World | Sri Lanka

Volunteers count wild elephant population

Conservation groups accuse government of using census as a smoke screen

  • AP
  • Published: 00:00 August 13, 2011
  • Gulf News

A herd of Asiatic wild elephants gather at a national park in Minneriya, some 200km from Colombo
  • Image Credit: AP
  • A herd of Asiatic wild elephants gather at a national park in Minneriya, some 200km from Colombo. Sri Lanka is conducting a census of its dwindling wild elephant population.

Minneriya National Park: Thousands of rangers and volunteers have climbed into treetop huts near reservoirs and watering holes in Sri Lanka to carry out the island nation's first full count of its dwindling wild elephant population.

The government says the three-day census ending today is aimed at devising a plan to protect the elephants. But several conservation groups have boycotted the count, accusing the government of using it as a smoke screen for capturing and domesticating the best young animals for use in temples, tourism and labour.

Closed to tourists

Sri Lanka closed all its national parks to tourists for the census starting on Thursday and sent nearly 4,000 wildlife workers, farmers and villagers to more than 1,500 locations across the country to survey the elephants as they come to water sources for a drink.

"I've been in similar huts while staking out poachers, but this is a different experience, watching elephants under the moonlight," said Damith Bandara, a ranger who spent the night with two other volunteers up a tree near the Minneriya reservoir in central Sri Lanka.

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