Human-Elephant Conflict in Sri Lanka


The Sri Lankan elephant (Elephas maximus maximus) is listed as “endangered” on the IUCN Red List of Threatened Species and it is believed only between 2500-4000 remain in the wild, a population drop of approx. 50% in the past 60-75 years.

According to IUCN, “The species was once found throughout Sri Lanka, but today elephants are restricted mostly to the lowlands in the dry zone…the species continues to lose range to development activities throughout the island.”

Sri Lanka is one of the world’s most threatened biodiversity hotspots and is an important example of the struggle developing nations have with exploitation of their natural resources, at the cost of precious endemic fauna and flora.

The clearest example of this is in the increase of human-elephant conflict which is claiming the lives of approximately 50 people and 100 elephants each year across the country.

As habitat fragmentation occurs, due to deforestation for tea plantations, agriculture, new development projects, small-scale farming etc., wild elephant herds are increasingly venturing into human settlements to find food. In these situations, conflict inevitably occurs and as elephants contribute in destroying local people’s crops, they are often killed as pests, or hunted in revenge and killed.

Deforestation and habitat fragmentation over many decades, during and since colonial rule, have pushed the two groups closer together, increasing conflict dramatically.

Historically, Sri Lanka has had a deep connection with the elephant. It is an animal that is both revered in culture and religion, but is now becoming a symbol of conflict in this fast-changing post-war developing nation.

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