Historic Elephant Census in Sri Lanka Marred by Controversy
National parks in Sri Lanka reopened today after being closed since Thursday for a census of elephant populations. Nearly 4,000 wildlife workers, farmers, and villagers participated by staffing treetop outposts at 1,000 locations across the country. It was the island's first full count of elephant populations—which officials estimate at 5,000 to 6,000 individuals.
Some outside observers expressed concern, however, that the initiative was in fact an elaborate smoke screen for capturing young elephants which would then be domesticated and put to work at temples and tourist locations.
Photo credit: ronsaunders47/Creative Commons
It is believed that the elephant population has dropped 50 percent or more in the last century, due mostly to pressures from poaching and habitat loss.
"Our objective is not to get an exact number of elephants," explained Sarath Dissanayake, director or training and research at the Sri Lanka Wildlife Department, "our main objective is to understand the population structure of the elephants, that is proportion of calves, adults and sub-adults, juvenile, male and female."
Originally, 20 international wildlife groups pledged volunteers to the project. All support was withdrawn, however, when Wildlife Minister S.M. Chandransena announced that 300 young elephants would be captured and handed over to Buddhist temples following the census.
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