Sri Lankan officials to be armed to protect elephants

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Colombo, Sep 3 (IANS) Wildlife officials in Sri Lanka will soon be armed with assault rifles to protect elephants from poachers and to save human lives in the long standing human-elephant conflict.

The weapons are to be bought on a recommendation by the Sustainable Development, Wildlife and Regional Development Minister, Field Marshal Sarath Fonseka said. The total number of weapons to be imported is 2,568, Xinhua news agency reported.

Deputy Minister of Wildlife Palitha Thewarapperuma said the purchase of assault rifles would be connected with the human-elephant conflict, caused mainly as a result of people encroaching into the jungle habitat of elephants.

“At present wildlife officials are reluctant to intervene when civilians and elephants are threatened,” he said.

Cabinet spokesperson Gayantha Karunathilaka said in August that the death toll from Sri Lanka’s human-elephant conflict has hit a record high with over 375 people killed by wild elephants and over 1,100 elephants killed by humans within the last five years.

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Karunathilaka said that in order to find a solution to the bitter battle, the government had decided to extend electric fences near national parks and vulnerable villages as part of a new drive to protect people and wild elephants.

Elephants in Sri Lanka are protected by law. Killing wild elephants is a punishable offence, but there have been regular reports of angry villagers poisoning or shooting them.

Official records show the population of wild elephants is estimated at 7,500 in Sri Lanka.



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