continuation of part one of this article
for all these elephants , about 2000 in total, what is the size of the range they can call their habitat. In literature regarding Srilankan wild elephants it has been estimated that the total range is approximately 15000 km2.
Now let us see the land area under national parks in Srilanka. The total area of 26 national parks in the island is 5734 km2and some of them do not come under wild elephant habitats. The other variety; sanctuaries, cover a total land area of 2780 km2. Difference between the two types is that sanctuaries consist of both private lands and state lands. In privately owned lands in sanctuaries some of the restrictions that national parks have are not imposed.
The total area of the two types is less than 9000 km2. But according to most updated sources available (Source: R Sukumar – A Brief Review of the Status, Distribution and Biology of Wild Asian Elephants Elephas maximus- International Zoo Yearbook 2006) the elephant range in Srilanka is about 15000 km2.. Consequently even if we are to assume that the total area of national parks and sanctuaries in the island comprise of the wild elephant habitat ,there is a gap of 6000 km2 forest land between the declared range and what is available on the ground.
This accordingly should be the land area in that the human elephant conflict is fundamentally taking place, more or less. There is an area in the wild elephant habitat where human activities too are taking place including the so called corridors connecting fragmented parks and sanctuaries. This situation of many small scale parks have come into existence not by design but by haphazard requirements and constrains of many a situations ,like development projects ,availability of large state lands and of course unsuitability of the land at that time for productive human activities. For example Yala was made a protected reserve because of the urging of the game protection society to create a hunting site reserved only for the resident sportsmen by English during a colonial period. And it became part of the now national park.
In this background we can see the best solution can be found by taking away the most explosive of the factors that fuel the conflict; the land that is being used by both groups. This is the space in which the two contestants meet and disrupt each other’s activities.
This can be achieved by creating a one large national park for the whole herd of wild elephants in Srilanka; No corridors ,no fragmentation, just plain forest cover.This could be about 6000 km2 in size and located at the most suitable area for the country and the elephants as well. It can be designed most scientifically because of the availability of advanced technology and animal behavior data today. Some human settlement may have to be shifted in order to release space for the giant national park ,but they can be relocated in many small national parks , that would be reassigned in exchange of the additional land allocated to make the new national park. These settlements can be positioned in lands that are better suited for human activities.
The new habitat completely enclosed can even have system of mono rails like in San Diego wild animal park that will be a huge tourist attraction to the country.because of the massive size of the park so created wild elephants can live peacefully with dignity within the habitat without waiting at the fences like beggars or eat garbage from dump yards in rural areas.
The farmer community living alongside corridors and in the vicinity of the elephant range can also settle down to normal lives and even think of growing coconuts in their home gardens.
Although this project looks like a massive and costly resettlement at first glance , the funding needed , I feel, can be easily raised because we are one of the few countries with wild elephants and there are many wealthy people and organizations ,world over, who will come forward with generous contributions if we can explain benefits it will bring about both to wild elephants and also to poor farmers whilst avoiding the certain extinction of wild elephants from Srilanka if we don’t take immediate action.