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Villagers keep a watchful eye over jumbos


Preventing conflict: An elephant in Yala National Park in Sri Lanka. To reduce man-animal conflict, villagers protect paddy fields with fencing during planting season. - AFP

Preventing conflict: An elephant in Yala National Park in Sri Lanka. To reduce man-animal conflict, villagers protect paddy fields with fencing during planting season. - AFP

Different methods are being explored to keep humans and elephants apart.

Human-elephant conflict remains an enormous issue in In Sri Lanka, a country with about 6,000 wild elephants.

Dr Prithiviraj Fernando says this is due to elephants being restricted to protected areas and the use of confrontational methods of crop protection such as translocation of animals and use of fire crackers to scare them away.

“In the last decade or so, we found that using electric fencing to drive elephants into protected areas or forest doesn’t work. The fences are damaged, the male adults break through, and the females and young starve to death,” says Fernando, chairman of the Centre for Conservation and Research Sri Lanka.

“So now, we have changed the approach. Instead of confining elephants to protected areas, we prevent them from going into villages and crop fields. The villages have permanent fences while seasonal crop fields like paddy are barricaded with seasonal fences. These are constructed and maintained by the communities and have been successful. We are working with the government to upscale this, and they have provided some funding for our community fencing model.”

Fernando presented a paper on the topic at the 3rd Regional Meeting of the Society for Conservation Biology Asia held in Malacca recently. He regards electric fencing as the best available method that does not harm elephants or make them more aggressive towards humans. He says, however, that its effectiveness depends on factors like location, design and proper maintenance.

In China, insurance schemes are used for human-elephant conflict mitigation but an updated version is being looked at.

“The current compensation scheme hasn’t considered risks and the market value of crops, and doesn’t involve farmers. We’ve come up with a new model based on actuarial analysis that does. It hasn’t been implemented but the aim is to make the budget more cost-effective while involving more stakeholders,” explains Becky Shu Chen, project co-ordinator for the Zoological Society of London based in Kunming.

“This can motivate farmers to protect their crops (as premium increases with risk). Insurance can be used in wildlife corridors where electric fences cannot be built. Electric fencing, though widely used in South-East Asia and Africa, can be costly to maintain. Of course, there are challenges with insurance schemes, primarily the long-term risk monitoring and high administration costs of the company.

“Perhaps, we can look into a community-based insurance scheme whereby a well-trained village committee initiates the monitoring, verify damages and pay the cost, while supported and monitored by an insurance company. It’s a collaboration that can ensure the scheme’s accountability,” says Shu, who researched on Asian elephants for her Masters studies at the National University of Singapore.

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