National Action Plan for HECM | Sunday Observer

National Action Plan for HECM

26 March, 2023
Former Wildlife Conservation Director and Chairman of the Residential Committee Dr. Sumith Pilapitiya
Former Wildlife Conservation Director and Chairman of the Residential Committee Dr. Sumith Pilapitiya

A Presidential Committee was appointed on July 22, 2020 to prepare a National Action Plan for Human Elephant Conflict Mitigation (HECM) in Sri Lanka. The committee conducted a review of all human-elephant conflict mitigation methods in Sri Lanka and overseas.

Activities to be adopted for the NAP were selected based on their proven effectiveness, ability to be implemented at an appropriate geographic and time scale, and cost effectiveness.

Stakeholder consultations were conducted with the public and relevant agencies and views incorporated in the NAP as appropriate. It was presented to the President in December 2020. Regrettably, no directive was given for the implementation of the NAP until October 2022.

On the directive of President Ranil Wickremesinghe, a Presidential Committee to Facilitate and Oversee the Implementation of the NAP for Human Elephant Conflict Mitigation was appointed in October 2022.

Dr. Sumith Pilapitiya summarising the 2020 action plan said: The “Human-elephant conflict is very widespread in Sri Lanka. It is currently reported from over half the country and almost the entire dry zone. It has been continuously increasing and has shown a dramatic escalation in the past few years.

A previous report on the elephant management and human-elephant conflict that was formulated in 1959 suggested limiting elephants to designated areas in the Department of Wildlife Conservation (DWC) protected areas.

Dedicated efforts

In spite of dedicated efforts by the Department of Wildlife Conservation, after 60 years of pursuing this goal, today 70 percent of the elephant range is in areas with resident people.

Its failure is mainly due to biological factors, including protected area carrying capacity, ecological requirements and behaviour of elephants and their response to management actions.

Intensifying efforts at limiting elephants to protected areas is unlikely to succeed and will cause conflict escalation. It will also decimate elephant herds, and negatively impact nature-tourism.

Therefore, this Action Plan recommends a change in the approach to human-elephant conflict mitigation, based on wider stakeholder participation and prioritising protection of settlements and cultivations from elephant depredation.

The NAP proposes activities providing results in the short, medium and long term. In Dr. Prithiviraj’s 2020 NAP, a number of activities were proposed for providing immediate relief to the affected public from elephant activity.

They included constructing community-based electric fences such as village and paddy field fences to prevent elephants entering and causing damage to settlements and crops.

Where community involvement is not possible, the Government is to construct and maintain the fences, which are to be on the ecological boundaries rather than DWC administrative boundaries. The existing electric fences with elephants on both sides are to be relocated to the boundary of areas used by elephants. It is recommended that activities that may increase conflict, such as elephant drives be minimised or discontinued after evaluation.

Insurance initiatives

Continuation and further strengthening of compensation for deaths, injuries and property damage is also recommended. Insurance initiatives and plans for clearing of road verges or installing street lighting at critical locations for preventing accidental deaths by elephants are to be developed and implemented.

Although the use of elephant firecrackers escalates conflict, distribution is to be continued till other recommended initiatives reduce conflict. Activities such as translocation to holding grounds, for which no data is available, are to be monitored and evaluated to decide on applicability to conflict mitigation. Illegal activities that increase conflict such as encroachment of State land and livestock grazing in protected areas are to be prevented.

Activities providing results in the medium term will ensure better development planning to prevent creating and escalating human-elephant conflict and provide data for better management.

Actions proposed include elephant- distribution surveys, elephant census, GPS-radio collaring of elephants, conducting habitat management trials, developing new methods for human- elephant conflict and improving existing methods such as trenches and hanging fences. The need for incorporating human-elephant conflict mitigation initiatives in developmental activity and regulating chena cultivation is also mentioned.

Dr. Pilapitiya said that considering there is no budgetary allocation in the national budget for implementation of the NAP for 2023, the Committee has decided to concentrate implementation of the NAP in the Kurunegala and Anuradhapura Districts since the two districts have a high human elephant conflict and low protected area coverage.

Funding agencies

Depending on the availability of funding from other projects funded by bi- lateral and multilateral funding agencies, the scope of implementation of the NAP may be expanded into other districts in 2023.

Community-based fences are for the direct benefit of communities. Fence construction is only the first step of a community-based fencing program. To be successful, community based fencing programs require community engagement and a long-term commitment by implementation agencies. Simply putting up a fence around a village and expecting the villagers to maintain it, will lead to its failure.

The most appropriate implementation agency for village fences is the Divisional Secretariat and for paddy-field fences, the Department of Agrarian Development. Dedicated units responsible for community-based fencing are proposed to be established under Divisional Secretariats and the Department of Agrarian Development.

Agencies implementing community-based fencing need to develop mechanisms for implementation and train officers in the various aspects of the implementation.

The Presidential Committee undertook a field visit to the Ehetuwewa Divisional Secretariat division to observe several community based village and seasonal paddy field fences erected by the Centre for Conservation and Research on December 9, 2022 and had meetings with community members to assess their experience with community based fencing.

Based on the positive feedback from the communities, the Presidential Committee decided to focus on the institutionalisation process. Dr. Pilapitiya explained about the seasonal paddy field fences and the permanent village fences.

Prior to the appointment of the Presidential Committee to facilitate and oversee the implementation of the NAP for Human Elephant Conflict Mitigation in October 2022, the Chairman of the Presidential Committee appointed to prepare the National Action Plan, Dr. Pritiviraj Fernando and the current Committee Chairman Dr. Sumith Pilapitiya had extensive discussions, awareness and training sessions with the Department of Agrarian Development on the necessity and the process of institutionalisation of seasonal paddy field fences.

Seasonal fences

The institutionalised model within DAD has been implementing a few community based seasonal fences with the training and guidance from Dr. Pritiviraj Fernando and his organisation, the Centre for Conservation and Research since November. All large scale programs will commence in the Kurunegala and Anuradhapura Districts during the upcoming Yala cultivation season.