Sri Lanka wildlife vets go on strike

By Charles Haviland
BBC News, Sri Lanka

Image caption,
About 50 people died in elephant attacks last year

Sri Lanka's wildlife veterinary surgeons have gone on strike in protest at what they say is the government's failure to manage a serious conflict between wild elephants and humans.

The wild elephant population has shrunk to about 4,000 as humans take over land used by the animals as corridors.

About 50 people also died last year, as elephants turned violent.

The vets' union said a major problem was that cattle were encroaching on elephants' food and water supplies.

The country's 11 wildlife veterinary surgeons have gone on strike until Friday, the union said.

Last year the conflict between humans and non-domesticated elephants saw the deaths of 50 people and 228 elephants.

Two elderly people were killed by elephants only last Saturday.

This is happening as people encroach on land traditionally used by elephants as corridors. When people put up improvised electric fences, the animals can go berserk.

The secretary of the vets' union, Vijitha Perera, told the BBC that they were not satisfied with the government's attempts to address the issue.

He said cattle were encroaching on elephant ranges, eating their food sources and using their water.

Non-native trees, useless for feeding the beasts, were being introduced and some of the animals were going deaf as people let off firecrackers to scare them.

About four elephants were being killed every week, he said.

The government has, however, taken some remedial measures - transferring orphaned elephants from sanctuaries to bigger parks and monitoring to see if they integrate with the wild herds.

The director-general of wildlife, Ananda Wijesooriya, said the wildlife vets had refused to hold discussions with him on the subject, saying they wanted to speak to the minister.

The wildlife department now comes under a vast new ministry headed by a brother of the president.

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