Large-scale elephant census planned for Sri Lanka

Sri Lanka will conduct its first large-scale elephant census in nearly a century, amid fears its elephant population has been reduced by half in the past 100 years.

Beginning with next month’s full moon, the Southeast Asian island nation of Sri Lanka will be conducting the first elephant census in nearly a century. On August 13 and 14, 2011, Sri Lanka plans to count its elephants as they arrive to drink water from water holes, reservoirs and lakes in forests throughout the country.

The head of Sri Lanka’s Wildlife Department, Chandrawansa Pathiraja, told the Associated Press:

The census we do can be used for many years for the policymakers and government authorities in order to prepare policies and projects aimed at conservation of elephants.

He said details about the elephants that will be sought include but are not limited to: the total number of elephants, where elephant herds cluster, and the sex and age ratios within each herd.

Image Credit: Holly Ladd

Elephants play a significant role in Sri Lanka’s culture; they’re revered as sacred animals. In the past, elephants were also used as modes of transport. Human encroachment into their territory, as well as poaching, has reduced their numbers greatly.

Experts believe the population of Sri Lanka’s elephants has been nearly halved over the past century; it’s estimated to hover between 5,000 and 6,000. One hundred years ago, when the last full-island elephant census was conducted, their population was estimated at 10,000 to 15,000. The AP notes:

Previous head counts by the Wildlife Department were confined only to certain regions and in 1993, one such census found 1,967 elephants but it excluded the island’s north and east where a civil war was raging at the time.

Numbers like the ones Sri Lanka is seeking can help serve as the basis for creating workable conservation strategies. When EarthSky spoke to wildlife conservationist John Seidensticker last year about working to save endangered wildlife – he works on tigers – he said that international cooperation is often needed, and that strategies that address law enforcement against poaching and setting aside protected areas and/or corridors for endangered wildlife can and do make a big impact.

Bottom line: The Southeast Asian island nation of Sri Lanka will be conducting the first elephant census in nearly a century. On August 13 and 14, Sri Lanka plans to count its elephants as they arrive to drink water from water holes, reservoirs and lakes in forests throughout the country.

John Seidensticker on saving wild tigers

Beth Lebwohl