video began circulating social media where a number of jeeps were blocking the path of the elephant and in order to resolve this issue, the safari jeep operator threw a firecracker at the elephant.
Commenting on the long-term impacts this would leave on the elephant when speaking to Brunch, Biodiversity and Elephant Conservation Trust Managing Trustee Jayantha Jayawardena shared that for one thing, the elephant would be more frightened of humans and any relationship built between the humans that visit the park and the elephants residing there is now over. He further commented: “I don’t know why anyone is allowed to have firecrackers at Yala, let alone light them.”
When talking about what action has been taken, he stated that the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) will look into it, but it will eventually fizzle off as there are outside influences that come to bear. “Politicians, their friends, and other influential people do not allow the DWC to carry out their duties properly,” he added.
We asked him what he thought could have been done in that situation. “First, the park must limit the number of vehicles and visitors in the vehicles; there are a whole stream of vehicles going at any given time which is not good at all for the animals, and people also would not be able to see the animals properly,” he stated. He also added that if this was controlled by implementing trackers or beepers, then the process would be more streamlined and controlled. On the topic, he also stated that he strongly believes that all elephant conservationists should get together and make a big fuss to ensure that national parks are managed properly.
Conservationist and freelance journalist Supun Lahiru Prakash shared that tourism accumulated by national parks is very low in Sri Lanka due to the state of the parks. “The park management is bad; there are no policies implemented and many other problems.” Speaking on this particular incident, he explained that if it was known that the elephant had tendencies to attack, then they should figure out which areas this happens and avoid them, or take the risk and go if there are tourists who wish to do so; but using firecrackers is absolutely horrifying.
He also stressed that we must question why the officers were carrying firecrackers in the first place. “Were they informed to do so? Is this how they keep the animals in line? Many questions arise as to the wellbeing of these animals when incidents like this come to light.”
Yala is one of the most visited national parks in the country, and Prakash stated that it seems likely that this park in particular is simply a cash cow as there seems to be no policies or the welfare of the animals being looked into. “If the park brings 70% of wildlife tourism, then the park should be better maintained. We say it’s a cash cow because they don’t invest in the park, and rather use it to generate money.”
In conversation with DWC Publicity Officer Hasini Saraschandra, we were told that the Director General had ordered an investigation into the issue, and that an official of the Uva wildlife region will look into the matter.
Attempts to contact the Warden at Yala National Park proved futile, but a representative informed us that they are to put out a statement regarding the matter soon.
Brunch also reached out to Minister of Wildlife and Forest Conservation C.B. Rathnayake, who informed us that he has ordered the Director General of Yala National Park to look into the matter immediately and report back to him. He also assured us that the matter will be promptly dealt with and necessary action will be taken.
It seems there may yet be hope for the elephants residing peacefully in national parks.