10/16/2009, 00.00
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War between men and elephants in the central regions of Sri Lanka

by Melani Manel Perera
The elephants on the island are now 8 thousand 500. In some areas their raids destroy homes and crops and even claim victims among the population. The example of Diyakepilla village where the inhabitants are forced to spend the night in trees to defend themselves and monitor the fields.

Dambulla (AsiaNews)-The government of Sri Lanka should address the problems caused by 8 thousand 500 elephants living on the island. More and more frequently there are cases where the elephants are destroying villages and crops and in some a real war between humans and elephants regions is now under way.  

In villages such as Minneriya, Sigiriya, Mahasengama, Pidurangala, Gallinda and Kaayanwala the population is at the end of its tether. Raajan Francis, coordinator and secretary of the Praja Abhilasha Network that has been following the issue for some time, after the visit to the inhabitants of Diyakepilla tells AsiaNews that "every day the elephants enter the village and destroy the crops. In some suburban areas, the population has built electric fences for protection, but they are not enough and the authorities have no plan to solve the problem.  As a result people find themselves having to live with elephants inside the fences".

The Colombo government has launched two agricultural programs: Api Wawamu -Rata Nagamu (cultivation and build the country) and Waga sangramaya (War on cultivation). But the population living in villages around the Minneriya National Park in the centre of the island, has to deal with the invasions of pachyderms and say they are a pipe dream.  

The inhabitants of Diyakepilla feel abandoned by the government and are fed up with the situation in which they are forced to live. A.G. Bisomenike, 48, says: "Our president says that all people must cultivate in order to prevent food shortages in the future, but it's a joke when you consider the difficulties we face."

Bisomenike’s 28 year old son  Mahinda Jayathilake explains that since 1998, when he returned to live with the family after school outside the village, he has never been able to sleep at home. "We suddenly wake up every night. We spend the night perched on branches of more robust trees to watch the fields. The same happens during the day. We do not know when the elephants will arrive and we must be always on alert".  

Chaminda Jayathilake, 26 from Diyakepilla, explains that "when the river level drops Minneriya elephants come down to villages and eat our crops. The elephants are destroying our homes and sometimes kill people. " Then he adds: "We have the land, we want to work, but we have no water to grow crops and who will protect us and our crops from the elephants, day and night?".


The inhabitants of Diyakepilla want a lasting solution that solves the problem and minimum services to address the increasingly frequent invasion of the elephants. In villages lacking electricity, there are no phones and in order to buy medicine, inhabitants are forced to make a three mile journey to the town of Dambulla.  

P.H. Purnima de Silva, principal of the small elementary school in Diyakepilla tells AsiaNews that, once lessons are over, she spends his time protecting the building and a small Buddhist temple in the village. "We have written many letters - she says - and discussed the issue many times with department officials, and offices of provincial secretary. We have even informed the central offices of Colombo, but we have received no response. "



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