While there have been several regional studies about the number of wild elephants residing in Sri Lanka, there has never been an island-wide elephant census covering the whole island. Thus, it was decided to carry out such a census in August 2011. I began this survey shortly as I was appointed Director General of the Wildlife Department in 2011. As a result, everyone participated in the initial proposal to undertake an elephant census that covered every corner of Sri Lanka. One of my most cherished recollections is of the elephant census.
Elephants have lived in Sri Lanka since ancient times. Elephas maximus maximus, one of the three Asian elephant subspecies, is only found in Sri Lanka. The number of elephants live in Sri Lanka is always a guess. It is said that there were 15,000 – 10,000 elephants at each time, but this is not correct. Until now, the elephant census had been done only on a regional basis. In the past, elephants were spread all over Sri Lanka, but after the British rule, this distribution changed with the plantation economy. The elephants in the hilly region were killed by the British rulers, so that region became an area without elephants. There are currently eighteen elephants at the Adams peak site and two elephants around Sinharaja. All the remaining elephants are in the dry zone and the intermediate zone.
In solving the long-standing elephant-human conflict in Sri Lanka, facts such as how many elephants are there in Sri Lanka? how are they spread? what is the female to male ratio? what is their population percentage? what the population density of elephants? and whether there is a healthy elephant population? needed to be find out. Due to the war situation in the North and East, it was difficult to collect data about the number of elephants in those areas. Although the war ended in 2009, it was risky to go into the jungle due to problems such as landmines in those areas. By 2011, most of the mines had been cleared. Therefore, those areas were also able to be surveyed.
In planning the elephant census, our primary focus was on conducting the survey to cover the entire forested areas of Sri Lanka. Due to the facts that this is different from a normal population census and the number of officers working in the Department of Wildlife Conservation was limited, officers and civilians from other agencies had to be engaged from outside. It was challenging as they needed to spend at least two full days in the jungle. Also, one should have understanding and knowledge about the identification of elephants.
During the planning days of this survey, the total staff of the Wildlife Department was nearly one thousand. Only a part of them could be used for this task. Therefore, it was necessary to find a large group of officials from outside.
We invited groups such as voluntary organizations, rural organizations, armed forces, police and university students to join this. A large number of them expressed their willingness to provide support. In particular, voluntary organizations expressed their willingness to provide material support as well as labor contribution. Universities also showed great support. Experts such as Dr. S. Vijaya Mohan, Prof. U.K.G.K. Padmalal, Prof. Charles Santhia Pillay, who have constantly researched elephants, volunteered for this purpose.
The initiative of the elephant survey was entrusted to Mr. N.R.B Dissanayake, who was a Deputy Director at that time. Mr. Chandana Suriya Bandara, Mr. Ranjan Marasinghe, Mr. Manjula Amararatne, Mr. W.N.K Pathiratne, Veterinary Surgeon Mr. Taraka Prasad, Mr. U.L Tawfik, Ms. Chandani Wilson and Mr. P.M.U. from Dharmathilaka who were Deputy Directors at that time were entrusted with the responsibility at the provincial level. Also, providing necessary training to the armed forces and police officers, Civil Defense Officers, university and voluntary organization participants and Department officials was a tedious task. But we were able to do all those activities successfully.
As we expected, there was a long dry season in 2011. I was hoping to use a day with good moonlight for this purpose. This work was done according to the scientific method called Water hole counts method. The elephant will visit the drinking place at some point of the day within a day. Then they can easily be included in the calculation. We selected 1553 such drinking spots. A set of field tools needed to stay in the jungle for three days was given to the officials and dry food, necessary communication facilities, flashlights etc. were also provided as needed.
We also gave extensive media publicity in this regard. But when the census was 2-3 days away, many of the voluntary organizations which were supporting the census announced that they would not participate, by expressing different opinions regarding the way the census was conducted.
If the census is stopped at this point, it will go back for years and the money spent will be wasted. In consultation with the senior officers of the department, we took immediate decisions and brought in more forces, police and university students. More interested persons were contacted and all of them were again given rapid training. All the forests, farmlands, semi-populated areas, etc., which belong to and do not belong to the Departments Wildlife and Forest Conservation were surveyed to cover all the areas. As planned, scheduled elephant census was conducted on 11th, 12th and 13th August 2011 from 1553 monitoring stations. Those who took part in the wild elephant census faced various kinds of difficulties not only from wild elephants as well as other animals. But task was completed without physical injury to anyone.
