Cabinet approval was granted this week to establish an Elephant Retention Centre in Dippin Estate, Kalawana, Ratnapura for the two elephants living in the Sinharaja Reserve.

The Wildlife and Sustainable Development and Regional Development Ministry had proposed that 36 hectares of land be acquired for this purpose.

The land will be in the Parugala area (Dolekanda Grama Niladhari Division) in the Dippin Estate. This land currently belongs to the Hapugastota Estate and the government would pay a sum dictated by the Government Valuation Department to take it over.

There was wide public protest including opposition from UNESCO who had declared Sinharaja as a World Heritage Site, when the Ministry had proposed moving the two elephants to the Wildlife Retention Centre in Horowpathana. Environmentalists had pointed out that the elephants used to cooler climes would not survive in such a hot environment. The President intervened to suspend the relocation.

The Wildlife and Sustainable Development and Regional Development Minister Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka however stressed in his Cabinet paper that the elephants had been causing severe damage to crops, property and livestock of the people in surrounding areas, and the resulting conflict had led to the death of a villager in Kajuwatte.

At a meeting held on June 19, 2018 villagers had requested that the elephants be removed from the area.

In 1940, there were 18 elephants in the Sinharaja area but by 1980 this number had gradually decreased to three. One of them disappeared in 2007. Both natural and human causes have led to this decline.

Since1998, 15 persons had been killed as a result of elephant attacks in the areas closer to Sinharaja, with 20 vehicles damaged. Severe damages have also been reported to property, crops and several animals like cattle and goats had also been killed by the elephants.

“If they are not moved, the people may take action on their own. And it is our responsibility to protect the elephants”, the Cabinet paper on the matter said.



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