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Mon, 30 March 2015 23:08:50
Sri Lanka finds nearly 6,000 elephants in count
02 Sep, 2011 18:59:35
By Charitha Fernando
Sep 02, 2011 (LBO) - Sri Lanka's authorities say nearly 6,000 elephants had been found in an island wide census, which was slammed by conservationists as a cover for rulers to identify tusked elephants for capture and domestication.
The count in August has found 5,879 elephants in the Indian Ocean Island of 140 kilometers by 270 kilometers with dwindling forest cover.

H D Ratnayaka, The Director general of Sri Lanka's wildlife department said there could be more elephants.

"There could be around 1000 more," Ratnayaka said "It cannot be a reduction. If at all it has to be an increase in the population."

The census ran into controversy as conservationists pulled out saying Sri Lanka's rulers were using the survey to identify tuskers for capture and show that there were more elephants than an earlier estimate of around 4,000.

"Out of the total wild elephant population 1107 are calves and juveniles," minister of agrarian services and wildlife S M Chandrasena said.

"This is a positive indicator about the growth of the island’s wild elephant population."

Some wildlife experts have expected around 6,000 or more elephants to be found as around 200 to 300 elephants are killed each year by farmers or in accidents amid a growing 'human animal' conflict.

A mortality of more than 2,000 animals a decade pointed to a higher population number, experts have said.

"We are fortunate that a large elephant population is living in Sri Lanka compared to other Asian countries," Chandrasena said.

"The Mahaweli (river valley) region recorded 1751 elephants, the highest in the island.

"The north of the island which could not be accessed earlier because of the war has recorded 233 elephants."

Conservationists pulled out of the census after Chandrasena was quoted as saying last month that 300 elephants would be captured from the wild. Sri Lanka has a tradition for elephants to be used in temples and as status symbols by the traditional aristocracy.

A new trend is for elephants to be kept by some newly rich elected rulers and monks.

Minister Chandrasena told reporters Friday that "few elephants" would be given to the Temple of the Tooth in Kandy and the Devi Nuwara temple in the south to be used for traditional pageants.

"One or two elephants have to be given to the Dalada Maligawa (Temple of the Tooth)," he said.

"They will not be used for logging and we will not allow them to be used for commercial activities”

"We hope to give an elephant or two to places of our cultural heritage."

Researchers say tuskers are rare in Sri Lanka as a percentage of the total population. The survey data has found 122 tuskers.

The Wildlife Department said information on elephant range and numbers are vital for the effective conservation and management of elephants in Sri Lanka and to minimize human elephant conflict.

Conservationists and researches argue that the survey data will be useless in managing the elephant population due to flaws in the method adopted to count them.

Ratnayaka said there are concerns whether the island’s forest cover has sufficient capacity to accommodate and sustain elephants.

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