Saturday, September 09, 2017

Elephants on 'hostile territory' in Sri Lanka

Udawalawe National Park, Sri Lanka - It is difficult to predict when the elephants will come.

As darkness falls around Sri Lanka's Udawalawe National Park, the 52 villages that speckle its borders go on alert. Thin wire fences hum with the threat of electricity.

Across the dry zone, farmers climb up into rudimentary treehouses overlooking their paddy fields. They must try to stay alert as the darkness deepens. Armed only with torches, fireworks, and their voices - loud and hoarse - they may be forced to face down giants.

Ashoka Ranjeewa, an elephant researcher, has spent many nights out here. When he first arrived in Pokunuthanna, there were few friendly faces. Bordered on two sides by the national park, and on one side by the Dahaiyagala sanctuary, this village of some 100 families has seen more than its fair share of elephant attacks. Farmers here allege the compensation they are paid is meagre and comes late. Outsiders only come to gawk, taking pictures, commiserating.

None of this stops the elephants from coming.

Killer elephants

The foragers are most often male elephants - bulls - on average weighing in at 5,000-6,000 kilogrammes, and reaching over three metres tall, these are among the largest land animals alive.

The villagers of Pokunuthanna used to believe just four to five bulls took turns invading their land. But when Ranjeewa installed some infrared night vision cameras, he raised the count to 35.

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