Sri Lankan veterinarians strike for better treatment of elephants, 2010

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Timing
Time Period:  
August 16,
2010
to
August 21,
2010
Location and Goals
Country: 
Sri Lanka
Goals: 
1. To speak to the Minister of Wildlife about the condition of elephants in Sri Lanka.

2. Better treatment facilities for veterinarians working with elephants.

3. For the Sri Lankan government to hire more veterinarians.

4. "A cabinet-approved plan to resettle elephants in nature reserves."

5. The hiring of veterinarians to fill 8 vacancies within the wildlife department.

6. The establishment of a hierarchy within the veterinary service, to allow for career and wage advances without leaving their department.

 

In Sri Lanka, elephants are both a valued part of traditional culture and an increasing risk to the populace. A spike in population on the Sri Lankan island has led the government to open lands traditionally reserved for the elephants to settlement by people. Narrowing habitats mean that encounters between elephants and people are more and more common, posing a threat to both elephants and humans. Since 1990, the number of elephants residing in Sri Lanka has fallen from about 12,000 to approximately 4,000, the result of hunting and dwindling food sources. When farmers take over land traditionally used by the elephants, they often improvise electrified fences in an effort to protect their subsistence crops. However, contact with these fences enrages the elephants, causing them to crush people and/or property.

Economic depression in Sri Lanka has caused a reduction in funding for the wildlife veterinary program that provides services to enraged or injured elephants. Sri Lanka’s Federal Wildlife Department generally employs nineteen wildlife veterinarians for this purpose, but eight of the positions have been vacant since 2009 and there is no effort to fill them. In 2010 the Sri Lankan government introduced a new elephant conservation plan in an attempt to address increasing conflict between Sri Lankan villagers and elephants. However, the Wildlife Vet Association (WVA), a union that represents the veterinarians felt that the plan was drastically inadequate for the magnitude of conflict and casualty currently experienced by both sides of the conflict. The veterinarians began meeting with government officials in an attempt to facilitate more drastic policy change. Specifically, they were concerned with the lack of resource for elephants pushed off their habitat by cattle or subsistence farming. They were told by the Wildlife Department Director General, Ananda Wijesooriya, that there simply wasn’t enough land, and therefore nothing could be done.

On August 15, 2010, the WVA announced that the veterinarians for the entire country would hold a weeklong strike to protest the inadequacy of the new elephant conservation plan, as well as the disregard for professional development of the veterinarians. Between August 16 and August 21, 2010, the eleven national wildlife veterinarians held a strike, refusing to attend work or serve the government in any capacity. During this time, they continued to serve injured elephants. The strikers presented a series of demands. Firstly, they wanted a respectful meeting with the minister in charge of wildlife. They also demanded better working conditions for wildlife veterinarians, as well as the hiring of eight more, to fill the department’s capacity. They requested that the government establish new nature reserves, and resettle displaced elephants into them. Finally, they demanded a hierarchy within the Wildlife department, so that WVA members could ascend in seniority and compensation without leaving the veterinary profession. During the week, representatives of the WVA met with the Deputy Economic Development Minister, though his connection to their department was limited at best. Beyond this, there isn’t documentation to suggest that any of their demands were met.

Population continues to increase in Sri Lanka as the economy continues to suffer. Elephants will continue to be evicted from their natural homes, and respond to displacement with confusion and rage. This experience isn’t unique to Sri Lankan elephants, but mirrored in the experiences of communities and states across the world. Conflict in the relationship between the natural world and human will increase as urbanization continues.

Research Notes
Sources: 
Buncombe, Andrew. “Sri Lankan government vets go on strike in protest over treatment of wild elephants.” The Independent 18 Aug 2010.

---. “Vets strike over elephant conservation plan.” New Zealand Herald 19 Aug 2010.

Haviland, Charles. “Sri Lanka wildlife vets go on strike.” BBC News 17 Aug 2010.

Pearse, Damien. “Sri Lankaʼs Human-Elephant War Escalates.” Sky News Online 18 Aug 2010.

“Sri Lankan vets on strike to protest elephant mistreatment.” The Telegraph 17 Aug 2010.

“Vets left in the wilds.” The Sunday Times 22 Aug 2010.

Name of researcher, and date dd/mm/yyyy: 
Hanna King, 13/02/2010