At the Horowpathana elephant holding ground, it is starvation that is driving jumbo deaths

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The elephant caught in Uhana Weeragoda area of ​​Ampara on December 4, 2016. Photo: Rahul Samantha Hettiarachchi

Sri Lanka holds one of world’s worst records in human-elephant conflict and while multiple reasons contribute to the escalation of the problem, a key factor is the rapid loss of habitat and the resultant loss of elephant fodder.

Shedding light on a lesser known reason for jumbo deaths in Sri Lanka, journalist Rahul Samantha Hettiarachchi probed the issue and turned a keen eye on the Elephant Detention Center located in Horowpathana, in the north central district of Anuradhapura.

Using the right to information law, he obtained the autopsy reports to establish that at least 10 out of 16 elephant deaths at the center occurred due to lack of fodder. It has been reported that the elephants at the holding ground often appeared emaciated and malnourished but there was no conclusive proof that the jumbos lacked enough food and water, and this was the main cause of death there.  

Home to a select group of bull elephants, the holding ground was set up at a cost of Rs. 354 million based on the Cabinet Memorandum No. 12/0151/549/001 dated 17/3/2012. Extending across 997 hectares of land, wild elephants from 13 districts make it their home – and now it seems, an early grave.  

This story explores both the lack of maintenance and availability of fodder for the elephants, besides a plethora of other issues that convert the holding ground to a prison – and a place of death.

This environmental investigation was produced with the generous support of the Earth Journalism Network (EJN).

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