In one of the deadliest accidents involving elephants in the recent times, a grown up elephant and three calves were instantly killed when they were hit by a fast running train at Cheddikulam on Wednesday.
The incident would have been one of the many such episodes where unsuspecting pachyderms have been killed in their own habitat over the years due to human intervention.
Although elephants are considered sacred in Sri Lanka and are legally protected, nearly 200 of them are killed every year, many by farmers when the animals stray into their land and others being run over by trains while crossing the railway lines.
Marauding elephants also reportedly claim the lives of around 50 people annually, mostly by trampling through villages built near their habitats. These unplanned human settlements are often the root cause for human-elephant conflict which finally results in death of both human beings and elephants.
As much as they are sacred, elephants also add much beauty to our country and are often a tourist attraction. Being the most intelligent species in the animal kingdom they are used for transport of logs in terrains where vehicles cannot reach as well as in religious processions. As such, they are an integral part of our culture.
According to statistics, Sri Lanka’s elephant population has been dwindling over the years and one of the main reasons has been the encroachment of their habitat by human beings. Their numbers have dwindled to just over 7,000, according to the latest census, down from an estimated 12,000 in 1900, a decline that we can ill afford to ignore.
Whenever elephants are killed much has been spoken about finding solutions to this issue, but little has been done up to now by way of effective and concrete action. With this latest incident we believe that now the problem needs attention from the highest level of the government and it’s time to appoint a task force representing all those who are interested in protecting elephants to take necessary action in this regard in coordination with the relevant authorities such as Wild Life Department, Forest Department and the Railways. If not in 100 years’ time Sri Lanka will be a country without elephants and that probably is the last thing that anyone of us wants to happen.