All information was analyzed at the National Wildlife and Training Center in Giritale. Ranjan Marasinghe, the then Deputy Director of the Department, and Dr. Vijayakone provided a lot of support for these analyses. The largest number of elephants recorded within a day was taken into consideration here. Here the repetitions are removed and the minimum number of elephant population is obtained. Finally, a complete data sheet was prepared. It was scientifically concluded that the minimum number of elephants in Sri Lanka was 5871, which means there are almost 6000. Of these, it was found that about 67.17% of the elephants were inside the wildlife reserves, about 29.78% were inside the reserves and about 3.03% were outside the reserves. Among these elephants, the ratio of male elephants to female elephants is 1:1.09, 3285 adult elephants, 1487 young elephants, 731 calves and 376 babies were found. Also, other data was taken regarding the number of tuskers. Accordingly, it was found that 5.3% of the males were young males, 7.7% of them and 8.4% of the cubs were tuskers.
According to these surveys, about 200 wild elephants were found live outside the reserves and closer to villages. These elephants frequently visit villages and damage property and crops. Even if they are moved to other places, they return to their original places. Also, the people in the places where the elephants were taken away were subjected to troubles. Therefore, the people of the regions do not like this. Therefore, it was proposed to establish four elephant conservation centers in Horovpothana closer to Anuradhapura, Maduruoya, Lunugamwehera and Wilpattu.
As a first step, it was planned to build the first elephant conservation centers for 40 elephants in an area of 1000 hectares at Horopathana National Park in Anuradhapura district. The Minister in charge at that time, the Secretary and the Department officials provided a lot of support in this regard and the elephant conservation center was able to be completed in 2015.
Mr. H. Dayawan Ratnayake, who joined the Department of Wildlife Conservation as Deputy Director (Research and Training) on January 10, 1996, was promoted to the post of Director Operations (Sri Lanka Scientific Service) and appointed as the Director General of Wildlife in 2011. He has been assigned with the Ministry of Wildlife and Forest Resources Conservation since 2016 as an Additional Secretary. He has additionally held the position of Conservator General of Forests in the Department of Forest Conservation during this period.
During his tenure, Various activities were carried out such as to management and conservation of the network of wildlife reserves, working to reduce human-elephant conflicts, establishment of the Horowpothana Elephant Rehabilitation Camp, introduction of management methods to prevent the spread of fire, revision of the Fauna and Flora Protection Ordinance (FFPO), introducing necessary rules and regulations for watching marine mammals such as whales and dolphins and thereby making the government get a lot of revenue locally and abroad, introducing conservation methods for marine mammals, elephants, turtles and birds etc. and working on protected area management and wildlife conservation projects under the assistance of the Asian Development Bank, making preliminary arrangements to get assistance for the ESCAMP project under the assistance of the World Bank, starting marine conservation activities and under the expanding the reserve network, during his tenure the four National Parks at Adam’s Bridge, Madupara, Chundikulam and Delft were established and Nagarkovil Nature Reserves was established on 22.06.2015. He also took the lead in carrying out the renovation activities of the Yala, Wilpattuwala, and Marandamadu circuit bungalows in Wilpattuwa National Park, which collapsed due to terrorist attacks. The establishment of the office building in Hikkaduwa National Park, the repair work of many office buildings and circuit bungalows, and the purchase of many new vehicles for the institutions were some of the activities he has rendered. Under his leadership, a number of welfare measures were taken for the benefit of the officers.
Mr. Dayawan Ratnayake, who studied at Dharmaraja College, Kandy, is a graduate of Peradeniya University, specializing in Botany. He has also completed a PhD in Ecology from the same university and a PhD in Wildlife Conservation and Management from the University of Reading in the UK with excellent results. Wild Flowers of Sri Lanka and Common Wayside Trees of Sri Lanka are two books authored by him. He has published research papers and reports in various disciplines. In addition to his scientific knowledge, he is also a scholar of law. Mr. Ratnayake is a law graduate of the Open University of Sri Lanka, and he is a Supreme Court lawyer as well.
Mr.Dayawan Ratnayake is a father of two daughters. His wife, W.R.D.M.U.P. Ratnayake, is a lecturer; his eldest daughter, H. Anushi Udanga Ratnayake, graduated from Moratuwa University and is working as a Fashion Designer in the garment industry; and his second daughter, H. Dilushi Vishwani Ratnayake, is a medical student at the University of Ruhuna.
