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Elephant-filled jungle forces Hambantota authorities to take precautions

An elephant stands next to the World Cup's mascot Stumpy AFP

Elephants have been known to invade the Hambantota stadium pitch in the dead of night, but it is spectators who are likely to stray into elephant territory when the venue hosts three ODIs in the coming week, a forest warden has warned. Hambantota's Widlife Department office confirmed they will deploy staff between the stadium and the nearby jungle, to ensure no cricket fans stray into the range of an elephant herd known to forage in the area.

"The jungle starts about 300-400 metres from the stadium, and we know there is a herd whose range can be about a kilometre or two from the venue," forest warden JAC Vijaykumara said. "It's unlikely that the elephants will come towards the stadium during the day, but people have been known to go into the forest - sometimes even to have a drink - so we've prepared a team which will be stationed there to prevent that."

The ground, which is surrounded on three sides by thick vegetation, is situated in the southeast of Sri Lanka, which is renowned for its wildlife. Leopards, sloth bears, deer and water buffalo roam nearby national parks and forest reserves, along with all manner of reptile and bird life. During previous series in Hambantota, elephants have charged the vehiclse of cricket journalists returning to their hotel after a match, and on another occasion, a vehicle belonging to venue staff collided with a water buffalo resting on the road. Venomous snakes are also frequently seen in the vicinity of the ground.

Vijayakumara said there had also been at least two instances in which elephants had busted through the perimeter fence and made their way into the ground. "But both of those instances were in the night, and they were when the ground had been left empty for weeks," he said. "With the coming matches being day games, we don't anticipate elephants will come to the ground at that time."

He said this was not the first occasion in which the local Wildlife Department stationed staff near the ground. "The ground is near the jungle, so we've taken these sorts of precautions a few times before. We haven't had to do it in a while only because there haven't been matches."

The first of three ODIs at Hambantota will be played on Thursday. The ground had not hosted an international match since July 2015.