Asia Sri Lanka World News

Sri Lanka Farmers Protest After 50 Elephants Destroy Crops -biggest such incident in recent memory

Angry villagers stormed a remote government office in Sri Lanka on Tuesday, officials said, a day after a herd of up to 50 elephants ravaged farmers’ fields near a wildlife reserve.

In what local farmers said was the biggest such incident involving the protected animals in recent memory, the elephants munched through nearly half their crops across seven villages in the island’s north.

Wildlife officials riding tractors and armed with rifles drove the herd away from villages with fire crackers. Farmers and other officials rushed to a school fearing the elephants could harm students.

No one was hurt in the incident, although about 50 people are killed by wild elephants each year and more than 250 elephants are also shot, electrocuted or poisoned by farmers.

Irate farmers brandishing placards stormed the office of divisional secretary Manjari Chandradasa in Mahawilachchiya, 240 kilometres (150 miles) north of Colombo, demanding action after Monday’s incident.

Chandradasa, the chief civil servant in Mahawilachchiya, said wildlife authorities were planning an elephant drive next week to push the herd back to the Wilpattu national park.

“The drive was delayed because of recent rains,” Chandradasa told the farmers.

She said guards in the area had been armed about two years ago but the weapons were recalled because of “misuse”, a reference to game hunting for wild boar and deer in the area.

Villagers said an electric fence set up to keep out elephants was not working properly.

Elephants are considered sacred in Buddhist-majority Sri Lanka. Convictions for killing them can in theory carry the death penalty, although prosecutions are rare.

A 2011 survey showed Sri Lanka had 7,379 elephants living in the wild, including about 1,100 calves, compared with 12,000 elephants in 1900. (AFP)

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