Mr.Dayawan Ratnayake’s contact number is 0714465444 and his email is firstname.lastname@example.org
As a solution to the human – elephant conflict in Sri Lanka, Horawpothana National Park was established in Horawpothana Divisional Secretariat area located on the eastern border of Anuradhapura District, with the primary objective of maintaining it as a rehabilitation center for identified endangered elephants. Furthermore, on 06.12.2011, under Gazette No. 1735/21, Horowpothana National Park was declared with an area of 2570 hectares, with the objectives of conserving wild animals and ecosystems, promoting environmental conservation, and upliftment of the social and economic conditions of the surrounding villagers.
Horowpothana National Park is one of the prominent places in Sri Lanka that nature lovers love to visit. This park, is another locationwhich emphasizes natural beauty of Sri Lanka, is a habitat for wildlife including elephants, bears, leopards, deer and many birds etc. The park is famous for its elephant population whereas grazing and interacting large number of elephants can be seen there.
Apart from large mammals, the park is home to many small animals including reptiles, amphibians and insects etc. The park also provides habitat for several species of migratory birds, including the peafowl (Pavo cristatus) and the gray heron (Ardea cinerea) etc. Thus the flora and fauna of the park help greatly in beautifying and maintaining the balance of its ecosystem. Being part of Sri Lanka’s network of protected areas, this is also of great conservation importance. The ecosystem of this park is very important to the biodiversity of the region.
The plant community belongs to the category of mixed dry evergreen forest. Ceylon Iron wood (Manilkara hexandra), Satin (Chloroxylon swietenia) and Hedge box wood (Drypetes sepiaria) are commonly found while Ebony (Diospyros ebenum), Wood apple (Feronia limonia), Milla (Vitex altissima), Syzgium Sps. and Indian Mahogani (Chukrasia tabularis) as well as Mila (Bauhinia racemosa), Fishing rod tree (Pterospermum suberitolium), (Cassia fistula) and Sickle bush (Dichrostachys cinerea) plants are also found in the area.
Due to the development projects started along with the population growth of the island, the wild population decreased and the migration patterns of elephants also started to change. Due to this, elephants broke into villages, behaved violently and damaged property and human lives. By around 2010, this led to a severe escalation of elephant-human conflict, resulting in the annual loss of approximately 100 to 130 human lives and 200 to 400 elephants and, a large amount of physical, property and crop damages.
The human-elephant conflict can be pointed out as the most serious challenge identified by the Department of Wildlife Conservation at that time. In order to reduce the loss of life, property and crops damages, the need to build an elephant rescue center to rehabilitate violent elephants was recognized.
Accordingly a wild elephant sanctuary was established in the Horawpothana National Park in the Anuradhapura region as the first phase to detain and rehabilitate the wild elephants that cause great trouble to the neighbourhood. The forest in Horawpothana Elephant Reserve is secondary mixed dry evergreen forest. In 2015, Horawpothana was established as the country’s first Elephant Holding Ground (EHG), keeping violent elephants from across the country.
Horawpothana Elephant Sanctuary (EHG) is the world’s first elephant sanctuary and it has the capacity to retain about 30 elephants, and if additional elephants are kept, food has to be provided for them from outside. Five tanks and pastures have been prepared to provide water and food to the elephants. Special security measures are used to prevent captive elephants from escaping. About 64 elephants have been sheltered since its inception.
The management of the park is committed to preserve the park’s natural resources and maintain a delicate balance with tourism. We should respect the rules and regulations of the park and try to preserve its natural beauty for future generations. Horawpothana National Park is a wonderful place for nature lovers. Its stunning scenery, diverse wildlife and commitment to its conservation will make unique and unforgettable memories for visitors. Horawpotana National Park, which is currently not open for tourists, is being prepared to open for tourists in the future.
Panthera pardus kotiya
|Axis axis ceylonensis
|Hedge Box wood
|Fishing rod tree
|Golden shower tree
Editor– Dammika Malsinghe, Additional Secretary,Ministry of Wildlife and Forest Resources Conservation (MWFRC)
Article on park written by– Hasini Sarathchandra, Chief Media Officer, Department of Wildlife Coservation (DWLC) Mahesha Chathurani Perera ,Development Officer, (DWLC)
Tamil Translations– A.R.F. Rifna, Development Officer, MWFRC
English Translations – Asoka Palihawadana, Translator, MWFRC
Web Designing–N.I.Gayathri, Development Officer,MWFRC -C.A.D.D.A. Kollure, Management Service Officer, MWFRC
Photography– Indika Vijenayaka, DWLC
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