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Cajoling wild jumbos
Publication Date : 05-12-2013
The last few months have seen several protests in different parts of Sri Lanka against the government’s failure to prevent wild elephant attacks on far-flung villages. Affected people demand electric fences and the immediate translocation of wandering jumbos to wildlife parks.
Effective as these measures may seem in the short run, they won’t help solve the problem once and for all.
So long as villages and cultivations sit on elephant migration paths and forest cover continues to shrink, depriving animals of food and water, the human-elephant conflict won’t go away.
A report containing GPS mapping of elephant corridors is reported to have been handed over to President Mahinda Rajapaksa. Hopefully, it may help make inroads into the problem, though a solution cannot be expected overnight. Successive governments and policymakers have let the grass grow under their feet and the conflict has got out of hand.
Meanwhile, Wildlife Resources and Conservation Management Minister Wijith Wijithamuni Zoysa has faulted farmers for not doing enough to scare wild elephants away. Time was when villagers used to drive away marauding jumbos with the help of simple methods like unavedialla (loud sound produced by a device fashioned out of a bamboo), he has said, blaming farmers for consuming hooch and hitting the sack, liverish, as dusk falls. The onus for protecting their own cultivations and homes cannot be shifted to the government, he has asserted.
This is what power does to many a politician when it goes to his head. What Zoysa wants the poor farmers to do is to tackle dangerous wild elephants on their own. What is a government there for? This is not what pompous politicos tell the public when they go begging for votes.
We are reminded of what former President J. R. Jayewardene, intoxicated with power, once told the people who were worrying about their safety vis-à-vis terrorism—thamunge arakshawa thamunma balaganna one (‘you have to look after your own security’). The incumbent government boasts of having delivered the people from the clutches of Tigers but strangely its politicians are trying to absolve themselves of the responsibility for solving the elephant problem.
Alcoholism has become a curse for the rural folk and it has taken its toll on farmers’ health and productivity. They are also overly dependent on politicians to solve their problems.
They need to be weaned from alcohol and dependency, all right. But, the fact remains that not even sober, intrepid farmers are equal to the task of defending their villages against wild elephant attacks. This is why the government has to step in to solve the human-elephant conflict which left 236 wild jumbos and 62 people dead last year. About 184 elephants and 58 humans have perished so far this year.
Zoysa seems to have taken the wild jumbo menace lightly. He tells us that he has recently been able to cajole a wild elephant out of destroying a vegetable plot near a Wildlife bungalow at Buttala. (Elephants are intelligent animals.
Aware of the violent disposition of government politicians who are perennially in musth, the jumbo concerned may have run away not wanting to take a chance!)
If the minister really thinks elephants could be ‘sweet-talked’ into steering clear of villages, he ought to teach farmers how to do it. Let him be urged to visit a village prone to wild elephant attacks, of course, without his security contingent or Wildlife officials, and spend a few nights there so that he could impart his jumbo-chasing skills to farmers.
The problem with most tough-talking politicians is that their bowels move faster than their legs at the first sign of danger!