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Wildlife experts decry human-wildlife ‘conflict’

The media and public should refrain from calling altercations between people and wild animals a “conflict,” wildlife experts said at a workshop on Thursday.

“There needs to be a shift in the way people think about the human-wildlife ‘conflict’ in Sri Lanka,” former Director General of the Department of Wildlife Conservation Dr. Sumith Pilapitiya said.

He was speaking at the Sri Lanka Press Institute. According to him, between 50 and 70 people are killed by elephants every year in Sri Lanka. Humans in turn kill between 250 and 270 elephants a year.

He said it is important how the media reports these stories, because it shapes how the public thinks about wildlife.

He gave the example of a recent incident in Tabbowa where two people died after hitting an elephant with their vehicle. The media reported the event as “an elephant attack,” he said. But it was a car accident.

He cited data that 70 percent of men who are killed by elephants are found to be under the influence of liquor, leading them into risk-taking behaviors.

He noted that people living in purana gamas rarely have deadly confrontations with wildlife.

“Prevention is the best form of mitigation,” he said.

Dr. Vidya Athreya, a scientist show studies leopard-human interactions in Mumbai, concurred.

“Historically, our ancient civilizations have lived with these animals,” she said.

She said scientists and the media must work to change the minds of people, rather than the dynamics of animals.