Village Electric Fencing
The main approach to elephant conservation and HEC mitigation in Sri Lanka and most of Asian elephant range, is that of restricting elephants to protected areas. Our work over the past two decades has shown that this approach is fundamentally flawed. Firstly, the protected areas represent a fraction of the area from which elephants have to be removed, and are already at their carrying capacity. Consequently compression of elephant populations to protected areas results in their decline and loss. Secondly, elephants are an ‘edge-species’ and the optimal habitat for them is a mosaic of regenerating forests and open areas. Such habitats are created and maintained at a scale relevant to elephants by seasonal agriculture outside protected areas. Consequently elephant densities outside protected areas are typically higher than inside them.
We have also found that adult males are mainly responsible for the conflict, but cannot be easily limited to protected areas. Such attempts especially by ‘elephant-drives’ exposed elephants to intense conflict for long periods of time, resulting in their becoming more aggressive which subsequently increased HEC. Elephant herds composed of females and young caused far less conflict, but suffered high mortality when driven away from their normal home ranges and restricted to protected areas. Thus forcing elephants to protected areas and restricting them there, results in continued escalation of HEC and loss of elephants.
The most critical aspect of managing elephants outside protected areas is the reduction of HEC and its impact on the people sharing land with elephants. Failure to effectively minimize damage from elephants will result in continued escalation of HEC, bring enormous pressure on authorities to remove elephants, and finally the elimination of elephants from such areas.
In order to reduce the impact of HEC on people, we have adopted the approach of providing villagers ‘village electric fencing’ which they put up around their settlement. As the fences are at located at the edge of people’s compounds and home-gardens, it is easy for them to maintain and look after them. As they are located at the edge of the forest and not inside, the likelihood of elephants coming to the fence and spending time figuring out a way to break through them is minimized. Because the people construct the fences and they also provide part of the funds for the fences there is a high sense of ownership, hence long-term fence maintenance is ensured.
We have worked with communities, District Secretariats, divisional secretariats and Grama Seva Niladharis in the south and the north-west to develop and implement such fences. We currently have instituted such fences in Tammennawa, Bundala and Weerawila in the south, and two fences in Madadombe in the north-west. Based on the model promoted by us, the DWC and the Divisional secretariat have instituted a community electric fence around Eriyawa village in the north-west. Similarly the organization JICA has helped villagers in Ketanwewa the south to put up such a fence. CCR was involved in the planning and construction of both Eriyawa and Ketanwewa fences.
We are currently working with the District Secretariats of the south and north-west to upscale the approach and develop a government program of supporting community electric fencing.
Also read about temporary electric fences for paddy fields...