Sri Lankan Vets Strike for Elephants – But What About the Farmers?

Sri Lankan Vets Strike for Elephants – But What About the Farmers?

Sri Lankan elephants are smaller than those found in Africa and India

In Nobel Peace Laureate Wangari Maathai’s message to the Africa Animal Welfare Conference, currently taking place in Nairobi, Kenya, the connection between wildlife conservation, and the general non-industrialization of the continent is made clear:

The non-industrialization of Africa has been both a blessing and a curse: A blessing in that so many of her wildlife have been conserved, but unfortunately also a curse because so many people are eager to commercialize their “products.”

In countries around the globe, human and non-human animals are coming into increasing contact. As human populations expand and encroach into territories previously occupied by wildlife, a loss of biodiversity and depletion of ecosystem services ensues. In August, vets across Sri Lanka took a unique approach to the dilemma, striking in solidarity for five days to raise awareness of the plight of the island’s dwindling elephant population. Totaling 12,000 in 1900, the country’s elephant stock has declined to 4,000 today, largely as a result of human encroachment and government failure to protect the species.

While the vets are calling for greater measures to be taken to establish and enforce conservation areas for the elephant population, complexities will inevitably arise from the country’s high population density. The creation of conservation areas to combat deforestation and create animal sanctuaries in areas of high population density often leads to land scarcity among rural communities. This dynamic has played out clearly in Honduras, where the increased designation of conservation areas has led farmers to intensify their methods of agricultural production, farming areas that were previously allowed to lie fallow, and planting cash crops to maximize profits from their shrinking plots of land. To be truly sustainable, attempts to conserve land and protect endangered species must be comprehensive in their approach, striking a complicated balance between the diverse needs of all inhabitants.

Photo courtesy of Bernard Gagnon