2019 Jan 8
Over the past 5 years, over 1200 elephants in Sri Lanka have been subject to the most inhumane of deaths. Poaching, slaughtering, exhaustion, and now a new trend surfaces – train accidents.
What could these gentle giants ever have possibly done to deserve this? To have their home slowly robbed from them due to human expansion, to being used in blatant acts of animal cruelty and killed senselessly through the years?
These animals are highly family-oriented. They live peacefully with most other animals (but not humans, it would seem). It is these empathetic wild animals we are slowly killing off, with our negligence and ignorance, into a state of extinction – and by train is the latest way to do it.
Incidents that have happened so far:
Train-related deaths have been spiking. The Department of Wildlife’s statistics show that 15 elephants were killed in 2018, nearly double the number of deaths when compared to the previous year.
Most of these incidents involve baby elephants and their mothers. Tragic incidents from last year include the disheartening deaths of a mother elephant, her two calves, and her unborn baby. The situation only worsened as in the month to follow, 3 separate incidents claimed the lives of 6 wandering elephants.
Trains travelling at excessively high speeds is where the blame lies. Many accuse the negligence of drivers, who speed on the tracks despite several warnings of speed limits through elephant habitations. These trains ram themselves into elephants on the tracks, unable to stop in time.
And thus, we find another life taken and added to the body count.
“This has disrupted the movements of elephants, especially the males who are much more mobile … now they must cross villages and tracks, and altercations take place,” remarked elephant welfare campaigner Srilal Miththapala.
He further noted that of both sexes, males were mostly being killed, thereby affecting the male to female ratio in populations as well.
Most incidents involve trains travelling from Colombo and the west across central Sri Lanka towards the east; Trincomalee and Batticaloa. Clashes between the Department of Wildlife and Department of Transport only serve to worsen the situation.
However we cannot point our fingers towards speeding trains alone. It is not only the train driver’s negligence that leads to these appalling situations, but the unfortunate lack of implementation and follow ups. Frankly speaking, we cannot expect this situation to change by simply telling a driver off about speeding limits.
Thankfully, this has been recognized. A system has been proposed by Miththapala, for the government to build an early warning signal track system of flashing lights and sirens. It is a definite start in the right direction and we can only hope, given the spreading of awareness as well as the negative backlash the country’s reputation and tourism industry is facing, that the government will take the right steps to put a stop to this situation before it worsens anymore.
Unfortunately, this covers only a fraction of the dangers elephants face on a daily basis. They are still hunted for their tusks. They are still victims (as are humans) of the human-elephant conflict, which has been going on for several years. In the past 5 years, roughly 375 people have been killed in elephant encounters. This has led to the villagers’ enraged and ignorant slaughtering of nearly 1200 elephants.
A lecturer for the Wildlife and Nature Protection Society stated that a shocking 70% of those human deaths were due to their own irresponsibility. To break this issue down, due to our gradual expansion, we slowly rob these animals of their habitats and human-elephant encounters become more and more frequent. But, as gentle and caring as these giants may be with their own kind, wild elephants are still not safe for humans to interact with and it is important to avoid confrontation. Chances are, if you can interact with them playfully, that these animals have been tamed.
Is this Sri Lanka really doing its best? Open your eyes. Stop animal cruelty. Spread awareness and call out against human ignorance – call out for the implementation of better laws. We can save these animals.