Sri Lanka war zone becomes wildlife sanctuary

Sri Lankan elephants The jungles of northern Mullaitivu will be used for wildlife conservation, including elephants

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Sri Lanka is turning a vast area of jungle, earlier a base for Tamil Tiger rebels, into a wildlife sanctuary.

The government said the former war zone, spread over 40,000 hectares in Mullaitivu in northern Sri Lanka, would be used for wildlife conservation.

The area was the scene of heavy fighting during the final stages of Sri Lanka's bloody civil war 18 months ago.

Sri Lanka's wild elephant population has dwindled over the last century from around 15,000 to just 4,000.

The jungles of Mullaitivu were at the heart of the Tamil Tiger insurgency.

For decades they were home to key rebel bases and the Tigers buried hundreds of thousands of landmines to protect their camps from the advancing government troops.

It is estimated that 1.5 million landmines remain in the country's northern region.

A wildlife department official said the wildlife park would be open to the public only after mines were removed - most likely next year.

A government statement said it would be used to help Sri Lanka's dwindling elephant population.

Experts say as deforestation destroys their natural habitats, the elephants venture out in search of food.

The government says more than 200 animals were killed last year - electrocuted or shot by villagers in man-animal conflict.

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