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In Sri Lanka, former Tamil Tigers stronghold to become wildlife sanctuary

December 1, 2010 |  7:18 pm

COLOMBO, Sri Lanka — Sri Lanka's wildlife department is to declare the former Tamil Tigers' jungle stronghold a wildlife sanctuary, the government said Wednesday, a year and a half after the country's civil war ended.

Over 100,000 acres of the jungles of northern Mullaitivu district will be used for wildlife conservation, including elephants, the government statement said.

The thick Mullaitivu jungle was home to key rebel bases, and heavy fighting took place there last year during the final stages of the war before government forces crushed the Tamil Tigers.

The rebels buried hundreds of thousands of mines to protect their camps from the advancing government troops, and it is estimated that 1.5 million land mines remain in the country's northern region.

A wildlife department official said the area would be declared a wildlife sanctuary "shortly," adding that the wildlife park will be open to the public only after the mines are removed -- most likely next year. The official spoke on condition of anonymity as she was not authorized to speak to the media.

The government statement said the sanctuary would also help solve a growing conflict between humans and elephants.

Sri Lanka's wild elephants enter villages in search of food as deforestation destroys their natural habitats.

Rampaging elephants killed 50 people in Sri Lanka last year and villagers have destroyed 228 of the animals by shooting or electrocuting them, according to government figures.

A century ago, 10,000 to 15,000 elephants roamed wild in Sri Lanka, but today only about 3,000 remain, largely due to poaching and habitat loss.

RELATED CONSERVATION NEWS:
Over 1,000 body parts from poached tigers were seized in Asia over the past decade, report shows
Giant panda baby boom at Chinese preserve is good news for the endangered species

-- Bharatha Mallawarachi, Associated Press

Video: Sri Lankan elephants in 2007. Credit: hitfabryk via YouTube

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