Sri Lanka’s coronavirus lockdown has helped reduce the death toll from clashes between elephants and humans, conservationists have said on World Elephant Day on Wednesday.
A record 405 elephants were killed by humans in the country last year, up from about 360 in 2018. A total of 121 people were killed by elephants, up from 96 the year before, according to government data.
Jayantha Jayewardene, a leading international expert on elephants, said: “We can say that the human-elephant conflict eased during curfews. But this is a temporary situation. Farmers will start defending their crops and the killings will resume.”
Most of the killed elephants are shot dead or poisoned by farmers trying to keep them off their land. The animals are protected, but prosecutions are rare.
Most humans are killed by elephants who have seen their habitat drastically reduced, rampaging in villages looking for food.
Sumith Pilapitiya, a conservationist and former director-general of the government’s wildlife department, said an average of 240 elephants were killed annually between 2010 and 2017 and the rate had accelerated since. He told AFP: “The Asian elephant is classified as ‘endangered’, so we cannot afford to lose elephants at that rate.”
Sri Lanka’s elephant population has declined to about 7,000 according to the latest census, down from 12,000 in the early 1900s.
Pilapitiya said a new panel of experts on measures to reduce human-elephant conflicts in the country would have its first meeting on World Elephant Day.