Troops clear wild animals from Sri Lanka’s white-elephant airport

COLOMBO: Sri Lanka has deployed troops and firecrackers to clear deer and wild buffalo from a sprawling airport, officials said Friday, drawing attention to a largely redundant vanity project built by a former president.

Mattala airport, which services just one flight a day, was built in the home district of former strongman leader Mahinda Rajapakse, 250 kilometres (155 miles) by road from the capital Colombo, at a cost of $210 million.

This week some 350 troops, police and volunteers spent a day driving out about 150 deer and 50 buffaloes that had apparently become trapped when an electric fence was set up to prevent wild elephants straying into the facility.

An airport official involved in the operation said animals regularly got in the way of flights at the site, which lies in the middle of two wildlife sanctuaries and on an avian migratory path.

“We used fire crackers to scare the animals and push them out of the perimeter, but it was not very successful,” he told AFP on condition of anonymity, adding that a bigger operation was planned shortly.