In Sri Lanka, elephant and human deaths have been rising as the competition for natural resources intensifies. With drier conditions and increased water shortages associated with climate change, steps need to be taken now to ensure food for elephants and humans. Small-scale farmers, environmentalists and other concerned people are campaigning for a better future.
Elephants travel far to get the food and water they need. They are coming closer to human settlements as their food supply diminishes. Farming and business interests are also encroaching on their habitat. In last year’s Christmas Appeal, we shared Somawathie’s story. She produces food on a tiny piece of land, using clever strategies to protect her livelihood and the elephants. However, the challenges are mounting faster than she can find solutions.
Last year’s Christmas Appeal, focused on the urgent need for food and a decent livelihood. Many of our partners teach ago-ecological skills to help families grow the food they cannot afford. Making compost and sprays, growing new varieties, and managing limited water supplies are key strategies to increase production. However, it is only in Sri Lanka that these farmers have to contend with wild elephants.
The elephants created some interest in this appeal and the challenges small farmers faced. People who had a soft spot for elephants told CWS they had not thought about what life might be like for people like Somawathie who lived alongside these large animals.
The death tolls has been rising. According to the most recent report, 449 elephants were killed in 2023 up from 433 the year before. More than 169 people lost their lives last year an increase of 24 on the previous year – mostly from rural communities.
Late last year Sajeewa Chamikara from our partner the Movement for Land and Agricultural Reform (MONLAR) published a new book on the situation. He said changes in government policy since 2021 had allowed more forests to be cleared, increasing human elephant conflict.
Electric fences that can kill the elephants have been erected throughout the dry zone, fragmenting forests and making it difficult for them to find the food and water they need. Invasive species are encroaching on the reserves which are also affected by 54 neighbouring rubbish dumps. Land has been cleared for crops like palm oil and tea, or human settlement. The tourism industry is forcing elephants to live closer together and some, especially males, do not like the attention and escape or sometimes charge.
Elephant drives and electric fences are the main strategies for dealing with the elephants but there is some evidence that forcing elephants out of an area increases aggression. Some people resort to harmful “jaw bombs” (explosive-laden bait) or guns which can kill or seriously injure the animals.
As a member of MONLAR, Somawathie is part of its campaign for elephant protection and improved livelihoods for small-scale farmers. Donations to the Christmas Appeal will support all of our partners working to improve livelihoods and opportunities in their communities.
Share your concern for people who need water, food and justice by supporting the Christmas Appeal. Donate online or phone 0800 74 73 72.
January 23, 2024