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Elephant Relocation Fails to Boost Conservation Efforts in Sri Lanka

Dec 10, 2012 04:10 AM EST
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An elephant relocation program to reduce elephant-human conflicts in Sri Lanka has been unsuccessful in achieving the goal, reveals a new study.

The Department of Wildlife Conservation in Sri Lanka has been transferring "problem" elephants from their location to another place, in a bid to reduce elephant-human conflicts and take better conservation efforts, reports Science magazine.

As a result of poaching and habitat destruction, Asian elephants are facing a major threat. The International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) has listed the Asian elephant as an endangered species.

Around 50,000 elephants are found across several Southeast Asian countries. Sri Lanka is home to 6,000 individual Asian elephants.

For their study, researchers tracked 12 relocated male elephants by fitting them with GPS-enabled collars. They also placed GPS on another 12 elephants that lived in their home range and were not translocated. While all the relocated elephants were identified as problem elephants, 10 elephants of the 12 settled in their home range were deemed as problem elephants. The problem elephants were found to indulge in raiding crops, injuring or killing people.

The research team monitored each elephant in both the groups for nearly three years. They found the elephants that were left in their home range did not cause any trouble. They did not travel anywhere or kill anybody, except for one that was killed for raiding.

The elephants that were relocated to other national parks created problems by trying to travel longer distances in order to get back to their home range. Experts said that the relocated elephants belonged to any one of the three groups - the first group that wanted to return to their home range, the second group that wandered far off from their new homes and the third group of elephants that settled in new homes.

Only four of the 12 elephants settled in their new homes. Five elephants wandered far away in fields and the rest tried to return to their home. For example, Homey, one of the elephants that was relocated, tried to flee his new home three times from different national parks. However, the animal succumbed to multiple gunshot wounds while trying to escape, the Science magazine report states.

The elephants that comfortably settled in their new homes also caused trouble occasionally by attempting to raid crops or killing people.

"The translocations actually increased the problems with the problem elephants," Science magazine quoted lead author Prithiviraj Fernando, a wildlife biologist at the Centre for Conservation and Research in Sri Lanka, as saying. "They walked over huge areas that were unfamiliar to them, causing problems for themselves and for people. As an elephant management tool, translocation did not help the elephants or the people," he said.

Fernando and his research team suggest that alternative solutions need to be introduced to resolve the elephant-human conflicts.

The findings of the study are published in the journal PLOS ONE.

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