Assessing protected area networks in the conservation of elephants (Elephas Maximus) in Sri Lanka
Rathnayake, CWM and Jones, S and Soto-Berelov, M and Wallace, L, Assessing protected area networks in the conservation of elephants (Elephas Maximus) in Sri Lanka, Environmental Challenges, 9 Article 1002625. ISSN 2667-0100 (2022) [Refereed Article]
Assessing protected area networks in the conservation of elephants (Elephas Maximus) in Sri LankaProtected areas play a crucial role in the conservation and management of wildlife, but land use and land cover change (LULCC) threatens the status of protected areas. Sri Lanka has a history of severe human–elephant conflict (HEC). In the last 15 years, Sri Lanka has recorded the highest mortality of elephants and the second-highest human casualties among countries where the Asian elephant is native. In this study, we conducted a whole of country analysis of the effect of LULCC on protected areas using a land cover change map (1993–2018) recently developed by the authors using Landsat satellite data. Protected area performances were measured using five criteria including LULCC, the protected areas, and categorised into three performance levels. The protected area performances were then compared with number of HEC incidents. We found that 12% of Sri Lanka's protected area was affected by LULCC events, and every individual protected area experienced LULCC. We also found that 86% of elephant death incidents occurred within a 5 km radius of protected areas, with a strong negative correlation with distance from protected areas (r = –0.94, p < 0.05). Some 43% of HEC incidents and 23% of elephant deaths occurred inside protected areas, while 40% of elephant deaths in the last two years occurred inside protected areas. These areas were also found to fragment over time and elephant deaths increased, and showed a strong positive correlation, with fragmentation (r = 0.88, p < 0.05). Wildlife regions that experienced higher LULCC also experienced a greater number of elephant deaths, with a moderately positive correlation (r = 0.54, p < 0.05). Irrespective of the level of performance, all protected areas reported elephant deaths as well as HEC incidents, indicating that protected areas are failing to protect the endangered Elephas maximus population in Sri Lanka. These country-wide insights into protected areas can be used to re-evaluate the function and effectiveness of protected areas in managing and mitigating HEC while providing protection to elephants in Sri Lanka.
human–elephant conflict, protected area, fragmentation, land use land cover change, Asian elephant (Elephas maximus), Sri Lanka