Simon Gardner, Reuters
March 19, 2008
PIMBURELLEGAMA, Sri Lanka (Reuters) - Shaking his head at an elephant carcass rotting by a lush paddy field in north Sri Lanka, park warden J.A. Weerasingha counts the cost of a state initiative to arm villagers against Tamil Tiger rebels.
While Sri Lanka has long wrestled with a human-elephant conflict that kills dozens of animals and people annually, elephant deaths are up sharply -- and it's clear why.
In what the military says is a bid to protect villages in the far north as the government and its Tiger foes wage a new phase of a 25-year civil war, farmers have been given shotguns and a civil defense force semi-automatic weapons for protection.
But the plan has backfired. The recipients are turning them increasingly on pachyderms who stray onto their crops or damage their homes in search of food -- with elephant deaths up 13 percent in 2007 from a year earlier.
"They are shooting my animals," Weerasingha lamented on a visit to this remote village on the periphery of Wilpattu National Park in the island's northwest. "They had the chance to just scare the elephant away. It had only come to the boundary of the paddy field. Instead they shot it."
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