Friday, 16 April 2010

Human Elephant Conflict

I am currently working for the Sri Lanka Wildlife Conservation Society. The field site is based just outside the Wasgamuwa National Park in the centre of the country. I will be using GIS to help out on a number of projects. The main issue for the organisation is Human Elephant Conflict (HEC). An increasing human population and loss of natural habitat has increased the conflict between the two species. This sadly results in deaths on both sides each year. Farmers will shoot elephants that encroach on their land and sometimes the farmers themselves are killed. Elephants eat crops and can knock down buildings.

 We came across a dead elephant and her calf in the park. You can't see the calf in the above photo.We were advised to stay in our vehicle as there were signs that the herd was still in the area. It seems the mother was shot outisde the park and wandered in and subsequently died. Its most likely the elephant was killed for getting too close to a property or crops.

A solution to the problem is to build electric fences around villages and farmland (above). The concept of the fences has evolved from that of keeping the elephants in the protected parks to keeping them away from villages and farms. Keeping the elephants in the park was too restrictive for their movement and bars them unnecessarily from wild habitat outside the park. It is more sensible to place the fences at eco-economic boundaries around villages. Where the fences have been maintained there has been in some places a 100% reduction in human elephant conflict.

A new system is being proposed called ele-alert. This is an alarm system which alerts  local administrators when a fence is damaged. A  gyroscope device is installed on each fence post. When the fence is knocked down the gyroscope triggers a text message which is sent to the local fence monitoring staff.

Also the elephants do not like citrus fruits so its possible to grow these types of vegetation around areas as a natural barrier. These structures are called bio-fences. Chilli plants are used as bio fences in Africa but interestingly the Asian elephant is not sensitive to chilli. The citrus bio fences do not just act as a barrier to elephants but also the fruits can be sold at local markets.

The happier sight of a elephants in Wasgamuwa Park. The main way I will be helping out using GIS is with land change analysis of remote sensing images and also just general GPS mapping of incidents and fence damage within the area.